The Konkani language is spoken widely in the Western Coastal region of India known as Konkan. This consists of Konkan division of Maharashtra, Goa, Canara (coastal Karnataka) and some pockets in Kerala. Each region has a different dialect, pronunciation style, vocabulary, tone and sometimes, significant differences in grammar.
The Census Department of India, 1991 figures put the number of Konkani speakers in India as 1,760,607 making up 0.21% of India’s population . It ranks 15th in the list of Scheduled Languages as per strength. The figures of 2001 census are not yet public. A very large number of Konkanis stay outside India , either as expatriates or citizens of other countries(NRIs). Determining their numbers is difficult.
Ethnologue puts the number of Konkani speakers at 7.6 million (estimated).
There are conflicting theories on the origins of the Konkani Language.
The Konkani language developed in the region known as Konkan (which in the past meant the entire western coast of India , except for Gujarat) but was primarily centered in Gomantak (now Goa). That is how it got its name.
One theory suggest that a group of Aryans settled after migrating from their mythical homeland on the banks of the Sarasvati River (in north India) when the river dried up around 600 BC . They brought their own dialect of Sauraseni Prakrit, which over time evolved into modern Konkani.
An alternate theory suggests that Konkani is a Sanskritised version of a language spoken by the Kokna tribe. The Kokna tribals (also referred to as Kokni or Kukni or Kukna) are now found in North Maharashtra and South Gujarat, but may have been the primary settlers in the Konkan region, judging by the name. The migrating Aryans who came to the Konkan picked up the language and added various Prakrit/Sanskrit words.
Konkani flourished in Goa. Brahmi script was initially used for writing in Konkani but it fell into disuse, giving way to the Devanagari script. It was used extensively for religious purposes as well as daily use.
Other Konkani communities came into being with their own dialects of Konkani. The Konkani Muslim communities of Ratnagiri and Bhatkal came about due to a mixture of intermarriage of Arab seafarers and locals as well as conversions of Hindus to Islam. Another migrant community that picked up Konkani was the Siddis who were sailor-warriors from Ethiopia.
The arrival of the Portuguese lead to sea changes in Konkani. The conversion of Konkanis to Christianity and the religious policies of the Portuguese caused a large number of Konkanis to flee to neighbouring territories. The isolation of Hindu and Christian Konkanis added to the fragmentation of Konkani into multiple dialects.
The language spread to Canara (coastal Karnataka), Kokan-patta (costal Konkan division of Maharashtra) and Kerala during the last 500 years due to migration of Konkanis. Although a few Konkanis may have been present in the neighbouring areas and there may have been migrations due to economic reasons in the past, the main cause of migration was the Portuguese control over Goa.
It was spread to these areas by Hindu Konkani and Christian Konkani speakers in three waves of migration. The first migration occurred during the early years of Portuguese rule and the Inquisition of 1560s. The second wave of migration was during the 1571 war with the Sultan of Bijapur. The third wave of migration happened during the wars of 1683-1740 with the Marathas. While the first wave was of Hindus fleeing religious persecution, the second and third waves were mainly those of Christians.[
These migrant communities grew in relative isolation and each developed its own dialect. Since these communities had to interact with others in local languages on a daily basis, Konkani dialects show strong local influences in terms of script, vocabulary and also style.
Konkani in Portuguese Goa
Early in the era of Portuguese colonization, Christian missionaries realized the importance of propagating in local tongues and translated Christian Literature into Konkani and sometimes Marathi, the most notable among them being Fr Thomas Stephens.
However, in AD 1684, the Portuguese banned Konkani in Goa as it served as a medium for Hindu religious instruction. They also wanted to sever the links the new converts had with their culture through Konkani. Coupled with the imposition of Portuguese as an official language, it lead to a steady influence of Portuguese in the Konkani spoken by the Christians. At the same time, the Hindus of Goa veered towards Marathi as a language of religious ceremonies. Also the interaction between Marathis and Konkanis in the past, that had resulted in Konkanis being bilingual with Marathi, now cemented the status of Marathi as the daily language of Hindus in Goa, including Konkanis. Upper class Christians used Konkani only to communicate with the lower classes and poor, using Portuguese in social gatherings.
Compared to this, the migrant communities outside Goa , kept Konkani alive , even if it resulted in fragmentation. The Devanagari script came into use in Maharashtra, while Kannada Script was used by migrants to Karnataka.
Konkani was in a sorry state, due to the use of Portuguese as the official and social language among the Christians; the predominance of Marathi over Konkani among Hindus and the Konkani Christian-Hindu divide. Seeing this Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar set about on a mission to unite all Konkanis, Hindus as well as Christians, regardless of caste or religion. He saw this movement not just as a nationalistic movement against Portuguese rule, but also against the pre-eminence of Marathi over Konkani. Almost single handedly he crusaded, writing a number of works in Konkani. He is regarded as the pioneer of modern Konkani literature and affectionately remembered as Shenoi Goembab.
Following India’s Independence and its subsequent reconquest of Goa in 1961, Goa was absorbed into the Indian Union as a Union Territory, directly under central administration.
However, with the reorganization of states along linguistic lines, and growing calls from Maharashtra, as well as Marathis in Goa for the merger of Goa into Maharashtra, an intense debate was started in Goa. The main issues discussed were the status of Konkani as an independent language and Goa’s future as a part of Maharashtra or as an independent state(see Konkani-Marathi Controversy). A plebiscite retained Goa as an independent state in 1967. However, English, Hindi and Marathi continued to be the preferred languages for official communication, while Konkani was sidelined.
With the continued insistence of some Marathis that Konkani was a dialect of Marathi and not an independent language, the matter was finally placed before the Sahitya Akademi. Sunit Kumar Chatterjee, the president of the Akademi appointed a Committee of linguistic experts to settle the dispute. On February 26, 1975, the Committee after due deliberation, came to the conclusion that Konkani was indeed an independent and literary language. 
All this did not change anything in Goa. Finally fed up with the delay Konkani lovers launched an agitation demanding official status to Konkani in 1986. The agitation turned violent in various places resulting in the death of six agitators. Finally ,on 4th February 1987, the Goa Legislative Assembly passed the Official Language Bill making Konkani the Official Language of Goa.
Konkani was included in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution of India, as per the Seventy-First Amendment on 31st August 1992, adding it to the list of National Languages.
Konkani is written in a number of scripts. Brahmi was originally used but fell into disuse. Devanagari is the official script for Konkani in Goa. Roman script is also popular in Goa . The Kannada script is used amongst the Konkani population of Karnataka. Malayalam script is used by the Konkani community, centered around the cities of Cochin and Kozhikode in Kerala state. Konkani Muslims in coastal Maharashtra and Bhatkal taluka of Karnataka use Arabic script to write Konkani.
Konkani, despite having a small population shows a very high number of dialects. The dialect tree structure of Konkani can easily be classified according to the region, religion, caste and local tongue influence.
Different researchers have classified the dialects differently.
The term “Konkani” when applied to a person or a community can have two distinct but sometimes overlalping meanings
1. The Konkani speaking community
This article takes a look at both the meanings.
Konkanis are a very diverse group of people. The diversity is reflected in the religion, geographical spread, origins and dialects. The Konkani people can be split into many categories based on their location, religion and/or origins . The follwoing are the major groups among the Konkanis:
- Gaud Saraswat Brahmins
- Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins
- Daivadnya Brahmins
- Konkani Lower Castes
- Kokani Muslims (Costal Maharashtra)
- Navayath Muslims (Bhatkal, Karnataka)
- Goan Catholics
- Canarite Catholics
- Janjira Siddis
- Yellapur Siddis
The Marathas is the majority Hindu Konkani community. Other communities include the Saraswat Brahmins, the Chitpavan Brahmins, the Daivadnya Brahmins, the Bhandaris and other castes. Konkani Hindus are found all along the Konkan coast from Raigad to Mangalore. Some isolated pockets exist in Kerala in Cochin and Calicut. Hindu surnames include Parab, Kadam, Bhonsale, Sawant, Kamath, Naik, Nayak, Bhat, Shanbhag, Raikar, Puranik, Pai, Kini, Shenoy, Mallya, Baliga, Acharya, Prabhu, Shukla bhat, Kaushik, Shirali, Hattangady, Koppikar, Sorab, Baindoor, Aroor, etc. Some of these names are derivatives of their profession or are conferred upon them by their Swami or religious head of the community.
The Maratha community is situated from Mumbai to Karwar. They are majorly found in Raigad, Sindhudurg, North Goa, the southern tip of South Goa and Karwar. The dialect of the Maratha community changes as per the region, although almost all of them are well-versed in Marathi which is the caste-language of the Marathas. Marathas in Raigad and Ratnagiri speak pure Marathi, while those in Sindhudurg speak the Malvani langguage, which is a creole between Marathi and Konkani. Those in Goa and Karwar speak Konkani. There are three subgroups among the Konkani Marathas – the Shahnav Kuli Marathas or the 96 Royal Clan Marathas, the Kunbi Marathas and the Gomantak Marathas.
The Chitpavan Brahmins, also known as Kokanashta, are found in coastal Maharashtra. Many of them have contributed a lot to the development of a distinct Kokan-Marathi culture which distinguishes the Maharashtrian Konkanites from the Desh Marathis. The Peshwas of the Maratha Empire like Bajirao, Balaji Bajirao and Madhavrao belonged to this community. So did Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Swatantryaveer Savarkar.
Gaud Saraswat Brahmins are primarily found in Goa, Karnataka & Kerala. Surnames include Kamat/h, Nayak, Bhat, Shanbhag/Shenoy, Puranik, Pai, Kini, Mallya, Baliga, Acharya and Prabhu.
Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins are an offshoot of the GSB community and are mainly found in Canara, the costal region of Karnataka. They have a math at Shirali, Udupi. Chitrapur saraswats have Kannadiga-styled names as compared to their Goan counterparts. Surnames include Hattangady, Shirali, Karnad, Benegal, Padukone, Shirur, Balse.
The people of the Mahar caste are supposed to be the original dwellers in Konkan. There exists certain traditions and rituals in Konkan that allude to this. For example ‘Mahar Muth'(symbolically giving some share of corn to Mahar as the first ‘Mankari'(authority or owner of the land), ‘Mhar dhan'(symbolically giving some money to mahar and buy some land for funeral rites)etc.
There is also a ritual followed among Konkani Brahmans which is linked with Mahars. Basically if there are any issues with child or concerns over child birth, the infant is given to a Mahar family. The child stays with Mahar family for a day or two and is then given back to the biological parents; the parents in turn give betel leaves and a kanika to the Mahar family. The child is given a Mahar name. It is believed that all ills associated with family or child is washed off and they get the child back from blessing of the goddess. Another important tradition to feed the Mahars during reigious occasions and auspicious days.
Gabits or Aarmari Maratha, Bhandari, Kumbhar, Madwal etc are some of other castes especially in South Konkan and Goa. The traditional profession of Gabit people is fishing and working on the ships. They are also one of the ancient dwellers in Konkan, living with the help of the sea.
Konkani Muslims are found int two main groups which are unrelated to each other.
There are large Konkani Muslim communities in Mumbai, Thane, and Ratnagiri. They are both local converts and descendants of Arab traders. Konkani Muslims are heavily involved in the merchant navy, ship-building, and textile industries in India.
Christians form the largest religious group among Konkanis.They are primarily concentrated in Goa and Mangalore. Most can trace their ancestry to the first converted chrisitans from the Velhas Conquistas of Old Goa. They primarily have Lusitanian surnames although a few use their former Hindu names either in pen-names or Hyphenated-names.
The Goan Catholics were converted by the Portuguese after the conquest of Goa. They belong to diverse castes, and speak a different dialect with a nasal accent. Goan Konkani has significantly higher Portuguese loan-words.
Canarite Catholics are descendants of Goan Catholics who fled Goa during the Portuguese-Maratha Wars and the Goan Inquisition. A few of them are descendants of local Tulu converts to Christianity who were over the time assimilated into Konkani culture. The majority of Canarite Catholics are located around Mangalore city and Mangalore archdiocese and mostly refer to themselves as Mangaloreans or Mangalorean Catholics. Catholic surnames include D’Souza, D’Costa, Lobo, Fernandes, Fernandez (Goan Variation), Pinto, D’Cruz and many others.
These Siddis are African warriors who were shipwrecked near Ratnagiri. They quickly organized themselves and gained control of the surrounding territory. the Janjira fort was occupied and held by them for a long time. They are mostly Muslims and are found around Ratnagiri.
The Siddis are an African tribe that arrived at Goa as slaves of the Portuguese. After the abolishment of slavery, they escaped into the neighboring jungles at Yellapur and Karwar and proceeded to lead a tribal existence while retaining the Christian faith and Lusitanian names imparted by the Portuguese.
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