Ashwin C. Pandit

Konkani is an Indo-European language spoken in India by about 3-4 million people according to the 2001 census. It is the state language of Goa and 57% of the population speak the language currently. In additon to Goa, there are substantial speakers of the language in coastal Karnataka, coastal Maharashtra and Kerala. The language has been historically influenced by other local Dravidian languages namely Kannada, Tulu, Kodava, Marathi due to the continuous migrations of the community. The adherents of different religions-Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism also impacted, enriched and contributed to the development of the language.

Originating about the tenth century, Konkani has evolved slowly over time based upon the migrations of the community. Some scriptural references indicate that a strain of speakers lived in coastal areas of the west coast. The earliest acheaological evidence is to be found at the foot of the Jain Gomateswara statue at Sravanabelagola in Karnataka which dates to 983 A.D. Besides this, historical data also suggests that the treatise Jnaneswari written by Saint Jananeswar in Maharashtra in the eleventh century was believed to be an older form of the Konkani language.

In Goa itself, which by a process of immigration, had gradually become home of the largest concentration of the Konkani speakers, the language initially faced immense threats under the Portuguese when they captured Goa in 1511. In time, the language came to be accepted and new strains with a lot of admixture of Portuguese words emerged. During the long period of colonial rule under the Portuguese, many of the Konkani speakers converted to Catholicism and their language underwent transformations incorporating quite a few Portuguese words.Some Catholic priests have also contributed immensely to the language by producing dictionaries and other literary works. Political changes once again affected Konkani in a major way in 1962 when the Inidan army overthrew Portuguese rule . The state, which was hitherto insulated from other neighboring Indian states saw massive demographic changes occurring suddenly.

During recent times, this language is overshadowed by its bigger sister language Marathi from the neighboring state of Maharashtra. A flood of immigrants arrived from Maharashtra into Goa threatening to submerge the Konkani language and make them a minority in their own homeland. The tendency of many Marathi speakers to consider Konkani as a dialect rather than a language contributed further to the rift between the two speakers. Many Goan Hindus adopted Marathi for purposes of convenience as many left the state in search of jobs to Bombay. In addition to this, the migration of the intelligentsia from these areas into the big cities of India and abroad as well as the lack of support from the State Governments have further compounded the problems faced by Konkani speakers.

The modern use of English as the lingua franca and its wide literary use has also meant that Konkani has been relegated to mainly home use especially for the urban Konkani speakers. Several score dialects exist among the Konkani language each being influenced by the presence of the different languages that they co-exist with. The dialects are divided based upon regional, caste and religious affiliations. The majority of Konkani speakers in Goa today are Catholics and speak a different dialect as compared to the Hindus of various sects. However, there does exist a commoner's dialect in prevalence in the market place.

The dialect I have chosen to concentrate upon here is spoken by the 23,000 strong Chitrapur Saraswat community mainly in the coastal areas of Karnataka, Kerala and Goa along with a few urban centres. The community's spiritual center at Shirali in Uttar Kannada district has been instrumental in preserving the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of this community and the Konkani language. In addition, the community's major temples at Kavlem and Priol are also preservers of the heritage. Renewed interest in the language has recently arisen and made possible due the recognition given to the language by the consitution of India. Several grants by the state governments of Karnataka, Kerala and Mahashtra enabled the establishment of Konkani Academies which work for the further development of the language spurring research work and publication of materials. In addition to this, Konkani intellectuals have personally contributed to the growth and preservation of the language through books, poems, cookbooks, dramas and songs, both secular as well as religious.

Shree Chitrapur Math, Shirali, Karnataka, India

Shree Shanta Durga Temple, Kavlem, Goa, India