An ancient faith

Here we attempt a superficial description of what appears to be the defining characteristics of the kumlbi religion. This is only an attempt; because it is difficult to capture the kumlbi idea of god in conventional terms; for it does not seem to conform to any theological ideas we are used to. So we use a sort of neti neti approach; neti neti literally means “not this, not this”. Also, we humbly proclaim our ignorance; we know too little of the kumlbi religion to define it, even to describe it fully. Nevertheless, we make an attempt, because even that little effort may help us to understand the community a little better. Our goal is not studying the religion per se; we are interested in the people.

The kumlbi god is not an abstract concept; it is not pantheistic (everything is god); nor panentheistic (god is creator and animator of everything). The kumlbi god appears to be a person, or rather a family. And it lives away from the community; perhaps deep in a jungle, on top of the mountain. That probably means inaccessible to the people. This, however, is not an uncommon idea; almost all primitive religions seem to begin with this ‘inaccessibility’. Perhaps because they are dealing with something that is unknown, unexplainable. Alternatively, does this hark back to a time when the kumlbi settled in an uninhabited territory?  Or rather, does it let us conclude that the kumlbi settled in an uninhabited territory?

As said above, the kumlbi god appears to be a person or a family. You can invite it, when you wish to ask it something or to feed it or to venerate it; or for its annual festival. It has to remain present till the event is over; accept whatever is offered to it. And once the event or the ceremony is over, it has to go back to its place. The kumlbi god cannot dwell among the people of the community. It cannot trouble the community or harm it; it has to be satisfied with what is offered to it. What underlies the idea of such a god seems to be the fear of the unknown; the god is invited to be pleased or placated; so that the people may live in peace [Khedekar, 2004: GovaKulmi, 137].

That reinforces the possibility that the kumlbi settled in an uninhabited territory; that they were surrounded by high mountains and deep jungles; they did not know what lay in that dark space. And therefore feared it. The religion was an attempt to ‘tame’ the wild reality, to make peaceful living possible. This is also suggested by the deities they created. For instance they have a deity by the name ‘vagro’, which refers to a tiger; they give a rough shape to a stone to make it look somewhat like a tiger. They also have a deity by the name ‘sivatari’ which refers to a ‘ghorpad’ or monitor lizard. Both the animals are common in the core areas of inhabitation (original inhabitation) of the kumlbi. Also these core areas are surrounded by high mountains and deep jungles; and were to a far greater extent when the kumlbi are likely to have originally settled there [The Jurassic Forest, 19 Aug 18, Wading Through The Myristica Swamps, 26 Aug 18].

But the fact that the kumlbi settled in an uninhabited territory does not imply that they were the original settlers in Komkan; it only suggests that they could be the original settlers in these particular territories. We have delineated what constitute the core areas of inhabitation of the kumlbi: Canacona, Sanguem and Kepem talukas of Goa and Tinai, Supa, Digi, Ullvi, Barchi, Kumbharwada and Hallyal talukas of Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, essentially the Ghataprabha–Malaprabha – Dudhsagar – Mhaday basin [Valipattana – The Shilahara Capital, 23 Jul 17]. In this context we had also postulated the possibility of a link between the sites where evidence of pre-historic human habitation has been found in Goa and the core areas of habitation of the kumlbi [The Writing On The Rock, 21 Oct 18].

We had also wondered whether the kumlbi could be descendants of one of the waves of homo dispersals from Africa, as they moved along the west coast of India and ventured into the hinterland away from the coast in search of prey; following the courses of the rivers emptying into the sea, ended up crossing the Sahyadri through the Goa Gap; and crossing the Deccan plateau, landed on the east coast. Can such a hypothesis be consistent with the clues offered by the kumlbi religion? The hypothesis requires a west to east movement. And the clues thrown up by the religion also suggest such a movement [Vahia et al, 2017: A Diffusion Based Study Of Population Dynamics: Prehistoric Migrations Into South Asia, 10; Through The Dudhsagar Valley, 28 Oct 18; The Journey of Man, 30 Dec 18]. Here one may find a little of inconsistency in the west to east movement hypothesis. At an earlier point we have concluded that the community first settled in the forests at higher ranges of the foothills of Sahyadri; at that time they were hunter gatherers, and had not yet taken to agriculture. Later, as they began agriculture and animal herding, some of them moved down into lower plains [The Writing On The Rock, 21 Oct 18]. This would obviously be an east to west movement. This could have been a local move; the major movement remaining from the coast towards the Sahyadri. We had also wondered whether the movement was from Dudhsagar – Mhaday basin to the Ghataprabha/Malaprabhabasin, or vice versa; the two lying on the either side of Sahyadri [Through The Dudhsagar Valley, 28 Oct 18]. This is one of the unknown bits of data that are critical to the history of the early settlers in Komkan. Only a genetic study can offer sound evidence for a reliable conclusion.

Not much of genetic studies have been taken up for the people of Komkan. But a few that have happened, have thrown ample light on the peopling of Komkan. At this point I am reminded of D D Kosambi’s mid-50’s dream of multidisciplinary approach to understand history, where analytical evidence holds primacy. Traditions are good and useful; but they have limitations. They have to hold up to the scientific evidence. And in the matter of peopling of a geographical domain, genetics can offer invaluable evidence. Fortunately the National Geographic’s Genographic Project welcomes any offer of collaboration in collecting cheek swab samples from all sorts of people across the globe, to create a global database of genetic data. Madurai University is the coordinating centre for the project in India. A number of suggestions have been put forth for reaching out to the MU for a genetic study in Komkan. Personally I cannot do much as I am not competent to handle this matter. If anyone would be willing to collaborate on this ambitious project, it would be great.

Categories: Panorama
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