Is trans-Sahyadri Konkan relevant today? At some point in history, Konkan did perhaps occupy a vast swathe of land across the ancient mountains. But contemporary Konkan – the territory where Konkani is spoken as the native language – includes much less – some districts, wholly or partly, of Maharashtra and Karnataka, besides the whole of Goa. But leaving out Goa, all other Konkani areas, Sindhudurga, Ratnagiri and Raigad districts of Maharashtra, and Uttar Kannada, Udupi, Belgaum, Dharwad, Shimoga and Dakshin Kannada districts of Karnataka include trans-Sahyadri territories. These vestiges of the trans-Sahyadri Konkan are not just of a historical significance; they make Konkan ecologically self-contained, and therefore make eminent economic and social sense. Perhaps this would have been the case of Goa too; though the Portuguese acquired Goa with a trans-Sahyadri complement, they chose to cede that away, probably for administrative reasons.
The description of the territory handed over by Adilshahi Prince Mia Ali Khan of Bijapur to the Portuguese Viceroy Pedro Mascarenhas by the peace treaty signed at Old Goa on April 24, 1555 reads as follows: “As quaes terras de Goa começão… das agoas vertentes do Gate até o mar com o todo o Conquão de Porbuly, ficando e entrando tambem nesta demarcação Dabul com suas terras;” [da Cunha Rivara, 1826: Archivo Portuguez Oriental, Fac 5, 1a Parte, 267] It may be natural to assume that the eastern boundary of the territory, given as the “agoas vertentes do Gate”, pertains to the seaward slope of the Ghats. But the reference to Parpoli makes it clear that it is not. Parpoli is at the crest-line of Sahyadri, near Amboli. Moreover, the reference is not to Parpoli per se; the treaty refers to ‘Konkan of Parpoli’. What this suggests is that there existed a region named Konkan stretching over the Ghats, which included Parpoli. Parpoli was, and still is, an important point on the road from the coast (Sawantvadi) to the across the Ghat destinations like Belagavi or Kolhapur. The area is still populated by Konkani speakers who have cultural and family ties with Goa.
Cut to 460 years later, and you see the relevance of trans-Sahyadri Konkan. Goa is today fighting a losing battle over waters of Mhadei. The waters rise in the hills surrounding the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary (the part of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary falling within the state of Karnataka), almost at the top of the western slopes of Sahyadri, and then immediately flow into Goa. The entire area from Amboli and Chandgad to the north of it, to Hallyal, Dandeli and Joida to the south of it is Konkani speaking. In fact, a good part of the latter is being claimed by Maharashtra on the ground that it is Marathi speaking.
What is true of the Mhadei basin is true of the Konkani territories to the north of it and of those to the south of it. As we said earlier, contemporary Konkan, defined as land where Konkani is spoken as the native language, stretches at least from the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra in the north to the Udupi district of Karnataka to the south; this entire costal strip, with the exception of Goa, includes trans-Sahyadri territories. It is beyond the scope of this short description to map the entire strip; let us look at only a few random areas in it to gauge its ecological integrity, and its economic significance. Let us begin with the Kalinadi basin in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka bracing Goa from east and south. The region is abundant in water and forest resources. Kalinadi and its tributaries rise not too far from the Mhadei basin, to the south of it, and flow first southwards and then westwards to empty into the sea at Karwar. The entire basin is thickly forested. The best known perhaps is the Dandeli forest. It is believed to be a remnant of the historical Dandakaranya of the epic age. It adjoins Goa’s Netravalli Wildlife Sanctuary and the Anshi National Park and Kali Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. To its north, spread across the Sindhudurga and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra, is the Tillari basin.
Spread over Belagavi, Shivamogga, Chikkamagaluru, Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka is the Malenadu region. Malenadu gets an annual rainfall of 1,000 to 3,800 millimeters, nurturing a dense rainforest in the region; during the rains innumerous streams gush through the boulders and cliffs; and the fallen leaves of the trees cover the ground with black muck. Malenadu is supposed to be a combination of words male (forest) and nadu (land) – the forest land. [Elliot, 1876: On Some Remains of Antiquity at Hanagal, The Indian Antiquary, vol 5] Perhaps it was this forest that Hwen Thsang was referring to when he wrote “From this, going north-west, we pass through a great forest which is infested with savage animals and desert”; Hwen Thsang was going from Kong-kien-na-pu-lo (Konkanapura = Banavasi) to the “kingdom of Moholacha (Maharashtra)”. Rivers Netravathi, Sharavati, Aghanashini, Varahi, Souparnika, Kedaka, Chakra and Kubja originate in Malenadu and flow through Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka. At this point it may be interesting to note how the word male is still a part of contemporary Konkani vocabulary in the form of the word malapavasa – the rain coming from the mala – for the north-east monsoons.
The two factors that hold this Konkan together are the Konkani language and the Konkan Railway (KR). From Chiplun to Udupi, KR provides an economic lifeline to the Konkani region; and the road network connects the KR hubs to its trans-Sahyadri complement. At present Margao provides the only crossover point from KR to the South-Western / Central rail route; in the near future several more points are likely to emerge at Chiplun (connecting Karad), Vaibhavawadi Road (connecting Kolhapur), Karwar (connecting Dandeli), Honnavar (connecting Talguppa), etc, thus providing ports to the trans-Sahyadri hinterland. The contemporary Konkan that we have tried to define therefore makes eminent economic sense.