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The Bhagirathi Tale

Tensing Rodrigues

Filippe Nery Xavier recounts an interesting tale in Gabinete Literário das Fontainhas, Vol 3 (1848), p 57-58 and in Bosquejo Historico Das Comunidades Das Aldeias Dos Concelhos Das Ilhas, Salsete e Bardez, Vol 2 (1907), p 354-355. Once, hostility arose between the desai of Loutulim and Verna, two neighbouring villages in Salcete. The desai of Verna planned to attack Loutulim at the dead of night. But when his daughter-in-law Bhagirathi came to know about this, she was greatly upset; for the desai of Loutulim was her father. Hours before the planned attack, attired as a horseman, she rode to Loutulim to warn her father. Her mission accomplished, she was returning home, when the soldiers of the desai of Verna were marching towards Loutulim. Mistaking her for a spy from the enemy camp, the desai of Verna ordered ‘him’ to be captured; but his soldiers beheaded her instead. It was only at dawn that the desai of Verna realised that the dead ‘spy’ was his daughter-in-law.

The above legend, fact or fiction, is good stuff for a thriller; but that is not what makes it of interest to us; the story is rather inconsistent with what we know up to now, and could therefore be of historical value: Loutulim and Verna were exclusively brahmana villages; how come desai in them?

Both Gabinete Literário das Fontainhas and Bosquejo Historico Das Comunidades affirm that Loutulim and Verna are exclusively brahmana villages. Bosquejo reports about Loutulim: “Gancares: constituiam 25 vangores… todos de brahamanes.” (Gaunkars constitute 25 vangodds all of which are of brahmana.) [Xavier, 1907: Bosquejo Historico Das Comunidades Das Aldeias Dos Concelhos Das Ilhas, Salsete e Bardez, Vol 2, 357]; and about Verna: “Gancares: constituiam 48 vangores… todos de brahamanes.” (Gaunkars constitute 48 vangodds all of which are of brahmana.)[Xavier, 1907: 407] This makes it obvious that both were brahmana villages. This does not mean that there were no persons belonging to other communities residing in these villages; it only means that such persons were either not original inhabitants or were insignificant in number. This classification of villages has to be understood in the context of the peculiar allocation of Salcete villages among brahmana and non-brahmana communities when brahmana entered Salcete. [Who Are Chadd’ddi?; January 1, 2017]

To resolve this anomaly there are just two possibilities. One, the word desai does not refer to a person belonging to kshatriya community; rather it refers to a brahmana holding a particular post or position; or more properly a brahmana family having this surname by virtue of traditionally holding that post or position. One does find the surname Desai or Sardesai among brahmana today. Two, this story pertains to a time prior to the occupation of Salcete by brahmana. The details of this story, however, make it almost obvious that the desai in the story were indeed kshatriya. A brahmana desai is unlikely to have maintained an army of horsemen to launch an attack on another desai.  Even more unlikely is that the daughter of a brahmana would ride a horse at the dead of night from Loutulim to Verna; the whole story is suffused with kshatriya valour. It is an almost foregone conclusion, therefore, that the story pertains to a kshatriya Salcete.We have already discussed the likelihood of these Salcete villages being occupied by kshatriya prior to the advent of brahmana into Konkan. [A Twist in The Story, October 22, 2017]

That brings us to an intriguing hypothesis by Valaulikar in his Goenkaranchi Goeambhaili Vosnnuk. [Valaulikar, 1928: Goenkaranchi Goeambhaili Vosnnuk, 40] He argues that the titles ‘lattalurapuravaresvara’ or ‘lattalurapuraparmesvara’ used by some Rastrakuta kings mean ‘lords of Lotli’ and that it points to the fact that the dynasty originally hails from that place. The Rastrakuta claimed a yadava descent, and therefore were kshatriya. This would very well reinforce our earlier hypothesis of kshatriya Lotli, but for the fact that the Rastrakuta date around 8th to 10th centuries CE, by which time Lotli was already a brahmana village.

Though the hypothesis of Lotli origin of Rastrakuta may be difficult to sustain, the kshatriya past of Lotli is worth investigation.  In that sense, it may not be totally absurd to surmise that the Rastrakuta were indeed memorialising their place of origin by taking the titles ‘lattalurapuravaresvara’ or ‘lattalurapuraparmesvara’ – not the place from which they emerged in the 8th century CE, or in the 2nd century CE as some historians believe (Reu, 1933: History of the Rashtrakutas, 5), but the place from which they originally hailed.

That takes us to an even more interesting hypothesis: Could the Lattalurapura or Lattalura they were memorialising be the place from where the kshatriya of Lotli had come? Just as we surmised that the kshatriya of Kutthalae (Cortalim) and Saṁkhavalae (Sancoale) could have come from Kusasthali in Kathiyavada. Possibly Lattalura was a larger territory of which Lattalurapura was the capital (pura = town or capital). Incidentally, a branch of the Rastrakuta ruled from Lata between 757 and 888. [Reu, 1933: 93] Lata or Latadesa lay around the cleft formed by the Kathiyavada peninsula and mainland Gujarat and included modern Surat, Bharuch, Kheda and Vadodara. Though it is generally held that the Rastrakuta originated in Deccan and extended their empire northwards, their origin would definitely be beyond Narmada – for they were kshatriya (inhabitants of the Indo-Gangetic plain); Lata might not have been an alien land to them. Kusasthali in the north-west of the peninsula to Sorath in the south to Lata in the south-east, forms a coastal strip girdling Kathiyavada. Therefore, what we have said about Kusasthali and Sorath may be applicable to Lata as well – the rising sea levels could have driven its inhabitants into Deccan in search of fresh pastures. Could then we allow the possibility that the kshatriya of Lotli named it after Lata, the homeland that they had left?

A genetic study by Mascarenhas has mapped the migration corridor for Pai surname kaundinya gotra sarasvata brahmana from Sorath to Lotli.  [Mascarenhas, 1915: Genetic and Cultural Reconstruction of the Migration of an Ancient Lineage] Could the kshatriya have followed the same corridor some millennia earlier?

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