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The Konkani Domain

Tensing Rodrigues

Let us today look at the land inhabited by the native speakers of Konkani language over a wider canvas. This is partly by way of a recapitulation of what we have discussed earlier and partly by way of filling in what we failed to discuss; and to lay the groundwork for what we are going to discuss ahead.  We have roughly called this territory Konkan; but the geographical extent of that term has changed over time. And the changes have been rather confusing and conflicting; often dividing the Konkanis across political boundaries at one time and merging others with them within the same area at another time.

Let us begin with José Gerson da Cunha’s delineation of the boundaries of Konkani region (1881): “Konkani language is spoken throughout that narrow strip of land which is bounded on the north by Malvan, on the south by Karwar, on the east by the Western Ghats, and on the west by the Arabian Sea.” [da Cunha, 1881: The Konkani Language and Literature, 1]

A little earlier, in his seminal work Ensaio Historico da Lingua Concani (1858), Joaquim Heliodoro da Cunha Rivara had defined the Konkani territory as follows: “A Lingua Concanicomeçaaonorte de Goa nosdistritosmeridionaes do CollectoradoBritannico de Rathnaguery, ondetoca com a Lingua Maratha; e extende-se para o sulatéUdipo, junta a Cundapôr, no Canará, ouaindasegundooutrasinformaçõesatéMangalor, ondecomeça a Lingua Tulu, que he a maisgeraldoCanará. Indo assim o Concani a ser o ramomaismeridional da familiaSanscritoide, ou do Norte,e o quefaz a juncçãodestafamilia com a Tamiloide, ou do Sul. Peloorienteextende-se atéaos Gattes.” (The Konkani language begins to the north of Goa in southern districts of the Brittish Collectorate of Rathnaguery, where it touches the territory of Marathilanguage; and extends in the south to Udipo, adjoining Cundapor in Canara, or as others inform, to Mangalor, where the territory of Tulu language begins, which is more commonly spoken in Canara. Thus Konkani is the southernmost branch of the Sanscritoid family of languages, or the family of Northern languages, that connects to the Tamiloid family of languages or the family of Southern languages. In the east it extends up to the Ghats.) [Cunha Rivara, 1858: Ensaio Historico Da Lingua Concani, 4]

Cunha Rivara’s contemporary Sir Erskine Perry sets similar boundaries for the Konkani territory in his On the Geographical Distribution of the Principal Languages of India, and the Feasibility of Introducing English as a Lingua Franca (1853): “From Daman, in the Northern Konkan, Marathi runs down the coast both below and above the Ghats to the neighbourhood of Goa, where it meets the language which Lassen, following his authorities Mackenzie and Ellis, calls Konkani, and which language runs, according to Walter Elliot, nearly as far as Mangalore, but the southern limits of this mixed dialect, however, I learn from native travellers, and from the German Missionaries at Mangalore, is a village four miles north of Upi, or Oodapee, near Coondapore, where Tulu, or the language of Canara, begins.” [Perry, 1853 : “On the Geographical Distribution of the Principal Languages of India, and the Feasibility of Introducing English as a Lingua Franca”, in Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol IV, no 17, 299]

A relatively modern definition of Konkani territory (1991) follows more or less the same lines : “Main language of Goa (and of Savantvadi area immediately to the north), and important language of the polyglot North and South  Kanara Districts of coastal Karnataka to the south ; also spoken by large emigrant colonies in Bombay and Kerala.” [Masica, 1991: The Indo-Aryan Languages, 434]

The Konkani territory is now generally believed to have extended roughly along the coast from the present Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra in the North, through present Sindhudurga District of Maharashtra, Goa and present Uttar Kannada Districtof Karnataka, to the present Udupi District of Karnataka in the South, and also some up-Ghattalukas of Uttar Kannada (Hallyal, Supa, Yellapur, Mundgod, Sirsi and Siddapur talukas) and Belgaum (Khanapur taluka) districts of Karnataka. However, most would not extend the Konkani homeland to Mangalore or the present Dakshin Kannada District. By late 19th century Mangalore had a significant Konkani population with a dominating presence, thus overshadowing the fact that Konkani might not have beennative to that place. The dominating presence of Konkanis in Dakshin Kannada probably happened on account of the relocation of Konkanis to Karnataka and Kerala due to political compulsions in earlier times : in the 14th century they fled the invasions of Malik Kafur, Mohammad Bin Tughlak and Nawab Jamal-ud-din, in the 15th century that of the Bahaman is and finally in the 16th century upon the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese, because of the forced conversions and Inquisition. Political compulsions drove Konkanis to Cochin as well. Trade took them to major entrepôts on the west coast like Mumbai, Honawar, Bhatkal and Calicut, as well as inland centres of trade like Belgaum and Dharwad. In all these places significant communities of Konkani diaspora came to be formed over time, fuzzying the borders of Konkani homeland.

But, as we have said before, this captures only the recent history. Cunningham describes the extent of Konkan from Kalaburagi (Gulbarga) to Madhugiri and along the coast from Vengurla to Kundapur. (Cunningham, 1871: The Ancient Geography of India, Vol. I, 553) That could be at the turn of the first millennium of the Common Era. But we have considered evidence that points to this being the situation before that and even after that; we are going to see more about it. We shall also look at the cartographic evidence. No doubt, sometimes we will be left bewildered about what exactly Konkan has been. But a journey through time to observe the ebb and tide of Konkani homeland, is inevitable, if we are to pursue the answer to the question we began with: ‘Who are we?’

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