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The origin of gamvkari


Last time we had speculated on whether the institutions of ‘mahajan’ and ‘gamvkari’ could be traced back to the early settlers in Komkan. We need to place this in the context of ‘a different story’ suggested by works like Sahyadrikhand and Gramapaddhati. The latter is said to be a part of the former, and contains the rules pertaining to the governance of villages, their classification and the names of all important households in them, which gives a comprehensive idea of what Saletore calls ‘the great village assemblies’ in ancient Tuluvanadu (modern South Kanara district of Karnataka). Both the above works seem to have originated from a common source and therefore tell the same story: the settlement of an uninhabited Komkan by brahman brought from Ahicchatra by Parsuram and Mayuravarma, the Kadamba king. But this proposition appears to be weak; it is more reasonable to trace the origin of the gamvkari to the primitive communities like the kumlbi.

If we accept the proposition that the gamvkari and similar village level organisations for collective management of land originated with the adi vasi(primitive settlers) like the kumlbi, one question that may face us is: were these primitive settlers capable of devising such complex organisations ? We can base the answer to that question only on circumstantial evidence; there are two independent threads of evidence that prompt us to say: why not?

The first is the kurumba origin of the Pallavar; according to Stuart, the kurumba “are the modern representatives of the ancient Pallavas, who were once so powerful in Southern India. … Traditions state that a very considerable sea-trade was carried on by them with foreign countries, and this is confirmed by the discovery along the sea coast of Pallava coins, together with those of ancient Rome and China” [Stuart, 1895: Madras District Manuals – North Arcot, Volume 1, 220]. The extensive, massive and fabulous heritage of Mamallapuram is a living testimony to the trading success of Pallavar [The Kurumba Origin Of The Pallavar, March 31, 2019].

Rawlinson makes it very clear that the Pallavar ‘appear to have been intruders, and to have formed no part of the original Tamil kingdoms’ [Rawlinson, 1937: India – A Short Cultural History, 194]. Rawlinson’s casual comparison of the Pallavar to the founders of the Vijayanagar Kingdom in the matter of ‘collecting round them members of kurumbas, maravas, kallas’, could be suggestive, though several centuries separate the two kingdoms. At least some of the founders of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, belonging to the Samgam Dynasty, are claimed to have been of kuruba origin, according to Sewell, the best known chronicler of the Vijayanagar Empire; the assertion is based on the chronicles of Fernao Nuniz and Diogo do Couto [Sewell, 1900: A Forgotten Empire, 23]. A blog titled ‘Vijayanagara Kingdom And Goa’s Sangam Dynasty’, published sometime in 2012, claims that the Samgam dynasty originated in Goa; that they were shepherds, and local chieftains, belonging possibly to the velip community. The blogger, himself from Sanguem, claimed to belong to the same community as the Samgam brothers [The Dhangar Dynasties Of Deccan, August 13, 2017].

Of far more utility is the record in the Manuscript Book Number 14, Countermark 768, Section 7, in the Mackenzie Manuscripts deposited in the Madras College Library. The section titled ‘Ancient history of Tondamandalam, and its earlier inhabitants called Vedars and Curumbars’ records the following: ‘Many years after, the Curumbars arose in the Carnata country: … They chose a man who had some knowledge of books, who was chief of the Dravida country, and was called Camanda Curumba Prabhu, and Palal Raja; he built a fort in Puralur. … While they were ruling, there was a commerce carried on by ships’ [Taylor, 1838: Examination and Analysis of the Mackenzie
Manuscripts Deposited In The Madras College Library, 81].

Almost similar is the history of the bhil. Wilson opines that the bhil do not ‘differ in race’ from the koli, kulambi or kunbi [Wilson, 1876: The Aboriginal Tribes of Bombay Presidency, 8]. Enthoven writes : “There is evidence that the Bhillas, so contemptuously spoken of in Sanskrit literature, were at one time a powerful race owning considerable tracts of country. Both Jodhpur and Udaipur made conquests over the Bhillas, winning tracts of country from them, and the Rajput princes of Dungarpur and Banswara similarly won land from Bhils..” [Enthoven, 1987: The Tribes And Castes Of Bombay, Volume 1, 153]. At the accession of a Rajput prince, blood taken from the thumb or toe of a Bhil was smeared on the prince’s forehead, as a mark of the former being the lord of the land.

Our study of the quartz bead industry in Kathiyavad suggests that it was the Bhil who mined it in Ratanpur near the mouth of the Narmada River or the Rajpipla Hills along its north bank, and exported to transshipment points; Kathiyavad seems to have been the principal among these [The Bead Story, June 16, 2019]. Similarly the shells came from the coast or from the Kacch Island; and the shell working happened closer to the sites from where the shells were harvested. This suggests that both the collection of shells and the crafting of the objects was in the hand of the natives, the koli. But the situation seems to have changed after the arrival of the ksatriya around 2,600 BCE. The latter seems to have captured both the bead and shell industry, and the trade thereof, from the bhil / koli [The Shells Of Khirsara, June 23, 2019]. This ‘capture’ is suggested by the fortifications in Khirsara in the Kacch Island. An extraordinary feature about Khirsara is that it not only had an outer fortification wall around it, but every complex inside had its own fortification wall, be it the citadel, the warehouse, the factory with its habitation annex and even the potters’ kiln, which lay outside the outer fortification wall [Nath et al, 2013: Fortified Factory at Harappan Metropolis Khirsara, Gujarat, in Heritage : Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology, 1, 658]. If the Pallavar and the Bhil could build a trading empire across the seas, connecting China to Mesopotamia, there is no reason to doubt the ability of the kumlbi to build the gamvkari, the khazan, the bamdh and the manas (sluice gate).

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