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Tensing Rodrigues

For the last few weeks we have discussed at length the rock art sites, finds of pre-historic tools and ancient mountain passes; our reason for doing so is just one: to dig for the roots of our ancestors; so that we may have some idea of ‘who we are and how we got here’, to use the title of Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich’s latest book. Rock art sites, finds of pre-historic tools and mountain passes are the markers that give us a clue to the routes that our ancestors travelled. We continue our search.

We have looked at some better known passes that enable passage across the Sahyadri; but we need to look at these mountain corridors in greater detail. For it is here that the pre-historic movement must have occurred; most of it, probably, from the up-ghat territory to the coast; but some migrations could have happened in the opposite direction as well, if we are to look at the micro-region of extended Konkan in the context of the viewsput forth by Spencer Wells, Niobe Thompson and David Reich.  If that be true, we may end up with quite an exotic take on peopling of Konkan; but there is every possibility that it may turn out to be just a fantasy. Nevertheless we need to keep our search on.

Rock art sites, assemblages of pre-historic tools, caves and objects of primitive worship, found as of now, testify to just a small segment of the gaps in the mountains being used for the pre-historic movement. For the rest we need to extrapolate backwards in time the evidence of movement, mostly for trade, during the last millennium, to surmise what might have happened earlier; and that is what we are going to do.

Balaghat is a place name that recurs again and again in most of the 16th to 19th century maps drawn by the European cartographers, variously spelled as Balaguata, Balaguate or Balagate, placed either in the Sahyadri or beyond to the east. It most probably refers to the mountain barrier that the traders from Deccan had to cross to get to the ports on the western coast; we do not know whether it referred to a specific ghat. The cloth that came to the ports of Goa for export during this time came to be known as the ‘balagate’. Most of the Portuguese dictionaries of the time give the meaning of balagate as ‘pano grosseiro da Índia, pintado de azul e branco’ (coarse cloth of India, painted blue and white).

The Portuguese texts of the time also refer to a number of passes through which the goods came into Goa. Not all of these were passes in the Sahyadri; many of them were passes in the foothills. This is evident from the names of the villages where these passes began and ended. One can look at them as series of passes through which the routes from the coast to the Deccan passed. For that is the nature of the Western Ghats; it consists of multiple mountain ranges, increasing in height as we move from the west to the east.

Perhaps the southernmost of these passes, within the borders of Goa, was the Kundal Ghat, connecting Neturli, Salgini and Verle in Sanguem taluka of Goa to Kumbharvada and Joida in Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka. This area is covered by dense forests and is predominantly inhabited by velip (vellip). There are at least three sacred groves in Verle, religiously preserved by the local population – Bhui Pan (Pann), Paika Pan and Simyapurus Pan. Inside one of the groves there are remnants of what could be a shrine, including a stone object, supposedly representing Betal; such shrine might have existed in the other pans as well. But most likely the stones may not be representing Betal. There is also a stone known as the Gurulo Fator. Earlier there was a sacred place called the mamd (mandd), and close to it was the shrine of Udengi where eight stones were arranged in a circle. [Kerkar, 2007: Bhui Pann of Verle, in Navhind Times, July 15, 2007]

The velip in Verle celebrate Dasro in honour of Candresvar-Bhutnath of Parvat (Candranath, Paroda). Varde Valaulikar is of the opinion that Candresvar was the name given to the folk god Avvesvar, when it was assimilated into the brahmanic pantheon. Kharepatan plates of the South Konkan Silahar king Rattaraj record the grant of some villages to the temple dedicated to Avvesvar. [Varde Valaulikar, 1928: Balipat’tanacho Sod, 304] Avvesvar itself could be a revised version of an earlier name; the original word might have been something like Avvo, meaning mother in the language of the velip. The kshatriya (kathiyavadi chaadd’ddi) Silahar, having adopted it as their god, might have added isvar to it to make it a form of their ancestral god Siva. And again changed it to Candresvar to bless their seat of power, Candrapur (Chandor) (Candresvar = the lord of Chandor); Candresvar-Bhutnath is just 5 kilometres to the south of Chandor. The velip of Verle, however, still owe their allegiance to their Avvo, whatever the rest might call her.

All this goes on to prove that these villages at the foot of the Kundal Ghat were inhabited by some community of pre-historic origin, and were of importance. As per the local tradition Hemad were the first settlers in this area; the sacred groves along with the shrines might have belonged to these; the velip might have taken them over later. [Kerkar, 2007] Could Avvo be their god? 22 kilometres away is the village Hemad barsem or Hemad bhars, near Uguem. Barsem or bhars in the primitive language of the velip (or Hemad) probably means a village; many places in this area predominantly inhabited by the velip, are called simply barsem, or barsem with some prefix. If that be correct then Hemad barsem would mean the Hemad village. Barsem or bhars could even be an Hemad word. If you remember we came across a village by name in Khalce (khalche) Barsa, 8 kilometres to the north-west of Rajapur in Ratnagiri district, a rock art site. [Devache Gotthanne And Other Petroglyphs, November 4, 2018] The temple in Hemad barsem is dedicated to Sri Hemaddev. Who could these Hemad be?

The trade route coming down the Kundal Ghat was supposed to have connected to Zambaulim, and further to Cuncolim, which was a major market. [de Souza, 1989: Goa Through the Ages, Vol II, 83] Presently the State Highway 34 (Karnataka) passes through this ghat, crossing the Anshi National Park, and connecting Karwar to Ramnagar and Belagavi.

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