The Desai of Kudal and the Savant of Vadi


Tensing Rodrigues

According to Sardesai, South Konkan constituted a subha under most of the regimes, of course with wide variation of borders over time. This subha was usually divided into two: Rajapur to the north and Kudal to the south, each under an independent sardesai. At least under Vijayanagar it was so; and Bijapur preferred to maintain the arrangement. Savant were the sardesai of Kudal, whose dominion included inter alia, Fonda (Ponda), Pancmahal (Sanguem), Dicholi and Sattari mahals of Goa; though the last two were not part of it all the time. [Sardesai, unpublished: The Naik Pratap Rao Sardesai
Family of Goa, 11]

The Tisvadi mahal of Goa which included the port of Gova, and the Vengurla mahal with the port of the same name, were not included in the jurisdiction of either of the sardesais; they were directly under the monarch; such an arrangement seems to have been followed under most of the regimes. The logic behind such an arrangement was probably twofold. The basis of the watandari was essentially agrarian. The desai and sardesai got a big chunk of the land revenue in return for certain responsibilities, which included inter alia ‘bringing additional land under cultivation, improving irrigation facilities and development of village communities’; the quid pro quo was therefore very obvious. [Sardesai, unpublished: 10] But in the regions centered on the major ports, the need for agrarian development was not significant and agrarian income was only a small part of the total income, which was huge, and formed the bulk of the income of the king. Therefore it made eminent sense to keep these regions directly under
the monarch.

But Mhamai’s story of the Kudal sardesai is not so neat. [Mhamai, 1984: Sawants of Wadi – Coastal Politics in the 18th and 19th Century] So too the narration in the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency – Ratnagiri And Savantvadi Districts or the history of the Savantvadi Samsthanby Sagam. [Sagam, 2015: Savantvadi Samsthanaca Itihas] Reconciling all the three sources it appears that probably sometime in the early 16th century the Bijapuri sultans appointed the Kudaldesasth Prabhu family as the desmukh of Kudal, as a part of the attempt to secure Bijapuri hold over south Komkan; Kudal also included what would eventually come to be designated as Savantvadi. What needs to be noted here is that the Kudaldesasth Prabhu were bramhan, most probably desasth, could be karhade. They had a traditional hold over the territory, for which reason probably they were called Prabhu. What also needs to be noted is that the Prabhu were given the position of desmukh, which is desai, which is lower than that of the sardesai. Dalvi was their senapati that is the military commander; Dalvi, originally dalvoy, like desai and sardesai was a position, which became a surname on account of its hereditary nature; dalvoy designated a military commander. It looks almost obvious that the dalvoy families would be Deccan ksatriya, not bramhan.

But more or less at the same time, there seems to have existed a parallel center of power to the south of Kudal, owing allegiance to the Bijapuri sultan; something that does not fit into a neat map of watandari. These were the Savant Bhosle, with their headquarters at Hodavda. These were clearly ksatriya and claimed to belong to the same Bhosle clan as Shivaji. Their claim to power seems to have arisen from their military prowess; that is what seems to have led the Bijapuri sultan to placate them. The first known chief belonging to this family was Mang Savant, who declared himself independent of the Bijapuri suzerainty in 1554; there is an earlier reference, of the 12th century, to a Desai of Savantvadi. Sometime after 1641 Lakham Savant, the desai of Savantvadi attacked the desmukh of Kudal, killed him and took over his territories. But as Shivaji got into ascendancy, the Savant Bhosle tendered their allegiance to him, who in turn confirmed them as the sardesai of the whole south Komkan, which is Sardesai of Kudal; though sometime in between (at the turn of the 17th century) the Savant shifted their headquarters to Carate town, which was named Sundervadi, which eventually came to be called Savantvadi, the castle of Savant. The tussle between the Prabhu and Savant for the ‘throne’ of Kudal continued for long, with the Bijapuri and Maratha using them as pawns in their own game of supremacy; there was no enduring loyalty between any of them. Soon the Portuguese entered the game, playing the desai against the Bijapuri and the Maratha.

This brief history of ‘dessaiado’ to the immediate north of Goa, serves one purpose: to delineate what could be the extent of the territory that came to be under the watandari of the Sardesai family or families in Goa, that we have referred to earlier; we have hypothetically assumed it to be the Naik Pratap Rau Sardesai family. It is more or less clear by now that the Fonda (Ponda), Pancmahal (Sanguem), Dicholi and Sattari mahals of Goa were in and out of what may be called the Kudal fief, whether it was under the Prabhu or the Savant or tossed between the Bijapuri and Maratha. And this is perhaps what keeps these mahals characteristically out of the fief of a watandar such as a sardesai. The term that we have used earlier is ‘permanently settled’. A watandar’s fief was de facto stable; it was never tossed from sardesai to sardesai. A change in regime at the higher level would mean the sardesais switching allegiance from an old king to a new king; rarely would there be battles between the kings to capture these territories, and still rarer were battles between the sardesais to capture the fiefs.

Probably the reason why it happened in the case of Kudal was because the positions occupied by both the Prabhu and the Savant were not positions in a classic watandari which has the agrarian economy as its base. The primary function of such a watandar is development of village communities and collecting revenue from such land. Their reward too was the ‘hacca’ (right) to collect and keep a part of the revenue. The Prabhu and the Savant were largely ‘acquired’ and ‘adopted’ by the Bijapuri and Maratha rulers on account of their military prowess. So the ‘conquest’ was the very essence of their watandari relation.