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The Kumlbi Religion


As we said before, a people craft their god in their own image and likeness; thus knowing the god, we can know the people. Following in the footsteps of pioneers like Sontheimer and Shulman, we begin our study of the kumlbi religion; with the fond hope that we may be able to know this ancient community better. [Sontheimer, 1989: Pastoral Deities In Western India; Shulman, 1980: Tamil Temple Myths].

We have already seen how useful this approach has been for us to unravel the ksatriya identity in the Deccan; thanks to the work of Dhere [The Dhangar Dynasties Of Deccan, 13 Aug 17; The Yadavaraya, 27 Aug 17; To The Ramparts Of Pratapagada, 03 Sep 17; Dhere, 2011: The Rise of a Folk God, The Viththal of Pandharpur]. That has also led us to stumble upon as yet a little known migration of ksatriya from Kathiyavada to Deccan, much before the exodus of the sarasvat [A Twist In The Story, 22 Oct 17; The Kathiyavadi Chaadd’ddi, 30 Oct 17; The Sorath Connection, 05 Nov 17; Dhere, 2001: Sikhara Simganapuraca Sambhu Maharaja]. Our pursuit along the religious lines has given us a close view of the historic encounter between the vadukar and the ksatriya in Deccan [Revisiting Hwen Thsang’s Konkan, 14 Jan 18]. And unravelling the identity of Siva, we have been able to trace the kirat element in the ksatriya ethnicity from Magadha to Kathiyavas.

To most of us, steeped in the straitjacket of a contemporary religion, the kumlbi religion is indeed an enigma. The difficulties in understanding it are more than one. The old ideas and beliefs are rapidly withering, because these appear to be ‘wrong’; wrong because they do not seem to be rational; wrong because they look unscientific; wrong because they are alien to ‘modern’ way of thinking. So they are purged out or simply let be forgotten. So in the community, only very elderly members will hold these ideas and beliefs or know about them. As the elderly members die, the oral traditions are lost, and with that the knowledge about these ideas and beliefs is lost; for there exist no written texts.

The veneer of sanskritizsation or vedicisation is fast amassing. It affects the objects, the practices, the belief systems, and the language. The aniconic stones, stones that could be simply symbolic or suggestive, are replaced with motifs that are shaped to look like a specific object or person; so a shapeless stone is transformed into a sivling or an image of a Vedic deity. Puja is introduced, and a pujari is brought in. The primitive objects of veneration of the kumlbi are assimilated into the Vedic pantheon, and given a new meaning – connecting them to the Vedic deities. Their names are made ‘derivable’ from Samskrt by modifying them suitably. It is, therefore, difficult to discover the original form that lies under this veneer; with little to guide the unpeeling, the risk of speculative error looms large.

The Portuguese conquest of Salcette in the 16th century gave a further boost to the ‘reformation’ of the kumlbi religion. But for the Jesuit missionaries, the kumlbi were not the first priority; as elsewhere, their strategy was to convert the community at the apex of the hegemony first; with the bramhan converted, they expected the communities at the lower levels to follow them in faith. They did try to christianise the kumlbi religion. Here their strategy was to keep their belief system intact, only to replace the non-Christian objects of veneration with Christian. The following two specimen of naman sung at zagor is a good example of this modus operandi. Before their reconversion to Hinduism, the gavdi of Chimbel used to sing the following naman: “Bap put ispiri santa, tigaya naman maje devbappa sabhaki …” Similarly the during the zagor in Siolim, performed jointly by Hindu and Christian communities, the following naman was sung: “Pahile namandevbappa, dusre naman devsuta, tisre naman ispiri santa …”[Khedekar, 2004 :Gova Kulmi, 145]. As a result, in comparison with the vedicisation, it is easier to unpeel the effects of christianisation, and identify the primal belief system hidden beneath.

There have been attempts to study and describe the kumlbi religion; or to allude to kumlbi religious concepts or ‘objects of veneration’ in studies of Hindu deities in Goa. But most of these have been deductive; they have tried to fit the kumlbi religion in a preconceived model of a primitive or folk religion, rather than being based on field study. Such studies have failed to capture the uniquely distinct characteristics of the kumlbi religion. One such preconceived idea that is often alluded to is the ‘Mother Goddess’. Mitragotri, for instance, sees this idea in the folk deity Samteri, and traces its origin to the kumlbi [Mitragotri, 1992: A Socio-Cultural History Of Goa From The Bhojas To The Vijayanagara, 176]. But according to Khedekar “The concept of Mother Goddess or a female deity prevalent throughout Goa, is not found in this community” [Khedekar, 2004:138]. We indeed do not find an samter or roin (anthill) among the objects in which the kumlbi find divinity; dharitri (earth), vagaro(tiger), sivatari (monitor lizard),etc feature in the kumlbi pantheon.

One probable reason for this sort of contrasting views is the failure to discern the differences between different primitive communities in Goa, who perhaps have distinct origins. Going beyond the domain of religion, we need to look for more than one primitive communities in Goa. And, if possible, sequence their advent in Goa. Dhume has attempted to do this to some extent. [Dhume, 2009: The Cultural History of Goa].

The members of the kumlbi community themselves are now adapting to new norms of right or wrong, be it in the language that they use or in the practices they perform. Because for them it is a matter of joining the mainstream, a matter of emancipation; putting an end to the discrimination and ostracisation. This cannot be stopped, for the community cannot remain an exotic specimen for academic study. Our attempt shall be to navigate through these hurdles to understand the roots of the community. To what extent we succeed, is to be seen; given the fact that very little literature exists on the topic. For the moment, I am relying on just three studies; those by Khedekar, Dhume and Mitragotri. I am looking out for two other studies, which have been brought to my notice: A Konkani Saga – The Concise Cultural History of Konkani Speaking People of Keralaby Balagopal T S Prabhu and The Kunbis Of India by Pratapsinh Velip Kankar.

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