Challenges before the Gowda Saraswatha Brahmana Samaj- A perspective

Paper presented at the National Seminar on Kashi Math and Guru Parampara, on 4th and 5th January 2014 at Sri Sukrathindra Oriental Research Institute, Ernakulam

Gowda Saraswath Brahmins – a brief historical review:
Gowda Saraswath Brahmins, a miniscule minority community forming a small but distinguished part of the Hindu Sanathana Samaj, traces it’s origins to the ancient Vedic period. As per the Sahyadri Khanda in Skanda Purana, Lord Parashurama is said to have specially invited Gowda Saraswath Brahmins of 10 Gothras along with their Kula Devathas to Gomantak (Goa), a land mass created by Him on the west coast of India for the purpose of Yajna, Shraddha and other Vedic rituals.

They were residents of Goa much before the Portuguese invasion and rule, and were instrumental in building a number of temples in Goa. A few of them are reported to have migrated down south in the 13th century A.D. for purpose of business and gainful employment to places such as Bhatkal, Basrur, Karkala,Mangalore, Manjeshwar,Calicut and Cochin.

During 16the Century, in 1510, the Portuguese invaded Kiswadi in Goa and established their rule and religion – Christianity, by forced conversion and destruction of temples. In 1540, they destroyed 167 temples of GSB’s in Kiswadi. In 1543, the nearby Sasasti and Bardesh taluks, which were till then ruled over by Adilshah of Bijapur, were ceded to the Portuguese by Adilshah. There were over 600 temples of our people in these ceded territories which the Portuguese started destroying, and then started forcibly converting the people to Christianity, on specific instructions received from Portugal.

The Portuguese not only destroyed the temples but also tortured our people who were worshipping their family deities in shrines inside their homes. As a result, our religious functions such as Upanayanam, Marriage etc… had to be stopped. The properties and the incomes from such properties, of 167 temples destroyed in 1540 were forcibly snatched from our people by the Portuguese to fund the establishment of small and big churches, as well as of schools and colleges for the newly converted Christians who were also gifted some lands forcibly taken from our people.

Paper presented at the National Seminar on Kashi Math and Guru Parampara, on 4th and 5th January 2014 at Sri Sukrathindra Oriental Research Institute, Ernakulam.

In 1542, to oversee the above task, Francis Xavier came to Goa from Portugal and was assisted by Vicar General Mingalvas. King Juva of Portugal on 8-3-1547 sent a proclamation and order to Bishop Juvan Albuquerque to enlist the priests of newly established churches to further the task of inquisition. This continued till 1554 when people were given an ultimatum to convert within a period of 21/2 months, as otherwise their properties would be confiscated and they would be forcibly converted.

Our ancestors had now to make a choice. Easier for them would be to acquiesce in this inevitability and lead a comfortable life as newly converted Christians. The difficult and perilous choice would be to give up all their immovable ancestral properties, established businesses, comfortable lives and move with their family, deities and whatever movable wealth they could gather in short time, to new places to start new lives in uncertainty and anxiety for their future.

It is to the lasting credit of our GSB Community that our ancestors chose the latter option. In 1554, Ananda Samvatsara, 12000 of our people migrated enmasse from Goa along with their family, and family deities to different places. Of these, 4000 went east and north. 8000 left for Bhatkal, Basrur, UttaraKannada, DakshinaKannada, Malabar and Cochin.

Migration of GSB’s from Goa.
About a 100 years prior to this event, our people in Bhatkal had already established 7 Shilamaya temples which can be seen even today. Karkala temple had been established in 1537. Manjeshwar temple was established even much earlier.

Migration of our people from Goa continued during the period 1554 to 1565. The Venkatapathi Vigraha of Cochin temple was originally worshipped by the Vijayanagara rulers. This idol was obtained from Sri Vijayendra Thirtha Swami of Kumbakonam Math and first consecration of this idol in Cochin was performed in 1559 by Sri Sudhindra Thirtha, the immediate successor of Sri Vijayendra Thirtha.

It will be seen from the above that our GSB community has been right from the beginning particular about our Kuladevathas, our Temples and our religious practices over riding material consideration. Further more, up until recently, certainly up to Independence in 1947, the systems put in place for administering these institutions namely temples, maths and priests were working reasonably well.

GSB Maths and their reach.
Mathadipathis of our community maths namely Kashimath, Gokarna Parthagali Math and Kavale Math are Dharma Gurus i.e. they are enjoined to propagate Dharma and ensure compliance of customs, religious practices etc.. by members of community. This right to enforce compliance has been recognised and up held when challenged by the courts in British India.

Situation after 1947.
The situation changed after independence and after adoption of the “secular” Indian constitution. Mathadipathis have had to depend on voluntary compliance of customs, practices etc.. by the members of the community in the absence of support for punitive measures available earlier.

This factor together with

  • a. The general atmosphere of increasing permissiveness in the society at large.
  • b. Migration of community members from their compact habitats to other places in the country as well as abroad.
  • c. Instant communication facilities such as TV, Media, Computer etc..
  • d. Higher education and employment of women

have all contributed to the side lining and down grading of genuine spiritual and religious practices such as upanayanam, marriages etc.. These have now become competitive exhibitions of ostentation and wealth. Our elders and bhatmams have been reduced to the level of mute helpless spectators.
Challenges before the Samaj.

The net result of the above could be briefly summarised as under

  • Mandatory rituals such as daily sandhyavandana prayers by the men, home shrines for deities, pooja and maintenance of tulisi plants at home, lighting up lamp in the home shrine in the evening, saying prayers, singing bhajans etc.. have by and large disappeared. It is only the exceptional home where all these or some of these could still be found.
  • The practice of sitting together for at least one meal in a day has been given the go by, as men folk, women and children pursue their own agendas.
  • There is increasing tolerance for permissive social behaviour because of media and environment.
  • There is declining tolerance for each other’s view point among couples and this has resulted in marital discords leading to divorce and separation.
  • Food habits are changing. There is a tendency to move over to non-vegetarian food particularly while eating out.
  • Inter caste marriages are talking place more frequently than earlier.

We are thus beginning to see the ill effects of the increasing materialism and the increased selfishness that goes with it, on our GSB community. It is no comfort at all to know that our community is not alone in this predicament and has the company of other communities as well. In keeping with our tradition as Gowda Saraswatha Brahmins, we ought to have led the others in restoring the values that are being lost.

The clothes that we wear if not washed daily, will over a period of time change its hue. What was once pure white will become yellow and brownish. It will be difficult to recognise the white piece that we brought home from the shop. However if we wash it daily, taking particular care of stains it is possible to maintain a white hue over a long period.

Just as the clothes we wear are exposed to dirt around us, our mind also gets dirty as it is exposed to the events happening around us. These events are experienced and perceived by us through our eyes, ears, skin, nose and tongue, and leave marks on our mind. Some of these are favourable and others unfavourable. These marks that we receive throughout our waking hours determine our conduct and well being.

If the unfavourable impressions are not regularly wiped off, over a period of time they will inevitably change the behaviour of the person. The pace of such change will escalate to a point where the change becomes irreversible. In the beginning there may be some guilty feelings that traditions are being given up but soon this will be the new norm and the person will rationalise and justify the same in the name of modernisation and the need for keeping with the times. What is lost however is the purity of the mind and consciousness which will be reflected in the behaviour. When the number of people affected by such changes is in the majority, the whole samaj appears to have approved the makeover.

Is the Gowda Saraswath Samaj nearing this inflection point? We should however not lose hope and should expect the situation to improve and work towards such improvement.

Sri Sudhindra Thirta Swamiji and GSB Samaj.

In this connection must be mentioned the laudable efforts of HH Srimad Sudhindra Thirta Swamiji over the last 70 years, in reaching out to the GSB Samaj all over India both in traditional settlements of South India & Mumbai as well as the newer settlements in the north. Swamiji deserves the gratitude of the entire GSB Samaj for drawing our attention to these problem and the need to maintain and restore our religious practices. Through regular interactions with the samaj in Kashi Math branches and in temples both in rural and urban areas, He has been able to propagate these values. He rejuvenated the tradition of Kuladevath worship among Kerala GSB’s by establishing Kuladevatha complex at Ambalamedu. By establishing new centres at Delhi, Haridwar, Kalpi, and Badrinath, He has spearheaded the movement for Vyasopasana which incorporates all the values mentioned. Through establishing of training centres for vaidiks in Mangalore and Basrur, He has ensured availability of competent priests for carrying out the religious rituals of an expanding community. By establishing Vyasa Mandir complex in Haridwar and Bala Vedavyasa Mandir at Kalpi, the birth place of Bhagavan Vedavyas, He has highlighted teh contribution of Vedavyas to the entire Hindu Sanathana Samaj.

Although His initial efforts in establishing the innovative Grama Sabhas in Kerala were unfortunately interrupted, it is heartening to hear about the fresh efforts at their revival. It is to be hoped that the Grama Sabha Project would be extended in due course to all the GSB settlements in India and abroad. In my view there is need for drawing up an uniform syllabus for teaching and training by instructors in the Grama Sabha. There is need for training the trainers with the clear focus on the objectives to be achieved and a clear bench mark for judging the results of such training.

The size of the Grama Sabhas should be such that the training is comprehensive and effectively manageable. Methods of teaching should incorporate modern features such as programmed learning. Separate sessions may be necessary for children, boys, girls, men and women. Care must be taken to involve all income groups in the Samaj, particularly from economically weaker sections of the Samaj. Such incorporation and interaction will bring in harmony and empathy in the Samaj. Let us not forget our glorious origins as the descendents of the great rishis such as Athri, Vashishta, Bharadwaja etc…

There is a crying need to give special emphasis to the study of Sanskrit by all members of the Samaj, to enable study and research and reclaim our vedic heritage. Here The Sukruthindra Oriental Research Institute started by HH Srimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji, in memory of His guru, has been rendering yeomen service. Members of our Samaj should extend all possible help in strengthening this institute so that it can enhance scholarship in the Samaj.

Summary and conclusion.
GSB Community, a miniscule minority community in India traces it’s origin to vedic times. It is a community known for its periodic migratory tendency all over India and now established substantial presence in countries such as UK, USA, and Australia. By and large the community has been able to maintain its traditions and food habits. The community has strong presence in commerce and trade and has pioneered the establishment of banking and educational institutions. GSB’s are generally helpful to the society in which they live. It has a tradition of sacrificing material considerations for the upkeep of religious traditions.

In common with other Indian communities GSB’s are in the midst of a turmoil in traditional values and is in danger of losing these. Maths, Temples and Samaj have worked closely with each other to maintain traditions. In the recent past the community appears to have abandoned it’s entrepreneurship and embrace employment in the modern sector. There is urgent need to mobilize the youth and motivate them in reviving our vedic traditions. Gram Sabha is an innovative tool with great potential and promise.

If the past is any indication, there is little doubt that the community will be able to find a solution to the ills plaguing it at present. The sustained efforts made in this regard by HH Srimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji of Sri Kashi Math Samsthan over the last 70 years are laudable. The GSB community is grateful to Swamiji for same. We are indeed fortunate to discuss these problems today in the august presence of HH Samyamindra Thirtha Swamiji and we do look forward to Swamijis guidance and blessings for the well being of GSB Samaj.

Reference: Manuscript in Kannada of Late Sri H.Lakshminarayana Kamath, on The History of Sri Kashi Math and Basrur.

6 thoughts on “Challenges before the Gowda Saraswatha Brahmana Samaj- A perspective

    very good article to know about our past. what is future we do not know but we can learn from the past as to what is good and what is bad.

    Thank you for the great efforts you have put in.

    may swamijis and god bless us to do our best.

  2. Since we are not folowing even 1% of Swamiji’s words how we will get the result.Only God can save this community from perish.I have written a book called ‘Prokshanam’ in Malayalam which was blessed by our Great swamiji and released by His Holiness Samyameendra Thirtha the beloved patta sishya of Kashimath.There is an article in the Website also.Kindly go through.

  3. Pranam Swamiji
    The articles are well researched and relevant to our current scenario.I highly respect your efforts and initiatives to reach out to the present Gen Y.We are engulfed in our daily survival and have lost our core purpose of spiritual journey of the soul.In this situation we have only one source who can redirect our soul that is our Reverend H.H Sri Shrimadh Sudhindra Swamiji.His blessing and guidance is need of the moment to save our GSB Samaj.I have been serving as a volunteer in GSB seva mandal since last 35 years and is available for additional services for the cause of GSB Samaj.
    Pritam Vital Kamath

  4. Hi All ,

    Yes , I do see there are n number of changes in the way that we are treating the GSB Samaj . I would like to contribute to the think tank of any group that is working towards creating a better SAMAJ .

  5. Excellent Article! An Eye -Opener Indeed! Every GSB on this Earth must pay attention to such articles and do some Introspection. We all must try to adhere to our Universally Accepted Principles Of Life and Live according to that. WE SHOULD NOT GET STRAYED BY ALL THE GLAMOROUS THINGS, WE SEE AROUND, BECAUSE THAT IS NOT ETERNAL AND LONG LASTING! BUT WHAT IS LONG LASTING ARE OUR HINDU DHARMA’S TEACHINGS! MAY GOD BLESS ALL!

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