This section is devoted for historical development / journey of our GowdaSaraswat Brahmin community-for example our history right from Saraswati river till date.
In the latter half of Seventeenth Century, when Kochi (Kerala) was under Dutch rule, a great project was undertaken by the then Governor of Kochi, Hendrik Adrian Van Rheede. It was the stupendous work of compiling and publishing a fully illustrated botanical encyclopedia with comprehensive information, including medicinal uses, of the vast and diverse plant wealth of the entire Malabar Coast (Kerala State) of India. The book was to be brought out in Latin, the worldwide language of that time, and to be printed from Amsterdam. It was a impossibly ambitious project which involved immense effort by a number of people for many long years.
The working plan to meet the needful requirements was to have a full fledged botanical garden at Fort Kochi, where plants and seeds could be brought from various parts of Malabar and planted. This would make their study, and illustration easier. In 1673, he assigned the task of collecting the medicinal plants, preparing their illustrations and narrating their medicinal uses to three Konkani Physicians of Kochi. They were RANGA BHAT, VINAYAK PANDIT and APPU BHAT. They worked diligently for two years, morning to evening, and completed their assigned task in 1675. While submitting their work they also issued a hand-written and jointly signed testimonial, testifying their close and continued involvement in the compilation of the book and the authenticity of the material presented therein. This historical testimonial was block-printed as such in the First Volume of the book when it was printed in Amsterdam in 1678.
This book, HORTUS INDICUS MALABARICUS, achieved global renown even as its First Volume was published. It was hailed as the first comprehensive book on the natural plant wealth of Malabar (Kerala). The 12 Volumes of this ‘Malabar Garden’ were printed and published from Amsterdam between the years 1678 to 1693. The book is unique in many respects. It is comprehensive, even massive, and it was in Latin, the worldwide language of that time. It is the first printed book bringing out the ancient and traditional ethno-medical knowledge about the medicinal plants by indigenous physicians. In this book Konkani and Malayalam, two native languages of India, came into print for the first time in history. In all the volumes, along with the illustrations, the name of each tree, plant and creeper is etched in four languages – Latina (Latin), Malabarica (Malayalam), Arabica (Arabic) and Lingua Bramanica Antiqua (Konkani).
Though the book was the result of the financial resources, indomitable will power and unrelenting effort on the part of Hendrik Adrian Van Rheede, the basic work including compilation of medicinal uses of plants was done by the three Konkani Physicians of Kochi. The three have themselves testified this in their jointly signed testimonial, which is written and signed in Nagari Script in Lingua Bramanica Antiqua (Konkani Language). It is a very important document in many respects. A direct English translation of the same reads thus:
Swasti. Sree. Salivahana Saka 1597, Rakshasa Samvatsara Chaitra Bahula 10th. We, Ranga Bhat, Vinayak Pandit and Appu Bhat, three physicians residing in Kochi Rajapattana, upon direction from Hendrik Van Rheede, Commander of Kochi, sent knowledgeable persons, giving them payment, to respective places of Malabar and brought the respective medicinal creepers, plants, roots, fruits and seeds that grow there in respective seasons and drawn their diagrams. Afterwards, we have described the names and various qualities of those medicines with reference to our medical lexicons and as understood in our long experience, and we have personally seen to the compilation of this book for the past two years morning and evening. So as not to consider the same incorrect, we have put our signatures. So as it may be considered the truth, we have given this in writing in Nagari letters. Sree.
Signatures: Ranga Bhat Vinayak Pandit Appu Bhat
The testimonial, though precise, is nevertheless quite explicit about the tremendous work that they had contributed in the making of the great book. Their great contribution is additionally evidenced by the amount of Konkani matter appearing in the book. The Konkani names of hundreds of plants, trees and creepers are included throughout the book, in all 12 volumes, in the descriptive parts as well as alongside their illustrations. While the Konkani names in the descriptive parts are given in Roman Script, the names alongside the diagrams are in the original Nagari script itself, indicated as Bramanical characters.
Even as the book was in Latin (the worldwide language of that time) and even as its subject matter was the Plants of Malabar, Hendrik Adrian Van Rheede (1636-1691) had a major reason for including the Konkani names of each and every plant and tree in his masterpiece. The Konkani physicians of Goa and Kochi were equally famous at that time, many of them invariably becoming royal physicians of their respective provinces and states. This fact is supported by any number of historical references. It was also well known that a century earlier Gartia De Orta, the author of ‘Coloquios Dos Simples e Drogas’ a book in Portuguese on the plants of Goa, had compiled his book with the help of the Konkani Physicians of Goa. Further to this, at Kochi, he needed to acknowledge the contribution of the Konkani Physicians. Van Rheede had personally visited them at their homes. He was impressed by their unique method of keeping their traditional knowledge intact through descriptive verses. He has described about this wonderful experience at length in his preface to the third volume of the book.
However, this great contribution of the eminent Konkani physicians in the making of the great HORTUS INDICUS MALABARICUS of global renown remained unknown for many years. Though all the 12 volumes were translated into English from Latin, the actual contents of the Konkani Testimonial alone remained unknown, as the language was not identified correctly by those who were involved in the study of that book. This anomaly was recently rectified by the concerted efforts of some. Many had written articles and even books. Seminars were conducted. All this precipitated in the formation of a Committee for the construction of a fitting Memorial to the great ancestors in their home town of Kochi itself. Finally the dream was realized in 2015.
More Details at: https://hortusindicusmalabaricus.wordpress.com/
GSBs- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
I am deeply sensible of the honour of being asked to deliver the keynote address at this Maha Sammelan. I shall endeavour to say a few words about GSBs-yesterday, today & tomorrow.
I begin with the Goud Saraswath Brahmins (GSBs)-their origin, home and migration.
Saraswath Brahmins are one of the five Panch Goud Brahmins inhabiting the northern and eastern parts of India of which GSBs are a group. Their ancient home in Vedic times was the banks of the mythological river Saraswathi-Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan. A drought of great magnitude and length resulting in that great river drying up made a section of the inhabitants migrate along the Ganga to the east to Goud Desh- modern Bihar and Bengal (Trihotrapura in the Puranas). These Saraswats, therefore, came to be known as Goud Saraswat Brahmins. Later Lord Parasurama invited them with their kuladevatas-(66 families of 10 gotras- sasati- Shastiparambu comes from this and is believed to be the place where the GSBs set up their first residences in Cochin) –to Gomantak Goa for performance of yajnas. In the 13th century there was further migration and settlement along the West coast. GSBs came to Cochin and Kerala for the first time then much before the Portuguese invasion and inquisition. Thus GSBs spanned the whole of India from Kashyapa Bhoomi (Kashmir) to Parasurama Bhoomi(West coast) absorbing a bit of everything from wherever they travelled.
It can be rightly said that GSBs are a miniscule minority community forming a small but distinguished part of the larger Hindu-Sanatana Dharma Samaj and tracing its origins to the ancient Vedic period.
What is important to note is that this migration was not motivated or propelled by ‘the arrogance of military power or the avarice of economic exploitation,’ but by the quest of the true greatness of the spirit. It was for protecting and conserving Dharma-which has no equivalent in any other tongue, and our civilization and culture.
Dharma connotes righteousness, nobility, proper conduct and a philosophy of life which will make one a worthy citizen of the world. One who has understood the ideal and concept of Dharma (a Dharmic person) will practise what may be called ‘obedience to the unenforceable.’ There are norms of nobility and righteousness wholly unenforceable by law but enjoined only by Dharma. In a word Dharma is the greatest and noblest ideal to which human thinking and conduct can aspire. Civilization is an act of the spirit, said our Philosopher-President Dr.Radhakrishnan. Culture is what remains after you have forgotten all that you set out to learn- ie, the residuum left after formal learning which would teach one a meaningful philosophy of life and enrich character. It is for the sake of these higher and sublime things that the community kept moving and in the process sacrificed things more mundane and faced and endured hardships and travails but were steadfast in their goal.
The GSBs have their own distinct customs and traditions, language and culture all of which give them their well defined identity or more appropriately their personality-which the Constitution confers a fundamental right to protect and conserve. The GSBs are born with a Kuladevatha, Ishtadevatha and a Dharma Peetha with a Dharma Guru.
Tradition is an enormous magnifier, said Emerson. But it is not like instant coffee. It takes centuries to make a little history and centuries of history to make a tradition. Every generation will have to cherish it and defend it. This has to be primarily at the family level at home. Hence the importance of the institution of marriage and family and its sanctity.
The hallmark of India is unity in diversity. We are part of a greater assemblage of people with all of whom we have to coordinate. But this is without losing our identity which is what makes life worthwhile and meaningful. We are not like cogs in the wheel. Each one has his own dignity and equal value. That is also the essence and foundation of a pluralist democracy like ours.
The institutions of temples and maths help us and guide us in preserving and nourishing all this. All institutions are the result and expression of the accumulated experience of ages. While change is the law of nature there are certain things which are immutable and unchanging. That is Dharma.
In Hindu society-shastras and law- there are two distinct religious institutions-both ancient and popular.
One is the Devasthan or temple. The heart of a temple is the deity round which everything revolves and in which all assets are vested. The endowment is in favour of the deity. The primary object of a temple is the perpetuation of the worship of the deity and the celebration of festivals. The temples have been the nerve centres of all activities- religious and spiritual, as also socio economic. Festivals are also occasions for social gatherings. The temple is the meeting place for the community.
The other institution is the Math. In earlier times religious and spiritual knowledge was imparted by the Rishi Paramapara-consisting of eminent sages basically in the grihastashram who had their Gurukulas and passed on the baton from Guru to Shishya. The origin of the Math can be traced to the Buddhist period, the congregation of monks was called Sangha and their monastery Vihara or Sangharama. It is to Shri Adi Shankara that we owe the system of Maths that we have now with a Mathadipathi and a Yati Parampara.
A Math is a religious institution presided over by a spiritual head- the Mathadipathi who is one who has taken sanyas- the fourth ashrama. The Mathadipathi occupies the pivotal position in the Math combining in himself the supreme authority-spiritual and temporal and all the assets vesting in him. A Math is totally different from a temple in its concept and purpose. The basic purpose of a Math is propagating religious doctrines and fostering spiritual knowledge- Dharma Prathishtan and Dharma Prachar- very different from a temple. The deities in a Math are essentially for the personal worship of the Mathadipathi which is quite ancillary to the main purpose for which a Math is established. Maths have been the bastions of Sanatana Dharma- of our religion and culture through the ages and centres for religious and spiritual guidance for the laity.
A Math Samsthan like Shri Kashi Math Samasthan- to which almost all present here owe allegiance- means and includes the Mathadipathi Swamiji, the disciples/devotees, the community temples and everything connected with them- all these cumulatively constitute the Samsthan. The position of the Dharma Guru presiding over the Dharma Peetha is unique. The father’s allegiance to a particular Math is perpetuated by his progeny.
The relationship between Shri Kashi Math Samsthan and the Cochin T.D.Temple and Mahajan is unique and of profound historical significance.
The GSB community has made signal contribution in various spheres of human endeavour. Education has been one area in which we have done our mite. T.D. High School where this Sammelan is held goes back to more than 125 years. It is significant that even female education was in vogue here more than 100 years ago. Then we had the TD Medical College, Alleppey, which was the first private professional institution in Kerala. We also have the Canara institutions and the Manipal institutions. The GSBs founded three commercial Banks also.
The distinguishing feature of a Brahmin has always been considered to be learning and knowledge. But somewhere down the line there has been degeneration. In earlier times character was most prized with an untarnished soul when people aspired to live in the world without seeking its approval or flinching at its detraction and resisting all allurements in the belief that the pursuit of truth and knowledge was enough to absorb all their powers and that all outward embellishments are grounded in the weakness of human nature. One was known by what one knew; today, more often than not, one is known for what one has- the house one lives in, the vehicle one drives. In ancient India Kings and Emperors thought it a privilege to sit at the feet of a man of learning. King Janaka, himself a philosopher journeyed to the forest to discourse with Sage Yajnavalkya. Intellectuals and men of knowledge were held in the highest esteem. Unfortunately today the term has been downgraded and has come to mean someone who challenges every tradition and even more one who is intelligent enough to know which side of the bread is buttered. There is a tendency now to engage in single minded pursuit of wealth. That impoverishes the soul, shrivels the imagination, desiccates the heart and diminishes the self. More important than the standard of living is the quality of life. Talking of the Indian masses Galbraith once remarked that there is a richness in their poverty. This is the result of our age old tradition of spiritual values. But today there is the risk of losing that richness without shedding poverty. The general decline in values and ideals in society as a whole has not left untouched any individual or institution. We are no exception. This trend has to be arrested and reversed.
We are a bundle of contradictions as perhaps all societies are today. How to reconcile and apply enduring values to ever changing times and perspectives is the challenge now. We, both as individuals and institutions, ought to be firmly rooted in our past- our heritage, but yet should be forward looking and resilient to cope with changing times and circumstances with its shifting emphasis and differing needs. Every institution should adapt itself and has to earn respect through the test of truth.
We do everything with an eye on the future generations. To build a society or a nation you have to start with the youth. What you learn when you are young colours and influences your entire life. But we can transmit to the next generation only what we ourselves have. Hence it is important that values and proper aspirations become internalised in our psyche.
A society can live only by growing. Intolerance of ideas brings about its decay and death. ‘Toleration is the homage that the finite mind pays to the inexhaustibility of the infinite,’ as Dr. Radhakrishnan elegantly put it. We have to have an open mind and be receptive.
In keeping with today’s requirements, I believe, that apart from fostering our traditions and heritage, we must, as a community, lay special emphasis on education and health care. A healthy mind in a healthy body makes a worthwhile society. Healthcare-preventive and curative-the cost of which is mounting, has to be made available and accessible to all. Then it is education. It has been wisely said that human history is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe. No society can dream to be free, alive and progressive without education. But it has to be true education-man-making education, as Swami Vivekananda said. It should not be value neutral education. Values are ultimate, they know of no reduction below themselves. ‘While knowledge in us may grow from more to more, More of reverence should in us dwell.’
The scarcest commodity today is intellectual integrity-that is the matching of one’s thoughts, words and deeds. The treason of the intellectual consists in his not speaking out loud and clear for the principles and values he holds dear and sacred. The times we live in are characterised by a loss of a sense of values. ‘Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’ We can have and need compromises of issues, but not of values and principles. We need leadership and moral courage which are born of character. We must aim at all round human excellence.
Just as continuity of memory is necessary for the sanity of the individual, continuity of our traditions and culture is essential for the sanity of the community. Can one ordinary person really change things? Perhaps not easily. But by being good people and doing good things, we can, as members of a community dedicated to goodness, change the world. We can matter.
Conferences like this help us remember our past, recall our glory, replenish the wellsprings of our faith and power, rejuvenate ourselves and while living in the present help to mould a better future. It is our prayerful wish and hope that this Maha Sammelan will achieve that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you some thoughts and ideas for your gracious consideration. Thank you for your patience and courtesy.
A brief History of GSBs in Kochi especially in relation to CTD temple.
Features of this document
- The document is written in OLD Malayalam; along with few paras in Kannada, Marathi and Sanskrit -all in Malayalam script.
- The source, the name of the author, date etc. are not available.
- However a cursory reading rules out the doubt about its authenticity.
- Interested persons can co-relate it with other similar documents for enhancing our knowledge about the issue.
It seems last page(s) is missing