SOUTH and North Kanara are the “native place” of the 1,500,000 Saraswats. A small, highly urbanised community, the Saraswats are today divided into three main groups: the Vaishnava Goud Saraswats, the Smarta Chitrapur Saraswats and the Shenvis. Although the Kanaras and the region around them are their most recent home, more than ninety per cent of the erstwhile Saraswat landowners have migrated to cities like Bombay, Bangalore and Dharwar in search of education or employment.
Most of the community’s migrant members, who are today found living in cities as far apart as Calcutta and Trivandrum, have shown a unique penchant for merging with the local scene, adopting new customs and food habits and, quite often, mastering the language of their new home. Neither Maharashtrian nor completely Mysorean, their way of life and their culture draw upon the finest points of both regions and make them their own. Speaking Konkani, a language which has several dialects but no script of its own, the Saraswats are largely a vegetarian community, whose coconut-based cuisine is famed for its variety.
The name Saraswat suggests the legendary origin of the community. They are Aryans, originally inhabiting the valley of the river Saraswati in Kashmir. The gotras of the Saraswats originate from the names of some of these settlers. Examples: Bharadwaja, Vatsa, Kaundinya and Kasyapa.
Nowhere has the Saraswat pioneering spirit been more in evidence than in the field of co-operation. The first people in India – many say in Asia – to plan and execute a scheme for a co-operative housing project, the Saraswats today have successfully formed every conceivable kind of co-operative activity. They have set up holiday homes, schools, housing projects, banks, libraries, religious shrines and social welfare or self-help units.
The winds of change that education has brought have blown away the cobwebs of social taboos and meaningless customs, resulting in a voluntary acceptance of widow remarriages, equal status for women and the rejection of unwholesome practices like the dowry. There has been, in addition, a keen awareness of family planning, the average Saraswat family not having more than three children.
An ever-increasing number of young Saraswats have married outside the community. There are innumerable examples of Saraswats marrying Jews, Christians, Muslims, Parsis, and foreigners, as well as Hindus of different castes from different States.
Goud Saraswats (Vaishnavites): Kamath, Pai, Shenoy, Naik.
Shenvis (Smartas): Sanzgiri, Wagle, Dabhol-kar, Telang, Lad, Dalvi, Bhende, Naik, Kabadi, Rege, Mulgaonkar, Kasbekar, Mahale, Rajad-hyaksha, Rangnekar, Karade.
Chitrapur Saraswats (Sm-artas): Ondoor, Yerdoor, Murur, Nalkur, Aidoor, Aroor, Yellur (these names in Kannada literally mean “one village”, “two villages “ and so on till we come to seven villages – denoting perhaps that villages in Karnataka in the past were numerically arranged, the inhabitants of each being known after the numeral), Chandavarkar, Koppikar, Benegal, Padbidri, Padukone, Dhareshwar, Murdeshwar, Neeshwar, Pandit, Nadkarni, Kulkarni, Kalbag, Sirur.
We are thankful to Sh. Sanjay Godbole, who has great sense of History, for providing us this material, which appeared in the Illustrated weekly of India Annual, 1972). –Editor , Kashmir Sentinel
source: Kashmir Sentinel