Explore Goa >> History of Konkani language




The question of language constitutes one of the major areas of
ongoing debate at the heart of international organizations involved
in education and culture, such as UNESCO, European Council and
others. This growing debate over the defence of linguistical
heritage ? related to contemporary concerns over the preservation of
biodiversity and cultural diversity ? among both, scientific bodies
and diverse international institutions has to be understood in the
light of the crucial function of language in the genesis of cultures.

According to the figures released by UNESCO, there are more than
6700 living languages in the world. Of these, many African, Asian
and American languages are at the risk of extinction. Recent
estimates show that 25 languages disappear annually, that is, at the
rate of one every two weeks.

In the past some colonial regimes have attempted to kill certain
languages and sometimes they have achieved success in their
attempts. Some attempts, of course, have failed. In the present
times however, languages disappear due to diverse factors arising
from peculiar circumstances which differ from place to place and
language to language.

Priceless Heritage

With the disappearance of a language it is not only a human creation
that dies but also a form of expressing a conception of the world, a
means of expressing a relationship with nature, an oral tradition, a
poetry and ultimately a culture, thereby contributing to global
impoverishment of humanity. It is for these reasons that states,
regions, societies and civil and cultural organizations are seeking
to adopt measures conducive to the preservation of languages as
these constitute a priceless heritage, fulfilling a central role in
the preservation of the identity of numerous communities threatened
on diverse continents as well as being indispensable
factors in guaranteeing cultural diversity.

A number of warnings by linguists and other social scientists, as
well as international organizations have come to underline with
growing intensity the crucial factor of languages and mother tongues
in the development of human creativity, of capacity to communicate,
of the elaboration of concepts and above all, its primary role in
cultural identity. It is these concerns that gave rise to the
Universal Declaration on Language Rights approved in Barcelona on 6
June 1996 during the World Conference on Language Rights.

Yet there are attempts to belittle or subjugate languages for
political or cultural domination. Konkani is one such language which
has gone through one painful experience after another. It is also a
language which has survived numerous attempts to kill or to suppress
or replace it with the language of colonial masters.

Hostile Environment

The environment too is not quite conducive in as much as it suffers
from fragmentation of several kinds. It is fragmented geographically
as Konkani speaking people are spread over four different states
though Goa is the place of its origin. It is fragmented
linguistically as there are seven dialects spoken from the North to
the South in its region. It is fragmented culturally as the cultural
environment differs from state to state. It is almost a miracle that
Konkani has survived and it has been able to tread the path of
revival gaining strength as it reaches each milestone of its

The history of Konkani language is the history of a language which
was being taken for crucifixion but fortunately was not killed. This
is the story of a language suppressed by the foreigners and
neglected by its own speakers.

Some of the languages from this world, being difficult and
scholarly, are lagging behind. Some languages being less spoken
gradually become extinct. However, in a bid to demolish a particular
culture, an attempt to destroy its very base was done, which was a
bad fate for Konkani. Nevertheless, it sustained, grew and could
very well dream of a bright future only because it had an incredible
vigour of its own. At present, around 40 to 50 lakh (4 to 5 million)
people speak Konkani in India. Stretching from Bombay to Kochi along
the west coast, Konkani speaking people reside in the four states of
Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.


Most of the scholars concede that Konkani language evolved around
the 10th century. According to Dr. Jose Pereira, during the 8th
century, Aryans set foot on the Konkani soil. Their dialect was
influenced by Prakrit languages and that led to the birth of Konkani
language in the 10th century.

Sripad Raghunath Desai opines that during the 9th or 10th century,
Konkani, Marathi, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Bengali and other modern
Indian languages were born from Apabhramsh Prakrit.

Thereafter, for around 500 years, Konkani must have remained only a
spoken language continuing the oral tradition. No evidence is
available to prove its written tradition of that time. However the
12th century Gomateshwara idol at Sravana belagola carries an
inscription under its feet in the words CHAWUNDRAYEM KARAVIYALEM.
Dr. Jose Periera contends it to be the first sample of written
Konkani. The Head of the Dept. of Marathi at Nagpur
University, Dr. S. B. Kulkarni agrees.

Saint Namdev in one of his verses of Gawlan type has written one of
the stanzas in Konkani:

This may be a piece of written Konkani from the 13th or 14th century.

Portuguese scholar Dr. Cunha Rivara has recorded that during
conversions, Portuguese rulers burnt most of the manuscripts that
existed then. They included some Konkani manuscripts too. But before
the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa, i.e. before the 16th century,
no evidence is yet found to prove that written Konkani was in vogue
during that period.

The First Prose

Stories of various incidents from the epics -- Ramayana and
Mahabharata -- written by Krishnadas Shama are found. Nevertheless,
no proper research throwing light on the aspect whether the stories
were written in the 16th century or whether they were recited to
missionaries or were written for some other reason is yet done. But
that being the first prose among all the modern languages of the
country, Konkani can certainly be proud of this very fact.

In 1510, Portuguese conquered Goa and within the next few years, 3
Talukas -- Salcete, Tiswadi and Bardez -- were brought under their
rule. Around 1936, the process of conversions began. On that account
foreign missionaries came to Goa. Foreign language did not prove
effective to impart religious education to the masses. "I had gone
to hear the sermon with great hope, but the sermon was delivered in
a foreign language", this Konkani proverb must have emerged from
those experiences. Obviously, the missionaries were compelled to
make provision to study and to teach the language to others.
Therefore, they compiled Konkani grammars, dictionaries and produced
religious literature.

Printing press came to Goa in 1556. Konkani books were printed and
published in this press and thus the propogation of Konkani books
was rendered easier. Initially the printing press was installed in
Old Goa but it was later shifted to Raitur. Father Thomas Stephens
published his book ?Doutrina Cristam? in 1622 and his book 'Arte de
Lingua Canarim' the first Konkani grammar of its kind, was published
in 1640. Two factors are important in this light: the first book in
an Indian language was printed in Konkani and second, the first
published grammar of any modern Indian language was of Konkani.

Fundamental Work

The work continued for around 100 years. Fr. Thomas Stephens, Fr.
Diogo Ribeiro, Fr. Antonio Saldanha, Fr. Etiyam de la Croa, Fr.
Gaspar de San Miguel, Fr. Jose de Pedroz, Fr. Ignacio Arcamone and
others contributed a lot to literature. Some other writers too
contributed according to their might. Perhaps this can be considered
the fundamental and pioneering work in creating various resources
for the study of Konkani language and to start a new era of written
tradition of the language.

Unfortunately, after a 100 years, this work suddenly came to a
standstill. Two factors were responsible for it: one -- the
establishment of Inquisition in Goa and the other -- influence of
the luxury loving missionaries upon the King of Portugal.

Inquisition started in 1560. The institution worked to ensure that
the converts should not opt for their original religion again. It
tried cases, passed judgements and declared punishment for the
crimes committed in the matter of religion. Along with that, purely
with a religious intention, it was authorized to impose certain
religious restrictions on the people. The rules framed by this
institution put some restrictions on the use of Konkani language
too. Those who changed their religion, obviously were sought to be
cut off from Konkani and Indian culture as well. The importance of
Konkani from the viewpoint of others eventually declined.

Attempt at Destruction

Bardez taluka was allotted to Franciscan priests for the propogation
of the religion. Gradually, they too became lavish in style. They
were addicted to the worldly life. The compulsion of learning
Konkani was an impediment and burden for them. They immediately
apprised the then Viceroy of Goa: ? We have come here to civilise
the local masses; therefore, instead of learning their language,
they must be taught our language.? The Viceroy Conde de Alvor
questioned: ?How many years will the people require to learn the
Portuguese language?? The priests answered: ?3 years.? The Viceroy
accepted the proposal and recommended it to the king. The King
issued an Order in 1684, banning the use of Konkani. Study of
Konkani abruptly came to a halt by this order. Obviously, accept for
oral communication, use of it for other purposes stopped.

A fair number of books was published in the 18th century. But in the
perception of the government and religious leaders, Konkani bore no
importance at all. The tendency of treating Konkani as a language of
low dignity, germinated from this environment.

Darkness for Two Centuries

The Order of 1684 was followed by darkness for almost 200 years on
the developmental front of Konkani. The written tradition having
been discontinued, the language prevailed only on the tongues of the
people; the gap between the various styles of Konkani widened. Two
happenings, one good and the other bad happened during this period.
In 1812 the European Archbishop of Goa, by his command, banned the
use of Konkani, even in speech in the schools. The same order was
implemented in the seminaries too. The language which had already
suffered a setback received yet another blow. Konkani was banished
from the educational field. Even today some students from convent
schools are fined if found speaking in Konkani. The root of this
tradition must be found lying in that order of 1812.

The good event was, a bright candle lit amidst the darkness of 1857.
Joaquim Eliodoro da Cunha Rivara was appointed Chief Secretary of
Goa in 1855. He was a scholar, researcher and a keen lover of books.
In 1856 he wrote a thesis entitled ?Historical Essay on the Konkani
Language? in Portuguese. It was published in 1858. He exhorted the
youth through his thesis and sought to arouse the spirit of Konkani.
He insisted on the development of Konkani and emphasized that
education be imparted in that language. But his vigorous efforts did
not yield any fruits.

He came out with revised editions of some important Konkani books.
He made an effort to start schools in Konkani medium. But due to
apathy and antagonism his efforts were in vain. The darkness

During this period, Barao de Cumbarjua, Tomaz Mourao and a Luso
Indian writer Fernando Leal proposed the policy of imparting
education in Konkani. But these efforts too failed to produce the
required results. Konkani still lagged behind.

In 1858, Dr. Sebastiao Rudolfo Dalgado was born. After 30 years he
compiled Konkani-Portuguese and Portuguese-Konkani dictionaries. He
must have been inspired by the thesis of Dr. Cunha Rivara.

Scattered Community

The history of Konakani people is also by and large accountable for
the underdeveloped state of Konkani language. Till 15th century, Goa
was ruled by kings from other regions. All of them ruled their
empire and the administration was carried on in their own language.
Thus, Konkani never got any patronage of any government at all. In
addition to this, Konkani community was scattered and the plight of
Konkani became pitiable.

In 1294, Allah-ud-din Khilji invaded Goa and a few families from Goa
fled to Cochin. The king of Cochin offered them shelter. Due to
conversion and inquisition more families migrated to Maharashtra and
Karnataka. A few Goans fled from their territory owing to famines
and persecution from the Marathas. These families studied the
languages of other regions and with the help of scripts from those
languages, tried to preserve Konkani. But they spent quite some time
settling and stabilizing themselves. No work could be done on the
language front. Gradually, fences of scripts developed and
communication was hampered.. Due to this course of events Konkani
survived but it lagged behind its sister languages.

The study of Konkani began in the 16th century and religious
literature was created. Nevertheless, the inspiration behind this
achievement was neither lingual not cultural but was exclusively
religious. As an important instrument of cultural renaissance, the
work of development of Konkani accelerated at the end of the 18th

Era of Achievement

In1877, Shenoi Goembab -- Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar -- was

He embarked upon the task of awakening the people about Konakni at
the intellectual level. His endeavour later on took the form of a
social movement and eventually it spread to all sections of Konkani
speaking community. Shenoi Goembab is aptly regarded as the pioneer
of this movement.

In 1899, Eduardo Bruno de Souza published the first Konkani
newspaper, 'UDENTECHEM SALLOK' and that paved the way for Konkani

In 1892, Lucacino Ribeiro gave to Konkani, ?Tiatr? and provided a
platform for the rich folklore of the soil. Obviously, it attracted
more and more people.

Shenoi Goembab published his books in the first half of the 20th
century. Not only did he write on linguistics, grammar and history
but he created potent creative literature in Konkani. The ideas
projected in his writings awakened the masses. The future
generations girded up their loins having received inspiration from
his works.

At the same time, the development of Konkani was progressing in
Mangalore. A foreign missionary named Agnelo Maffei compiled a
Konkani dictionary and a grammar. St. Aloysius College was
established and Fr. Silvester Menezes shouldered the flag of
Konkani. In 1920, Louis Mascarenhas started a periodical ?Konkani
Dirvem? and creative literature thus blossomed along with journalism.

Awakening of the Masses

Year 1939 saw an important event in public life. Late Madhav
Manjunath Shanbhag organized the First Konkani Parishad in Karwar.
For the first time, the representatives of Konkani community had
assembled there. A new era of awakening had begun.

The 3rd session of this Parishad was held in Bombay. Later on,
Konkani Bhasha Mandal was formed there and various activities began
to take shape. Likewise more of such sessions were held in other
regions and Konkani community became more and more conscious about
its own language.

Goa was liberated from Portuguese regime in 1961. The 8th session of
the Parishad was held in Margao in 1962. The flag of Konkani
movement was hoisted in this session with jubilant pride.

Konkani programmes were broadcast from All India Radio, Bombay since
1956. Writers and artistes got a platform to exhibit their talents.
This led to increased awareness about the strengths and requirements
of the language.

During this period, Konkani Mandals were started in most colleges in
Mumbai and Konkani speaking students from Goa and Mumbai actively
participated in the activities of the Mandals. The Mandals lit the
torch of cultural identity in their hearts. Not only did the Mandals
serve literature and culture, but they created an army of energetic
volunteers needed then to keep going the Konkani movement.

Open Forum

In 1963 Goa Government accepted Konkani as a medium of instruction.
A few primary schools in Konkani medium were started. The dream of
Cunha Rivara, Mourao, Fernando Leal and others was on the verge of
being a reality.

In 1966 Konkani Bhasha Prachar Sabha was formed in Kochi city of
Kerala. The Konkani lovers there united together with the bond of
love for the language and its culture. A host of writers in the new
generation came forth.

In 1967 Opinion Poll was held in Goa. Before that, while opposing
merger of Goa with Maharashtra, a few points were focused upon and
Konkani language, culture and identity were prominent among them.
This propagation effaced many a doubts and misunderstandings about
the language. The new generation was impressed upon with an
unprecedented feeling of love and pride in their mother tongue.

By and large, at the same time, creative activity in the language
was progressing. It bloomed to a great height after the liberation
of Goa. Literature was enriched by writers from Mangalore, Bombay
and Kochi as well. Initially, there was a fertile crop of poems. But
gradually, other genres of literature also flourished. New writers
came to light and the literary potential of the Konkani language was
projected in a radiant way.


There was a demand for the recognition of the language by Sahitya
Akademi from Goa and Kerala. The then President of Sahitya Akademi,
Dr. Sunitikumar Chatterji bestowed affectionate blessings upon
Konkani. However, the Akademi appointed a committee of five
linguists and sought their recommendations. The committee was
unanimous in recommending that Konkani is an independent literary

Sahitya Akademi called for a meeting to discuss the proposal to
recognize Konkani. The then Central Minister, Mohan Dharia
dispatched a letter to the members of the Akademi urging them not to
recognize Konkani. The then Chief Minister of Goa, Smt. Shashikala
Kakodkar, in a similar letter threatened that rivers of blood would
flow in Goa if Konkani was recognized. Yet, brushing aside those
threats Sahitya Akademi recognized Konkani in 1975.

Official Language

In 1986 the obstinate and stubborn attitude of Goa Government
provoked an agitation. It was launched under the banner of Konkani
Projecho Avaz basically with three demands ? I) To enact legislation
to make Konkani the official language of Goa. II) Goa should be
given the status of fullfledged state, and III) To include Konkani
in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

The agitation was successful and on 4th February 1987 the
Legislative Assembly of the then Goa, Daman and Diu Union Territory
passed a legislation making Konkani the official language of Goa.
The bill was assented to by the Governor on 14th April, 1987. The
problem of official language having been solved, the Central
Government conferred full-fledged Statehood on Goa on 30th May 1987.

National Blessing

In 1992 the Central Government considered the demand to include
Konkani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. In all eight
languages were demanding such recognization.

Leaders of various political parties recommended the criterion: a
language which is recognized by Sahitya Akademi and which is
official language of any state be included in the Eighth Schedule.
Only three languages could satisfy these conditions: Konkani,
Manipuri and Nepali. The Government accepted the criterion and on
20th August, 1992 a bill seeking amendment to the Constitution was
introduced. Both the Houses unanimously passed the bill on the same
day. Thus Konkani was finally included in the Eighth Schedule.

In the recent history the movement launched by Konkani Projecho Avaz
had great significance. The very movement resulted into making
Konkani the official language, attainment of statehood for Goa, and
Konkani, having been the official language of the State, its
inclusion in the Eighth Schedule.

In a way, this history is full of obstacles. The development of
Konkani is attained only after crossing all sorts of hurdles. These
obstacles serving as blessings in disguise, guide the language into
multifarious paths of progress. Of course, Konkani ought to feel
proud of its achievements in various spheres. It can now
legitimately dream of a bright future with a sense of confidence. __________________________

Mr. Uday Bhembre,
Chief Editor,
Daily Sunaparant,
Near B. P. S. Club,
Pajifond, Margao, Goa 403 601, INDIA

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