Introduction to Literature in the Roman Script

in Article
Published on: 16 December 2015

Fortuitous yet happy circumstances introduce into Konkani the Roman script brought in by mainly the Portuguese missionaries, which it adopts readily for its writing, employing some diacritical marks to make the pronunciation of this exotic language readable to its young neophytes brimming with enthusiasm and admiration for Konkani’s myriad turns of speech. It makes full use of the printing press that came along with its Roman types and fonts into Goa in 1556, and was installed therein in the same year. On that foundation was forged a major edifice of grammatical and lexicographic work and discourse matter in every necessary sphere of human activity, building thereon a literature of massive and unprecedented proportions, thereby blazing a pioneering trail that faltered later but recouped so as to endure and thrive today in a rejuvenated shape and energy.


The conquest of Goa, the commercial entrepot and the most dazzling pearl of the East, then in the Muslim hands of the Adilshahi dynasty of the Bijapur Sultanate, by the Portuguese in February/March, 1510, and then once again definitively on 25th November, of the self-same year, after they were thrown out of it in May of that year, brought into India that European power, the first to land on Indian soil. The first European traveller to Goa, after its conquest by the Portuguese, was its national, Tome Pires, who made notes of his travels across the East (1512–15), and says the following about Goa, its language and its people, precisely as follows (translated from the original Portuguese):


Now our road takes us to the magnificent kingdom of Goa – the key to the First and Second India. On the sea-coast it is separated from the Deccan by Kharepattan, the chief river in India; on the Honnawar side it has Cintacora (Chitakul); and inland it is bounded by the kingdom of the Deccan and the kingdom of Narsinga. The language which is spoken in this kingdom is Konkani. The kingdom of Goa was always esteemed as the best of the king of Narsinga’s possessions, for it was as important as it was prosperous…The language of this kingdom of Goa does not resemble that of the Deccan, nor that of Narsinga, but is a separate language. The people of this kingdom are strong, prudent and very hardworking, both on land and sea.


The above concise description provides us succinctly with the borders of the kingdom of the Goa region at that time, which went up to the Kharepattan river in the north, now separating the Sindhudurg from the Ratnagiri districts of coastal Maharashtra, continuing to be part of the Konkani speaking territory to this date. It also indicates Konkani as the language of this kingdom most accurately and remarks pin-pointedly on its distinct identity, different from that of the neighbouring Deccani or Marathi in the north of it and Kannada to the east and south of it. Soon Goa had become the headquarters of their expanding empire in the East, with a Viceroy at the helm of affairs in it. The printing press of moveable types that had been invented by Gutenberg and had become popular in Europe was a symbol of the progress of the modern age for dissemination of language and its literature to the general run of the people who were literate enough to read it.


A gift of the printing press with its types and fonts in the Roman script, that was also used by Christian Ethiopia situated in the midst of the African continent, presented by the King of Portugal to the latter country’s envoy by the name of Matheus, to be delivered to its famous Prester John, the legendary Christian king in the East, with whom the Portuguese wished to establish contact as an ally in their political and religious designs in the region, landed in the city of Goa, as all things had to for onward transmission to other areas, and was dispatched subsequently to the king, then his reigning Queen, through the route of the Red Sea. The ship that transported it was, however, unfortunately caught up in a storm in that sea and could not proceed further on its sea voyage. Hence it had perforce to return to Goa with its mission unaccomplished. It was then thought that God had willed prophetically that it should be installed in Goa, the opulent capital of the Portuguese empire in the making in the East of the Suez, and it was accordingly done in September, 1556, and started functioning thereafter immediately. The printing press was installed in the then flourishing city of Goa in the College of St. Paul, just taken over by the Jesuits and named as such from the Seminary of the Holy Faith started by the valiant Franciscans Frs. Miguel Vaz and Diogo de Borba. Its first printer, a Spaniard by the name of Juan Bustamente, started its operations naturally in the Roman script for which he had ready and available his fonts and types. This was the first such facility in the sub-continent and in the whole of Asia at that time.


The first printed books that issued from that press in the last quarter of the self-same year, 1556, were: Conclusoes de Logica by Francisco Cabral, Conclusoes de Filosofia by Manuel Teixeira, both in and by the Portuguese, and the third in serial order, a book in Konkani entitled Doutrina Christam (a Christian doctrinal guide) naturally in the self-same Roman script. The last was reportedly authored by the resourceful then senior Goan seminarian, Andre Vaz in his Christian avatar, Kshatriya/Chaddhi/Chardo ‘Gaunkar’ of nearby Kormbolli (Carambolim) village, later to become the first ordained Goan Catholic priest in 1558. He based it probably on the catechism of Marcos Jorge, then prevalent and popular in the Europe of that time, and known to the clergy in Goa, adapting it naturally and suitably to the needs of his Goan parishioners. He is credited also with the first draft grammar of Konkani, on the basis of which he taught the foreign priests “the language of the land that was Konkani”, as mentioned in the relevant documents of the period. Thus Konkani has the distinction of possessing the first printed book in any language in India and that is in the Roman script.


The said book is mentioned as having been in wide circulation in the convents, monasteries and churches, where the religious and secular clergy lived, and in forts and fortresses, where the military men were garrisoned, and had become so popular that a reprint of it was sorely needed and it was so done in 1560, as reported in the chronicles of the period. Unfortunately no extant copy of it has survived the fierce onslaught on these religious Orders that was decreed by several Portuguese governments, notably in 1758 on the Jesuits and later on all other religious Orders in J.A. Aguiar’s infamous mata-frades (priests’-killer) decree of 1834, and the sheer neglect and indifference that it was subjected to by later generations of the missionaries and apathy from its own people oppressed by a self-depression.


a)The Hindu Heritage
But before that, unable to read this Kandvi script that was universally prevalent for writing in Konkani, whether in the records of the village communes or for book-keeping and correspondence of the trading community, the missionaries at the turn of the sixteenth century, following the conquest of Goa in 1510 by the Portuguese, after the first flush of victory, and finding that books in the local languages had been burnt as being suspected of containing ‘pagan’ doctrines, took down and wrote in a phonetic Roman script, with appropriate diacritical marks to show the exact Konkani pronunciation, based on the Portuguese phonology of the period, the massive Tales of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in Konkani prose.


These had been suitably adapted from the original epics by its writers, Krushnadas Shama (Kelosikar) and his companions, of Quelossim, then in the big Salcete but now in the Mormugao county of Goa carved out of it, in tune with the melliflousness of the latter, with a distinctive Goan flavour and additions to them. The transliteration was done on dictation by Goan Konkani pundits from manuscripts in the latter’s possession, as the latter distinctly stated that they were reading out from them..vachitale… as demonstrated factually with intervening remarks within their texts.


It is a canard to say that the missionaries knew no Indian script at that time, as has been insinuated by some. They of course knew the Devanagari script, for they were familiar with Marathi and at least one of them, Thomas Stephens, knew that script well enough to prepare fonts on it, which were not considered for casting by the Portuguese authorities back home in Lisbon. Hence it has to be concluded without the shadow of a doubt that the said tales of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were written in the Kandvi script which was in widespread use for writing exclusively in Konkani, as seen from the contemporary Goan village commune records which were written not by illiterate clerks, as somebody called them, but men well-versed with their comprehensive and key learned profession, but which was not known to the Portuguese missionaries at that time.


These tales attempt to present an autonomous picture of a distinctive culture that has been suppressed or submerged by the political hegemony of another supported by its own rulers over its territory. It puts forward a subaltern view of the happenings at Ayodhya and in the Sri Lanka war, where Ravana, the so-called ‘demon’ king, as depicted by the northerners, is held up as a hero too as do the southern people, along with Sri Rama. It gives great prominence to Lav and Kush, the sons of Rama and Sita, the latter consigned to the forests along with them, and their brave fight against their oppressor father’s armies. It brings Sri Rama as a child into Goan territory, as abducted by diabolic daityas and makes him to meet with the Goan gaunkars of Utorda and Majorda villages, when the son of Ravana, Indrojit, makes an attempt to kidnap the young Rama to Sri Lanka through Mormugao, until rescued by Sri Vashistha, his preceptor, and taken back home to his native Ayodhya.


It is in fluent Konkani prose, a happy blend of the colloquial and the ‘mandarin’, as Tagore did with modern Bengali centuries later, unfettering it from the earlier heavily Sanskritic pedantic, priestly shackles that had kept it in bondage of the few. While the above is part of the Ramayana Tales, those of the Mahabharata as well bear the imprint of Goan localities, particularly in the matter of flora and fauna. It may not be entirely out of place to mention here that Goa has place-names like Panddavam Honvreo (Pandava Caves), Panddavam Kopel (Chapel of the Pandavas in its transformed state of St. Sebastian, the Christian saint) in Aquem, now in Margao town, and in nearby Navelim village a locality called Ravanfondd meaning the ‘grave of Ravana’, which suggest some connection of these places with historical/ mythical events of that ancient period of time.


These two massive works in Konkani are found extant now in the Roman script into which they were laboriously transcribed by the zealous Portuguese missionaries, to whom we are deeply indebted on that account. They are preserved in their original form in their handwriting under Codices nos. 771 and 772 in the District Archives of Braga, an Episcopal town in northern Portugal. One of these two I have painstakingly reconstructed and edited in Devanagari script as “Sollavea Xenkddeantlem Konknni Ramayann” or the Pre-16th century Konkani Ramayana (1996), published by the University of Goa, with assistance it merited from the National Archives of India for the purpose. It has a narrative style of a flowing character, descriptions that are magnificent, an opulent vocabulary, a welter of detail that sometimes halts the smooth flow of the main story, plots and sub-plots, stories within stories that in the manner of an epic, impressed with the devices of the puranic literature of this kind, replete with figures of speech and ornamentation characteristically suited to these tales. These are instinct with wonder and fantasy as they deal with characters of demiurgean proportions and semi-divine and godly beings working marvels of exaggerated dimension that hold us in awe.


The malleability and fluency of the language is alluring no end. Here is a small sample:


Treta-iugim eklo jiv (monux’eo) hozar vorsam aiux’eo (aukh’eo) bhogi . Te iugim sot’eo bolot, lot tik bolnanti. Oixi tea iugachi mhoima. Te iugim somest rai prithvi-vori doit’eo danov mha oturbolli raj’eo korum lagle. Punn tea iugantu dhormu boro udhonddu cholta. Poti-vrota ostrieo apulea daduleachi seva udhonddi koritati; putr bapachi seva koritati; maie-bapa veglle anniek somorthu na. Tea lokachem mon dhorma-vori, sot’eo bolnnem, mha porakromi. Eku magto onathu zori magunk ailo tori apulem xorir mukh’eo taka diti. Apuli proja pallunu prithviche rai nitin bhanddar bhoriti. Hea iugantu bhikari na, vrodh’du mhataroi na. Oixem tem maha-iug somorthu. Konnachem konnak voir na. Pormexpora vanchunu anni eka konnachi bhojona na. Oixem tea iugantu astam somest dev vanarachea vekhan upzum lagle. . .


The other more massive manuscript that is the Konkani prose – Mahabharta has been reconstructed by Prof. Lourdino Rodrigues in part, containing the first eighteen stories of the Adi Parva section of it, and published in the Roman script in 1989, and transcribed in the Devanagari script later by Fr. Pratap Naik in 1990. Its prose is also equally exquisite. Here’s a little sample:


Bhismu montream-prodhanam uloilo: ‘Amchea bapak ostrie-vinn jivak such na. Mha-chintakrantu. Tori atam tonv’eki kon’eaturtachi zoddin’ mhonnonu apulea raj’eantlo ghodde-hasti-roth-paimdoll choturong sohin’ea sohit bhair poddlo. Itukea marga vorio vetam, eka somudrache tirim sugondh porimoll ievum laglo. Tea porimollachea lobdanu rav vo somest sohinem vedle. Tonv raian prodhana paxim vicharilem: ‘Kosturi chodona sariko porimollu zo ieta to khoincho?’ Tem utor aikun prodhanan apulea sevokank nirop dilo: Konni koddem konn devosthan asa, khoim borov sugondh puspancho tthav asa? Tori tumi tthaim ghalunu vegim iea.’ Tem utor aikunu sevok dhanvot gele te somudra tirim sodum lagle. Soditam soditam tea somudrachea tira vori eku navaddu mhonnchem tirim tari utortalo – tachi ti kon’ea mha sorupi, sundori, tea sevokam-ni dekhili. Tiche angicho sugondh porimoll. Tea porimollachea lobdak bhonvranchem ronn zunnunkaru ontrokhieo zata….


Of course, Thomas Stephens, the British Jesuit of Irish extraction, is reported to have drafted the Devanagari characters, as they seem to have been in vogue too, and sent them to Portugal for their types to be cast in the foundry there. But that request does not appear to have been heeded to by the authorities, for there is no mention whatsoever of or reference to that matter in later documents of the period. The Devanagari script was known not only to Stephens but also to a few other zealous Goa-based Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries who read and mastered Marathi as well through it. It was only probably the earliest-known native and original Konkani Kandvi script that they were not conversant with at that point in time, but which at least a few of them mastered later.


b) The Christian Element
The arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in 1510 and the activities of evangelization /proselytization of their missionaries that came in its wake, in which language played naturally a major part, marks a watershed of great importance in the creation of a distinctively Christian literature of excellence in it. But theirs was not the first introduction of Christianity into Goa, as had been believed for long. For a tradition did exist here that St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, had brought and spread the Gospel in the Konkan region including Goa, in western India, as another of the Apostles, St. Thomas, had done in Kerala and Tamilnadu in the southern part of it. However, while the latter’s apostolate not only survived but thrived in southern India and established itself on a sound footing, the former’s did not succeed in striking roots strong enough to survive the onslaught inflicted on it later by other interests, religious and political. The result was that its existence and influence had waned considerably to the extent of its deterioration and merger with local Hindu cults to its ultimate conversion of Berthalameu in the Portuguese of the time to Betal, the homophonous Hindu god of fertility, and its virtual disappearance at the time of the Portuguese advent.


However, their conqueror, Afonso de Albuquerque, mentions in his letters to the then reigning King Manuel I of Portugal, that he found in the excavations carried out in the fort of Banastarim that encircled and fortified the city of Goa, which he was repairing after his conquest of it, several crosses and an altarpiece with an engraved image of Lord Jesus Christ. This find was corroborated and reinforced by him by more blue and black crosses he stumbled upon on the Anjediva island off Karwar. The residue of Christianity that survived in patches, however, brought about a very strong strain of devotion to the Cross and the Virgin Mary, the latter syncretically blended with the Mother Goddess of the local autochtonous culture. This in course of time seeped into the folk beliefs of the rural population of the area, giving a vigorous fillip to the composition of devotional poetry and music at the lowest rungs of the society. These compositions are thoroughly indigenous and do not display any Portuguese influence in the matter of their lexis, but have more of a Biblical flavour reminiscent of the early Christians of the first century, when Bartholomew preached in the Konkan, as attested in the hagiographic Passio Bartholomei and whose suffering and martyrdom is reflected in its raw and harrowing depiction in Vonvallyanco Mollo (1658-59), the massive five-tomed Konkani magnum opus of the Portuguese Jesuit Miguel de Almeida.


Early conversion to Christianity did not sever them from their social and cultural roots, with their caste divisions and disabilities, despite the message of brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God Almighty preached by the new egalitarian faith. Consequently, the old cultural patterns persisted, successfully resisting attempts to eradicate them from their milieu by the standard-bearers of the new dispensation. In these circumstances, they were subtly woven into the new religious tradition and the native art forms made use of by them to sear them into the consciousness of the people they had won over, and have them enshrined in it with considerable success. These appear to have survived for a very long time even when that faith had vanished from the region, until replanted by the Portuguese after a long gap of nearly fifteen centuries in it, with missionary fervour.


There are some hymns which appear to be literary in their scope and conception. An example of a remarkable hymn of this type consists in an evocation of crucial events that proved to be turning points in Jewish history, as embodied in the Old Testament of the Bible. It harks back to the primordial happenings in the Garden of Eden, and expresses with a moving lyricism of great simplicity yet pregnant with rare symbolism and metaphors of vivid variety, the bare facts about them. It is addressed to the Virgin Mary:

Konkani and English version
Jesse-chi Talli, tum ge ————— You are the branch of Jesse
Zolmoli aiz, ————— You were born today,
Tum Jezu-chi mata Mori, ————— You are Mary, the mother of Jesus,
Ankvar niz. ————— You are a natural Virgin.
Davidachi gofinn tum ge, ————— You are the sling of David,
Hatiar Golia-chem, ————— A weapon against Goliath,
Sins kapleim tuvem ————— You had the head cut off
Holofernichem. ————— From Holophernes.
Moizeci betkantti tum ge, ————— You are the staff of Moses,
Boll Kristanvancem; ————— The strength of Christians;
Tem xar ibaddleim tuvem ————— You vanquished that city
Faravya rayacem. ————— Of the Pharaoh kings.
Voikunttachem zhadd tum ge, ————— You are the Tree of Paradise,
Foll am’rutachem; ————— The fruit of nectar;
Jivit rakhleim tuvem ————— You saved the life
Mon’xeakullacem. ————— Of entire mankind.


Apart from the Virgin Mary, the Holy Cross had inspired many lyrics in Konkani, some of the finest of them being manifestations of the deepest spiritual urges of the people in their sincerest expression. For instance, one of them puts forth the symbolism of the Cross as being the death-bed of Jesus Christ, in the following compact stanza:

Konkani and English version
Santa Khursa, ——— Oh, Holy Cross,
Mornnachya tum polonga, ——— You are the bed of death,
Ami somest loku, ——— We, all of us, in unison,
Nomoskar kortanv tuka. ——— Pay obeisance to you.


The Cross in this lyric becomes the veritable image of Christ, and the symbol of the redemption of mankind. It evoked the most intense piety and inspired several lyrics of a wide variety in Konkani. The pure folk style of music accompanying them in its most authentic form is seen in the Santa Khursachi Kuru (The Sign of the Cross), considered a classic of Konkani devotional poetry. The poetic stanzas derive their source from the sign of the Cross, which every Konkani Christian child recites, in his own language, accompanied by movements that consist of one cross on his forehead, a second on his lips, a third on his breast and the last one from head to breast and from shoulder to shoulder, its verses having a catechetical content and purpose. Such folk lyrics and tunes, instinct with pious devotion, are in abundance in the folk repertoire in Konkani. They bear the stamp of the simplicity of folk genius in their composition, with a direct expression of sentiment in poetry. But they do not seem to have any religious sanction behind them and are not normally sung within the precincts of a church or a chapel. They reveal, however, a vital and vigorous vein that courses through the religious make-up of the people of Goa living in the rural demesne, nourished and kept alive through generations, in spite of the snuffing out of the faith from their midst, which faith had been implanted there centuries before the Europeans themselves received it and brought it back to them attired in their own garb.


These verses of a religious or profane character that they later branched off into, were based on an established pattern for literary compositions, namely the Ovi verse stanza in Konkani. The people of Goa had long been composing in that metre their hymns and songs, couching in them the simple yet essential truths of Christianity, the new religion that they had been fired with, in praise of the Cross, the Virgin Mary and several saints of their predilection. The poetry and the music that they are set to, echo through the villages of Goa to this irreverent day, the latter being provided by two kinds of drums or instruments of percussion, known as madlem (akin to mrudanga) and the ghumott, accompanied by a pair of cymbals known as kansallim. The singing and the playing of the drums take on the quality of a ritual. The performance is presented on an appropriate religious occasion like Easter or Christmas, feasts and festivals of the village patron saint or a universal saint like St. John the Baptist, or on social events like marriages, sixth-day wakes, bath with coconut-pulp juice before marriage and in the course of marriage celebrations that the olden days would last for several days, or even for socio-religious observances like the ladin/ ladainha (litany sung in honour of the Virgin), christening, confirmation, first holy communion, etc. which latter was a Portuguese injection.


On a thorough study of the Indian/Goan culture and the Konkani language enshrined in them, and on the basis of grammars and dictionaries prepared for them by some of their own, the same or the other missionaries set about composing their own works in it that rise to considerable literary heights, in the seventeenth century. It was as a result of the deeply felt remorse for the mindless destruction caused to the language and its ‘literary monuments’ in the first flush of the Portuguese conquest, as being detrimental to the spread of Christianity. Schools for teaching them the language of the land had been set up in Goa, to wit: around 1565 in the city of Goa; about 1576 in the Raitur/Rachol citadel; in 1565 in the island of Chorao, and thereafter in Mapusa-Bardez-Goa. The most comprehensive Konkani-Portuguese and vice versa dictionary, springing from the efforts put in from 1570 by the Jesuit confreres and assisted by Antonio de Saldanha (1589-1633), Miguel de Almeida (1607-83) and others was Diogo Ribeiro’s (1560-1633), which was published in 1626.


Almeida prepared another separate dictionary of his own based on the massive 50,000-word compilation of a Portuguese dictionary done by his Jesuit confrere, Benedito/Bento Pereira (1606-81). The most complete Konkani grammatical treatise, the Arte da Lingua Canarim, particularly in respect of its syntax, which he entitled descriptively as Syntaxis Copiossissima…the most copious syntax, with its myriad turns of speech, was prepared by the versatile Portuguese Franciscan friar, Gaspar de S. Miguel (alive in 1595-1647 period), arguably the greatest grammarian of the language. The most outstanding Konkani grammarians of the period were: Thomas Stephens (1549-1617), Henrique Henriques (1520-1600), Joao de Sam Mathias (alive in 1595-1647) and Gaspar de Sam Miguel (alive in 1595-1647).


Here is a sample of the Frei Gaspar de S. Miguel’s most copious syntax (Bhov supraddi vak’eo-bandavoll):

1. Hanv tumche udorgotik mornu mortam: tumi tichevoiri zavn vortotat.

2. Hanv tumche soddvonnek jiv ditam (jiv attitam/prannu ditam; jiv/ prann vechitam, udkantu ghametam, udkantu humetam, ventti vavlli zatam; khostvostu, sorgar dhon’eo zatam). Ponn tumi tichi beporva koritat (hanstat, khelltat, tumkam ticho husko chita na, tumcheri tiche kainchi dhorlem na. Ticho rozmatr podd korinant.

3. Hea kottachem burinz (tower) durga hounu dha pavlam (dha goz, dha purusam).

4. Kubaita (xennaita) (pavs xiddxiddtta); nitolltta, uzvaddtta.

5. Sanzvota; ratvota; kallokhvota.

6. Iemkonddant don dolleam-ni rigunche bhaxe voikunnttant eka dollean riglelem borem.

7. Cheallis-patra vinn mhaka vachta. (vokl nastona mhaka vachunk ieta).


The surviving Konkani flavour of old is witnessed and prefigured in embryonic form in the supposedly prosaic yet practical professional topics such as manuals for parish priests in the matter of confessions, teaching of Christian doctrine and other pastoral chores and routine yet exemplary discipline, handled by them, that appears in works like the Doutrina Christam (1622) of Thomas Stephens, and Prasse Pastoral (1657) authored by Antonio de Saldanha, which are found extant today, giving an inkling of a glimpse of the magnitude of the work done in this regard, much of it lost, that does not deny its existence, as some misguided elements have attempted to do. They displayed a revered literary quality in their composition, availing themselves of all the embellishments and figures of speech and idiomatic expressions in the language, infused by the majestic Latin structure, to full impact in a felicitous manner that is compelling to behold.


Such catechism writers were many among the missionaries, in the fold of the Franciscans as well amidst the Jesuits. The earliest among the booklets on various aspects of the faith and doctrine were prepared by the Franciscans and they were quite popular and in circulation in many parishes of Goa, as reported in the relevant documentation of the period. Manoel de Banha, Manoel do Lado and Manoel Baptista of the Franciscans wrote catechisms in the language, while Thomas Stephens, Diogo Ribeiro and Theotonio Joseph among the Jesuits excelled in catechetics and left behind booklets reflecting their efforts in this direction, which were the forerunners of other more discursive books that followed them containing weightier matter. All these efforts employed usefully the Roman script that was near at hand and acclimatized in Konkani for its medium of expression that was prolific and optimal in character, that surprises us no end and reflects the wealth of the language and its vivid, varied vocabulary with its pluri-layered nuances.


Of the latter is the Declaracam da Doutrina Christam based on Cardinal Bellarmine and other authors’ writings, written by Diogo Ribeiro, the Portuguese Jesuit, and published in 1634. It is a detailed exposition of Christian doctrine, a summation of the tenets of the faith, meant to be read by adult catechumens or baptized mature Christians, with all the flavour of local culture. The Franciscan friar Gaspar de S. Miguel has 13 books to his credit that are of pastoral, doctrinal and related matter. He has also spiritual works of a doctrinal and apologetic cast, like the ‘Symbol’ based on the ‘Symbolum’ of the Dominican friar Luis de Granada, Spain (1582); another based on Cardinal Bellarmine’s ‘Symbolum’, another on the Seven Sacraments and still another on non-Christian religions, and sermons on liturgical seasons and saints, a four-volume publication, with three or four sermons for every Sunday, which last work could be classified in terms of its didactic as well as literary content. Frei Joao de S. Mathias taught Konkani to his colleagues and was the official censor of the Inquisition for Konkani publications. He is reported to have authored a treatise on the ‘Mysteries of Our Faith’ in Konkani along with his confrere, Frei Amador de Santa Anna.


The revival of Christianity after centuries of its lying in limbo, with the coming of the Portuguese, re-kindled the smouldering embers of devotion in these people and made them chant the old hymns with a sprinkling of vocabulary and phrases from the latter’s language that inadvertently crept into the latter’s diction. This poetry of a spiritual mould, simple and direct in its rustic expression, had been in circulation in oral form and tradition and is still found functioning among the communities of toddy-tappers and fishermen in Goa and other Konkani-speaking areas of the western coast of India, particularly in the North and South Kanara and Udupi districts in Karnataka and around the Malvan-Devgad area of the Sindhudurg district of present Maharashtra. While such hymns bearing an ancient stamp on them are popular yet confined to particular communities and are generally not known to the rest of the Konkani-speaking country, there are others which are more widespread and popular to this day and are chanted on occasions like religious services and ladin held at home, in chapels and in churches, or at the wayside crosses and shrines, and have been transmitted orally by heart through generations that retained them in their memory and continued to sing them, to this day. Most of these are anonymous in nature and have been handed down by word of mouth, undergoing a few modifications in the process of dissemination from region to region. They are now accorded the privilege of being included in Konkani hymnals.


The cult of the Virgin Mary stands out in bold relief in this hymnody, as she is the most revered in the Konkani homeland. Particularly in Goa, every church or chapel has always an altar or niche dedicated to her, where, at least once a year, a feast is celebrated in her honour with great fanfare. She merits great praise from the people who invoke her name under various appellations and plead for her intercession, revering her in the mould of the Mother Goddess of their ancestral Hindu religion. Besides being the mother of God, she is also addressed as the mediatrix between fallen and sinning men and the Redeemer, her beloved Son, who will assuredly hearken to her bidding, viz. the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Mount, Our Lady of Seven Dolours, Our Lady of the Rosary, Mercy, Miracles, Fatima, Lourdes, etc.


All social events invoking her blessings and socio-religious gatherings are concluded with a prayer in her honour, which has led to the creation of a large corpus of some of the most lovely lyrics in the language, forthright and direct in their utterance, and moving to intense emotional heights. Most of the times it is filial and spontaneous devotion to her and surrender in her hands that is compressed in these simple-sounding but deeply-felt and inspiring lyrics. Here is a familiar hymn in this genre set to a tune that hums in everyone’s mind in the Goan countryside at least, carried over to Mangalore, Karwar and Mumbai and even in countries of the West, in Europe, Canada and the USA, wherever Goans have found a home away from home, and sung at the novenas, salves and ladainhas, with variations on the type and name of the Virgin Mary in her different apparitions and manifestations:

Konkani and English version

Ruzai/Piedade/Monti/ ———- Our Lady of the Rosary/Saibinni, Mercy/ Mount,
Tum ge amchi Ranni, ———- You are our Queen,
Visronakai ge, Morie, ———- Do not forget, Mother,
Amchim magnnim. ———- Our prayers.
Vinonti kor, Maie, ———- Plead for us, Mother,
Tujya putra lagim, ———- Before your Son,
Mellun ghenvcheak ami ———- So as to obtain for us
Sorginchim dennim. ———- The gifts of heaven.


A charming lyric of the most simple kind, elemental in its content but penetrating in its directness, is sung by innocent children during the nine-days’ novena of Our Lady of the Mount, in early September – for the feast of Our Lady of that invocation comes at the end of the novenas and is celebrated on 8th of that month – as they amble in the procession towards the image of the Virgin in the church, sprinkling their offerings of freshly-plucked flowers borne in delicate little baskets, in her honour, while singing as follows:

Konkani and English version

Devache Maie, pav tum amkam ———- Oh Mother of God, come to our aid,
Devache Maie, dhiru di amkam. ———- Oh Mother of God, grant us courage.

There is another hymn of old in honour of St. Anne, the revered mother of the Virgin Mary, which is lovely in its unctuous diction:

Sant’Ana tujem sufoll jinnem
Devu zala, maie, Natu tuzo;
Swami mhozo, Raza mhozo,
Dan-dhormu, maie, thoru tuzo.
Tuje ge nanvu, novlam porim,
Ana mhonnje tum ge kurpa thori;
Kurpest astona thori zali,
Devan tujka apli aji keli…


In a similar vein are the lyrics in honour of St. Anthony, another popular Portuguese saint of the Goan pantheon. He is invoked for rain during the height of summer preceding the monsoons in May-June, when the land is parched and normal rain is delayed beyond expectations and explanation: Sant’ Anton khursa-bhattant/Pavs ghal amchea xetant meaning “St. Anthony in the landed property of the Cross / Shower rain on our field.” He is prayed for another fresh miracle in times of distress, for the fourteenth one after the thirteen main miracles he is supposed to have performed during his lifetime. A hymn to the saint is worded as follows:

Sant’Antoni bhogta,
Firngeanle kulliechea,
Tujea livrar khelltta
Ballok Jezu Raza.
Ballok khelltta mhonnun,
Saibinn Main ghaili dimbi,
Orasanv mental kori,
Bhogtu Sant’Antoni.
Sant’Antoni bhogta,
Ochorieam tujim tera;
Chovdavem kor ga Saiba,
Amchea papianchea ghora!


The first work of this new Christian dispensation of European mould was, as mentioned above, drafted by the Goan seminarian Andre Vaz of Carambolim, Goa, entitled Doutrina Christam that was printed in 1556, in Roman script. Thomas Stephens (1549-1617), the British Jesuit, however, penned another Doutrina Christam, based on the draft of the book of the self-same name done by Andre Vaz. That was prepared in the form of a dialogue between preceptor and pupil, on the lines of Plato’s Dialogues and was printed in Goa in 1622, thought up to now as the earliest extant book in any Indian language in the country. An extract of it could be enlightening to behold:

Mahapatkanchea Sat Mullsthanancho Avespor
Guru: Pormexporache, ani Santa Igrejeche upodes samballunche, konn te tuvem sangileati. Atam konn tim patkam na korunchim, tim sang.

Six’eo: Mahapatkanchim mullsthanam sat: poilem – gorv; dusrem – apsuarthu; tisrem – kam’; chovthem – krodh; panchvem – pottarthu; sottavem – nedukhcharu; satvem – allsai.

Guru: Sonvsarant anniekam patkam nanti? Hinchim patkam?

Six’eo: Udhonddam asati. Ponn him sat somestanchim mullam, heam vorounu heram somestam nipzotati mhonn. Annim him ji asati, tim ekade vell, mahapatkam zalim tori, annieki vell up-patkam zatati.

Guru: Mahapatkam vorounu patkeak konn vaitt bhogta?

Six’eo: Pormexporachi krupa, ixttagoti ani muktipod sanddovta. Jezu Kristachea mornnacho foll ontorta, kuddi, atmeak, iemkonddichi kheasti, donddonna bhogunk zoddtta. Ani monis mahapatkantu astam jeo borveo kornneo korita, tancho foll taka ontorta.


But another book, the Flos Sanctorum in Kandvi script authored by the Portuguese Franciscan friar Amador de Santa Anna had already preceded it, for it was printed and published in 1607, a copy of which is now available due to my modest efforts through the good offices of the French government’s Maison des Sciences de l’Homme and the Goa University, at the latter’s library, brought into Goa in a copy from the original archived in the oriental collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale, in Paris.


Stephens’ book expounds Christian doctrine in a Konkani language that is enhanced by the literary graces of the period. But before this could be done, the foreign missionaries, who were mainly Portuguese, with a sprinkling of Italian, Spaniards, Frenchmen, had set about to learn the language, with which they seem to have been fascinated, for they speak of it in highly encomiastic terms as compared to Marathi, which they do not wish their dear, sweet Konkani to be ‘contaminated with’ or ‘amaras tado’ or Marathised, as they put it derogatorily, or even with their own Portuguese, which was then in a state of flux, while Konkani was already fixed in its linguistic contours. On learning it to near-perfection, they drafted competent grammars, dictionaries and manuals of doctrine and pastoral work for the training of their confreres, which were printed or issued in manuscript form for circulation among their confreres, all of this being done in the Roman script which they were using universally.


The results were magnificent, as could be seen in their first published book of epic proportions in Konkani prose in 1607 in the original Kandvi script composed by the versatile Portuguese Franciscan friar, Frei Amador de Santa Anna, who had mastered it. It was based on the Flos Sanctorum published in 1599 and 1601, the Castillian classic of Pedro de Ribadaneyra (1526-1611), which was very popular in the Europe of the time. Diogo Ribeiro had also attempted a Konkani version of it, which was not completed.


In a preface to it, the Friar expatiates in Portuguese his mastery over the Konkani language, in which his work is composed, and informs us that he has been preaching in it in several village parishes of Goa, and then proceeds to write in it his massive work running into 1093 pages of big format, that converted into normal book-size would spread over some 2000 pages for sure, a feat which was unparallelled in contemporary sister Indian languages.


A specimen of this script then prevalent in Goa for writing Konkani universally and used in all gaunkari or village commune records of the time, as found in the documents available, has been given by Ignazio Arcamone at the end of his pioneering work in comparative linguistics entitled Janua Indica sive Concanica et Decanica… (1667) in the form of an appendix, along with its Roman script equivalents, demonstrating its widespread and accepted use at that time for normal writing in Konkani in several spheres of activity that mattered to the people.


Antonio de Saldanha’s (1589-1633) Prasse Pastoral is a doctrinal classic that deals with the catechesis of adult catechumens and related matter, along with various usages of the Konkani language in a masterly, erudite manner, drawing on its copious wealth, and in which are reflected the socio-economic and moral conditions of the Goan society of the time. He also wrote a Baculo Pastoral, a pastoral guide for administration of sacraments and other parish work in great detail. There is yet another descriptive work of a spiritual character entitled Beneficios Insignes dos Anjos Custodios (Signal benefits from guardian angels) that would hover around a literary piece, in which the author reveals his in-depth knowledge of things Goan and the complexities and subtle nuances of the Konkani language in all their many-hued splendour.


Joao de Pedrosa (1615-72) authored Instrucao para confissao sacramental meaning instructions for the sacrament of confession, which is in Konkani, though the title is in Portuguese, as it was meant for the consumption and edification of the young missionary novices who were mostly of that nationality or adapted to it. Pedrosa’s more literary work is Devacim Ekangr Bollnnim (1660). It is an adaptation of a European classic of the time that was Soliloquios Divinos in Castillian (Spanish) written by Bernardino de Villegas. This was probably the last of the books printed in Goa, as authored by the foreign missionaries. For those who succeeded them had lost interest in Konkani and the fervour of others had waned considerably to the extent that they turned against it. The Bollnnim are profound reflections of a philosophical and theological mould on God and his relationship with men, in a highly introspective, evocative and meditative diction that displays elegantly the confident mastery of the Konkani language and its various nuances of meaning on the part of the author and his successful adaptations of concepts of an European cast, into an appropriate Indian/Goan cultural mould.


In obvious sedulous imitation of the Konkani prose Ramayana, of which he reveals a close study and internalization, the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio de Saldanha (1589-1633) embarked on the laudable venture of writing his masterpiece Sant’Antonicim Acharyam (Miracles of St. Anthony) that was printed and published in 1655, by which time the Jesuits had installed themselves in Raitur (Rachol) in Salcete, Goa. It has two parts, the first recounting the stories of the miracles performed by the popular saint during his lifetime and the second detailing those coming about owing to his intercession after his demise, in an engagingly charming prose, making liberal use of all the embellishments that the language was endowed with.


Echoes of the Konkani Ramayana narrative, with its mellifluous flow of language, can be heard resoundingly from afar in this work. The saint was born in Lisbon but most of his miracles were wrought in Padua and other towns of Italy, where he toiled tirelessly in God’s vineyard despite all criminal hurdles placed in his path by his enemies, whom he charmed by his guileless simplicity. He was on that account known as Anthony of Padua rather than that of Lisbon. The saint’s gift of bilocation, his humble yet winning ways, and the lovely language in which the stories are told, come alive in memorable lines in Konkani, attuned to the Indian style of narration in emulation of the Konkani Ramayana, subtly rooting it in a Goan environment. Saldanha has also authored the Fruitos da Arvore da Vida or rather in its Konkani title Jivitv rukhachim amrut follam (Fruits of nectar from the Tree of Life), a work of exquisite prose poetry that rises to great heights in the literary sphere.


The greatest masterpiece of this period that has been labelled as the ‘golden era’ of Konkani literature, is undoubtedly the Vonvallyanco Mollo or Jardim dos Pastores or Garden of Shepherds by the Portuguese Jesuit, Miguel de Almeida (1607-83), in five voluminous tomes of 550 and odd printed pages each, published in 1658-59, in moving prose poetry. It takes inspiration from the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, the most famous Doctor of the Catholic Church, yet is not a translation of it but an original work that displays the Konkani language used in it in all the glory of its munificence.


This magnificent literary work deals with the four-fold garden of Heaven, Eden, the Catholic Church and the Saints in the Christian pantheon. It is a summary of the Christian faith, cast in the mould of a philosophical and theological treatise, in mellifluous prose, in ‘Ciceronian periods’ of a Baroque style of decorative description, offers in flowing narrative the gist of Christian dogma, the history of salvation, the birth of Christ, and Mary’s unique place in redemption, the election of the Apostles, the victory of heaven gained for us by the blood of Jesus Christ, with copious quotations from the Fathers of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great, and the Evangelists, who are also depicted in vibrant biographical detail, and with flourishes of rich Baroque imagery “acclimatized in the Konkan’s musical tongue.”


Here is a small sample of the opulent description of king Herod’s suffering as a punishment for his malicious intention to kill the child Jesus and his collateral slaughter of the holy innocents:

Hea nixttur nisanchara Raia Herodiche iede vhoddi vaittive nimitim, tannem kel’lea papache kheasti, iadlek, Swamia Devan taka ieki maha odubhuti boll’llik dili, hou somogr boll’lliko ekvottun tache angim vortoxeo keleoti. Tachie kuddik sorvoi prokarim zall, voll, koxtt, dogd, dukhi, ghaxi donddonna bhogoili. Kitea Joseph mhonntta tennem promannim, obheantorim ieki vhoddi ogni sondokunu, tachem ontorkornn bhov zollo, kel’lem ituleim nanchi zavnu, bhuken vollvollevnu moro; iedi vhoddi tan taka umotto, ki kituliem udok piloi tori, tanen bhovbhovchi tallo sukho: tachea kalliza, popusam, va somogram antank runvam, vonnam, chonvdam poddunu, kusunu, nakhim, tonddim durgondi sutto; somogri kuddicheo sorvoi ghoddono oxttang nit’eokal uslleti: paim suzunu don zal’leti, sorvangacheo xiro voddleleoti, va sukleleoti; haskar huskar vorzolelo: sorvangak kidde poddleleti; ani itulem kuslem ki tachi ghanni konnachean ghevn nozo zaii


The Goan Simao Alvares (alive in 1695-1744) of Chorao had prepared the Konkani grammar of his own in 1695, so that it could help writers and poets in the composition of their literary works. He and his son Lourenco Alvares also compiled bi-lingual dictionaries in the language in 1694-96 with the same altruistic intention.


Before that, the first compiler of Konkani vocabulary was no less a person than the famous Portuguese Jewish physician, Dr. Garcia da Orta (1530-72) who mentioned Konkani botanical terms in his Colloquios dos Simples e Drogas e Cousas medicinais da India… published in1563. In the following century, the Portuguese Jesuit Fr. Diogo de Amaral (1699-1762) brought together what was probably the last of such dictionaries on old standard Konkani on the part of the Jesuits of the seventeenth century. On the grammatical side, a Czech Jesuit by the name of Karel Prikryl (1718-85) landed in Goa and he presented to us a Konkani grammar depicting the status of the language already sliding towards a decline in its literary enterprise, by summing up Thomas Stephens’s formulation of it and setting it out in much clearer terms.


The Italian Jesuit, Fr. Ignazio Arcamone (1615-83), in his Janua Indicasive pro Concanica et Decanica Linguis…(The Indian Open gate through the Konkani and Dekhani – Marathi – tongues) – (1667) carried out a detailed comparison of Konkani grammar with that of Marathi’s and brought out in it systematically the clear distinction between the two, setting out authoritatively the independence of Konkani from its sibling Marathi. This is the first work in comparative linguistics, at least in India, without its getting mention for its inceptive contribution anywhere in that context.


Arcamone also authored the “Sogllea Varusache Vanjel” (Gospels for the whole year), a coalescence of all the Christian Gospels, the first of its kind in Indian languages, an important original work in Konkani prose, as well as the Purgatorici Sassari Ttika, a critical and theological assessment of Purgatory, which were innovative studies uniquely bequeathed to this language, penned by an acknowledged stalwart in the subjects dealt with, with an unusual mastery over the Konkani language that could have put native linguistic competence in the shade. These two are still preserved in the Casanatense Library in Rome, where I had the opportunity to spot them.


The Italian Jesuit Fr. Leonardo Cinnamo (alive in 1623-64) was also active in several fields of literary composition including compilation of grammars and dictionaries in Konkani. He is reported to have authored a catechism and a book on ‘the Mysteries of the Faith’, containing a gist of Christian doctrine, another on the ‘Lives of Saints’ and yet another apologetic work on the ‘Defence of the Mysteries of the Faith’.