East Indians as a designated community emerged in 1887. A group of East Indians by virtue of a resolution passed on May 26, 1887, decided to name the hitherto-called Portuguese Christians as East Indians. The origins, however, of Christians in the north Konkan region is said to go back to the first century AD. To understand the East Indian language one must delve into their origins as a people and their culture. East Indians are indigenous to the north Konkan coast of India and owe their nomenclature not to natural growth but to a change in religion. Their ancestors were the Marathi-speaking people of what is now Mumbai, Greater Mumbai, Thane, Bassein and Chaoul.
By itself, Bombay was of little importance to the rulers of the Konkan, who ruled mainly from mainland Deccan. Raja Bhim, who was said to be a prince from the last remnants of the Yadav dynasty, came fleeing the constant wars in the Deccan to the island of Mahim, which he called Mahikavati, and settled there somewhere around the middle of the 13th Century. It is from this point on that things started to change for Bombay and the islands began to get populated.
The language spoken by the native Christians of the north Konkan, or East Indians, and their erstwhile Hindu brothers, is a dialect of Marathi used in 13th Century Deccan. A similar language is also found in the Dnyaneshwari, a commentary on the Bhagavat Gita by the Marathi saint-poet Dnyaneshwar. It contains an admixture of different words, some of which are found in Gujarati and Hindi as well. This is the original language of Bombay, Salsette and Bassein.
It has been recorded that from 1836 to 1838, among the various dialects of Marathi spoken in Bombay, there was one spoken by the native Christians of Bombay and Salsette which was quite unique and sweet. This was the dialect common to all the castes before they were converted by the Portuguese. However, the modern-day East Indian dialect is a mixture of Konkan Marathi with a sprinkling of Portuguese words (Elsie 1967).
Name and Script
The East Indian language is a dialect of Marathi and is called East Indian dialect or East Indian Marathi, though there is no official name for it as such. Sometimes it is also referred to just as Boli Basha or Mai Boli, which means mother tongue in Marathi.
Since the Krist Purana of the 16th Century was in Roman script, the same script is used to write the dialect. The Portuguese missionaries, in order to spread the Christian Gospel among the natives of Bombay, learned the language of the natives. But the missionaries instead of learning or using any Indian script used the Roman script for this purpose. However, in 1912 Thomas Carvalho republished the Purana in Devanagari for the first time. Before the arrival of the missionaries, it is quite possible that some form of Indian alphabet must have been used to write the East Indian dialect. Though there is no evidence to prove this, the possibility cannot be ruled out.
The Pathare Prabhu community, an educated class, are regarded as ancestors of the East Indians. History tells us that they were employed by the Portuguese in administrative roles and land revenue departments. It is, therefore, safe to presume that the ancestors of the East Indians, before converting to Christianity, must have used some form of Indian script.
The dialects spoken in the north Konkan area bear the generic name of Konkani. They are further classified into three groups:
1. Southern Konkani, which includes the dialects of Karvar.
2. Central Konkani, spoken in Goa. It is well known and considered an independent language. Since the area was ruled by the Portuguese, it bears Portuguese influences.
3. Northern Konkani is found to be spoken in the northern region of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. The language spoken by the East Indians can be included in Northern Konkani and has Portuguese impressions.
The East Indian dialect is considered to be sweet-sounding. This is mainly because alphabets with strong sounds are less commonly used in it. Also, the Devanagari alphabets ण (Na) & ळ (La) are not used. Typically, the Devanagari alphabet ड (Da) is not used and instead र (Ra) is used in its place.
Marathi East Indian
वाकडे/Vakade (crooked) वाकरं/Vakara
पडला/Padala (to fall) पल्ला /Palla
दगड/ Dagada (stone) डगर/ Dagar
गाडी/ Gadi (vehicle) गारी/ Gari
As mentioned earlier, the Devanagari alphabets ण & ळ are used not and instead न & ल are used respectively
Marathi East Indian
सण/ San (feast) सन/ San
केळं/ Kela (banana) केलं/ Kela
a. Nasalisation: Nasalisation of vowels and consonants is very extensive in the East Indian dialect. The verbs and nouns are also nasalised extensively.
तु कवं येशील? When will you come?
आमी लजार करतांवं. We are praying.
b) Words are considerably long among the Koli East Indians.
c) Suffixes: The Samvedi and Vadval East Indians from Bassein pronounce the ending ‘A’ अ for masculine words as ‘O’ ओ.
For example, Mulga- Mulgo / Son
The Salsette East Indians do not have such peculiarities.
Portuguese Impressions on the East Indian Language
The language shows some striking and noteworthy Portuguese impressions though it is largely limited to the conjugation of the first person plural verbs in the present tense. The addition of suffix Tao/ तांव to conjugated verbs in present tense and present continuous for first-person plural form shows the Portuguese impression too.
Aami khatao - we are eating / we eat
आमी खातांव /आम्ही खातो
Aami nachtao - we are dancing / we dance
आमी नाचतांव/ आम्ही नाचतो
Aami pitao - we are drinking/ we drink.
आमी पीतांव/ आम्ही पीतो
Aami boltao - we are talking/ we talk
आमी बोलतांव/ आम्ही बोलतो
Aami baistao- we are sitting/ we sit
आमी बैसतांव / आम्ही बसतो
This feature is also seen in some irregular verbs for first-person plural form in the future tense.
Aami jao - we will go
आमी जांव / आम्ही जाऊ
Aami khao - we will eat
आमी खांव/ आम्ही खाऊ
The verbs in sentence formations, in general, are neutral and do not indicate the gender of the subject as in the English language. There are certain verbs in the past tense that indicate the gender of the subject but this rule is not absolute and has exceptions to it.
a) Vocabulary: In general East Indian language has many Marathi words but they are pronounced differently.
East Indian Marathi English
Bais/ बैंस Bas / बस Sit
Kala/कला Ka/ का Why
Mana/ माना Mala/ मला To me
Varis/ वरीस Varsha / वर्ष Year
b) However, there is a class of words which are used only in East Indian
East Indian Marathi English
Iskotri /इस्कोत्री पेटी Suitcase
Vasri /वंसरी Dining hall
Moaatlee /मोआत्ली केरसूणी Broom
Udrel /उद्रेल. अपुरे Insufficient
Hivra / हिंवरा कच्चा Unripe
Shiree / शिरी गल्ली Alley way
Aavtan / आंवतंन. आमंत्रण. Invitation
Vakan / वकव. औषध. Medicine
Kavat / कंवंट. अंडं Egg
Bishitvar/ बिशीतवांर. गुरूवार. Thursday
Go / गो पुरूष. Man
Tavar/ तावार. तीकडे There
Aavaar / आवार. इकडे Here
Garga / गरगा कुंपण. Stone wall
Vay / वय. कुंपण. Fence
Zaar / जार. नमस्कार. Hello/ Regards
Kes Ukal/ केंस उकल. केस विंचर. Comb hair
Bhavrath/ भावरत. श्रद्धा Faith
Kava / कंवं कधी When
Mere/ मेरे जवळ Near
Dari/ दरी जवळ Near
Hendra/हेंदरा घाणेरडा Dirty/Bad
Hudur/ हुदूर. समक्ष In front of
Satir/ सतीर. छत्र Umbrella
Mizgin/ मिजगीन. नम्र Humble
Patha/ पाता सत्य माना To trust
Dhu/ धू- मुलगी Daughter
Puth / पुत. पुत्र/मुलगी Son
c) Portuguese words: Besides these, there are certain words which are either Portuguese or are derived from the Portuguese language.
East Indian Portuguese English
Sal Sala Living room/ Hall
Culer Colher Spoon
Janel Janela Window
Boinat Boa Noite Good night
Bondi Bom Dia Good morning
Lazar Reza Prayer
Mai Mae Mother
Pai Pai Father
Tep Tep Time
Almos Almoco/आलमोसा Lunch
Canta Contó Story
Fugath Fugad Boiled vegetables
Cunyat Cuñada/do In laws
Mez Mesa Table
Purshesav Procissao Procession
Cristav Cristao Christian
Kujin Cozinha Kitchen
Kalsav Calca / कालसा Pant
Pezmala Pesames Condolence
Figiter Frigideira Frying pan
Jentar Jantar Dinner
Cadher Cadeira Chair
Pek Pare Wait
Negar Negar Deny
Besav Bencao/ बेंसाव Blessing
Lisav Lisao/ लिसाव Lesson
Variations in the Language
The East Indian language has variations to a certain extent depending upon sub-groups within the community. Though the community itself is not caste sensitive, these variables in the language are found in the accent and pronunciations according to these sub-groups. Interestingly, these sub-groups within the community are also the original castes to which the East Indians once belonged before their conversion to Christianity. It is, therefore, safe to conclude that variations in the language are caste-based to a large extent. Sometimes these variations are also geographical in nature. The language differs and pronunciation undergoes changes from village to village.
Tu kai kartes? What are you doing?
तू काय करतेस?
In Bhayandar and Thane this would be Tu ka kartes?
तू का करतेस
Kai, or ‘what’ changes to ka
Similarly, the Agri East Indians from Dongri would say:
Mala- माला - to me
Whereas, Kulbi East Indians from Uttan would say:
Mana- माना - to me
The Koli East Indians would say:
Kathe geltas? कटे गेलतास? Where did you go?
Whereas, most East Indians would say:
Kavar/ kaya geltas? कावार/ कयं गेलतास?
Samvedi and Vadval East Indians from Bassein would say:
Kathe gelto? कठे गेलतो? Where did you go?
The East Indian dialect shows the features of inflexion to a certain extent as it is in standard Marathi. Hence, certain sentences are a blend of inflexion and agglutination.
Manus mothe jharabura nizla/ मानूस मोटे झारांबुंरं नीजलां
The man slept under a big tree.
Here the word jharabura has two components: jhara and bura. Jhar – tree, is changed to jhara showing features of the inflexional language. At the same time, the morpheme bura is glued to it. This is similar to standard Marathi or late Sanskrit.
Fula Janelavarti han/ फुलं जनेंलावरती हान
Flowers are on the window.
Janelavarti has two components: janel and varti. Janel is Portuguese for window and Janel is changed to janela, whereas varti is glued to it.
Literature in the East Indian Language
J. Gerson da Cunha in his book The Origin of Bombay (1900) has made the following observations: he says that the great influx of a variety of castes and races into Bombay may be traced to certain events, which render the political and commercial history of this island a series of living records. By studying the records, traditions, usages, origins and meanings of the names of localities and especially the languages one may fairly arrive at certain conclusions regarding the history of this island, of its dependence in particular, which cannot fail to be of very considerable interest.
Amongst the various dialects of Marathi spoken in Bombay, he mentions, in particular, the one spoken by native Christians of Salsette, Mahim, Matunga and Mazgoan. This must have been the language of a large portion of the population of the island before their conversion from Hinduism by the Portuguese to Roman Catholicism, which many of them still profess.
The Portuguese missionaries too were not slow to adopt, amongst other measures for the spread of Christianity amongst them, this language. There are two interesting works by these missionaries of the 16th century. As mentioned earlier, one of these works is the famous Krist Purana by the Portuguese missionary Fr Guimaraes. This work was first printed in Lisbon in 1659 and since then two editions have been published in Bombay, in 1845 and 1877. It is a religious metrical drama, representing the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, and death of Christ. It consists of 36 cantos and runs in stanzas of four lines each, there being altogether 16,000 lines. This, in point of magnitude, surpasses most of the celebrated European epic poems.
The first canto which contains 108 lines begins thus:
Christaovando aica tumi/ Christian people, hear you
क्रिस्तांवांदों आय्का तूमी
Eque chitim cantha Saibinichi/ with one mind the story of the Lady
एके चित्ती कंतां सांयबीनीची
Caixi sambauly Santa Annache udrim/ How she was conceived in womb of Saint Anne
कैशी संभवलीं सांतां आनाचे उद्री
Parmessorache Curpexim/ By the Grace of the Supreme
The other work is a grammar book of this dialect written by a Portuguese missionary in the 16th Century but published in 1858. The title of the book is Grammatica da Lingua Concani no Dialecto do Norte, Grammar of the Konkani Language in the Dialect of the North. The dialect of the north is used here in contradistinction to the Konkani spoken in the southern Konkan. This is the only grammar extant of the language of the old races of Bombay.
The Purana composed by Fr Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes in the Portuguese language was then translated in East Indian language and was written in Roman script. Further, in 1912, Thomas Carvalho from Manikpur, Vasai, republished it using Devanagari script probably for the first time. This Purana is extremely popular among the East Indians and especially sung during the Lent season.
Apart from religious literature, there are a great number of folk songs in the dialect. Moreover, numerous such songs are still composed every year for various festive occasions on a number of subjects. This has led to the creation of an enormous literature in the form of songs in the language.
Language is one of the most important intangible aspects of any culture. It is through language that customs, traditions, rituals, folklore, music, folk songs, knowledge is handed down to future generations. Death of a language brings irreparable loss to the culture. The East Indians from urban areas of Mumbai have given up their mother tongue and take great pride in speaking English. The Salsette East Indians are on the verge of following suit. While learning English was and is important for educational and economic progress it has also brought a slow death to the East Indian dialect.
Some of the periodicals and journals published by the East Indian community regularly are in English with no trace of their mother tongue. Those who are publishing this literature are far from realising the intangible wealth of their culture. In fact, they have this sacred responsibility to alleviate the intellectual standards of the community which they intend to lead. The language is yet to be documented. Moreover, there is no grammar book to study the language.
The first-ever East Indian museum at Manori is a noble initiative and, fortunately, a dictionary is on its right (both the efforts are by the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat). The tunes/notations of the Krist Purana too should be documented. How does one expect or even hope for the culture to survive in the absence of any documentation? Never was an attempt made in the past to have a formalised usage of this dialect. It was kept caged within the confines of East Indian homes. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Latin was replaced by English and standard Marathi for the liturgical services in the local ecclesia of Bombay. Nowhere did the East Indian dialect find a humble place in its own homeland including its own local church.
Interestingly, East Indians did not object to the introduction of English and standard Marathi even when these were not their mother tongues. But still, standard Marathi never got the acceptance, unlike English, because standard Marathi never entered the homes of the East Indians.
When one goes to East Indian weddings, baptisms or other gatherings, one finds the presenters speaking in crisp English when a majority of the guests or audience are East Indians. There should be an attempt to make the presenters communicate in English and the East Indian dialect as well to give the language its rightful place.
It is to be hoped that someday soon, East Indians will realise the intangible aspects of their culture because this is the only aspect that will survive the test of time. The few intellectual and ‘awakened’ souls will lead their community in this direction. Culture is born with people. Culture is born in the community. Therefore, culture survives only if the community survives in its true cultural sense. Irrespective of whether the East Indians live or survive in Bombay or Gaothans or elsewhere in the world, their culture will survive only if the intangibility of their culture is realised by none other than the East Indians themselves.
Baptista, Elsie Wilhelmina. The East Indians: Catholic Community of Bombay, Salsette and Bassein. The Bombay East Indian Association. 1967.
D’Cunha, J. Gerson. The Origin of Bombay. Bombay: Royal Asiatic Society. 2003.
Rodrigues, Teddie J.Trace: The East Indians of North Konkan. Horizon Printing and Publishing. 2005.
‘Sanskrit and its Relations with Indian Languages’ (Proceedings of the Kane Seminar held in April, 2007), edited by Dr M. R. Kolhatkar. 2012.
Swamy, Michael. The East Indian Kitchen. Westland Ltd. 2011.