Addressing the settler story in the Foral – a short bibliography

This short bibliography is organised to throw light on some available material on the question of the settling of land in Goa that is quoted in the Foral of 1526, and its link with the gaunkari as an organisation.

The story in the Foral of 1526 suggests that collectively administered gaunkaris with inalienable land existed prior to the Portuguese. It describes how four poor families settled the land and began to cultivate it and when it began to yield, a king from the Ghats assumed power over it on payment of a tribute. The physical details about the coast of Goa in the same Foral recalled the Paraśurāma myth, and the settler story of how agrarian organisation began was therefore linked to the legend which is associated with the Saraswat brahmins in Goa. The following texts throw some light on different aspects of this problem.

These sources indicate possible precedents and contradictions between texts that represent the same region.

Was there a precedent for collectively administered villages in the region?

D. D. Kosambi asked, ‘when did this almost unique form of pioneer enterprise originate?’ Kosambi, Myth and Reality, 165

The uniqueness of the gaunkari possibly lay in its inalienability – the fact that it could not be sold – an attribute possibly implicit in the Portuguese concept of foro – a tribute paid to the king that recognises his sovereignty and implies the inalienability of the land.

The foro began to be paid with the issuing of the Foral of 1526. The Foral of 1526 claimed to extract no more tribute than earlier rulers had done.

So, was there a precedent for collectively administered villages with alienable/inalienable land?

From the fifth to the eleventh century, or from Bhoja to Shilahara rule in Goa, N. Shyam Bhat and Nagendra Rao cite copper-plate inscriptions of land grants to Brahmins. These were in the form of fields, houses, and in some instances, entire villages, providing some instances of when entire villages were granted to communities. N. S Bhat and N Rao, ‘History of Goa with Special Reference to Its Feudal Features’, Indian Historical Review Indian Historical Review, xl (2013), 255–257.

Two methods of cultivation cited were the settling of khazan lands, or floodplains and forest clearance.

Between the fifth or sixth century, they cite grants addressed ‘not only to the officials but also to the inhabitants of twelve villages’ or Bardez as the district is now known, and suggest that the district names that survive to the present, originated in the Bhoja period. Thus, there is a precedent for collectively administered villages in the region.

Meanwhile, in Kerala and Karnataka….

The historian of Kerala, Kesavan Veluthat notes the corporate character of clusters of peasant villages called ur that in the southern stretches of the Ghats and Tamilnadu, constituted a larger unit of nadu from the seventh century on, and its assembly of spokesmen, the nattar. He states that in South Canara and Kerala, such units were not corporate but territorial ones under chiefs. Therefore, there is a precedent for the idea of representative village administration, prior to the Câmara Geral introduced by the Portuguese.

Veluthat states that most important brahmin settlements of Kerala took shape between the closing years of the Sangam age and the seventh century AD. Inscriptions and literary evidence show that it was immediately before this that they occupied Karnataka. Since the Chalukyas claimed to have conquered Kerala and the Kadambas and since they were patrons of brahmanical hinduism, Veluthat suggests that it may have been under Chalukyan-Kadamba existence that brahmin settlements came into existence in Kerala

He adds that armed militia of brahmins known as Cattas in the south had its origin in the north probably in the Gupta period. He also cites military-educational-missionary organisations called ghatika or salai in the south and adds that Mayurvarman, the king who features in the Gramapaddhati, was a brahmin disciple of famous ghatika of Kanci. This is to add to what is known about the nature of brahmin organisations on the western coast.

Kesavan Veluthat, ‘The Nature of Agrarian Corporations in South Canara under the Alupas and Hoysalas’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, lii (1991), 109. Kesavan Veluthat, Brahman Settlements in Kerala: Historical Studies (Calicut: Sandhya Publications, Calicut University, 1978), p.4

On the conflicting representations of brahmins in the Sahyādrikhaṇḍa and in other texts which also throw light on the theory of settled land:

A noteworthy aspect of the Grāmapaddhati (an account of brahmin settlements linked to the region of Tulunadu) and the Sahyādrikhaṇḍa, were the accounts of villages of fallen (implicitly, Saraswat) brahmins, or those who had lost their status after violating caste laws. It has been suggested that these accounts may have been an attempt by rival castes to contain the ambitions of the Saraswats or to distance themselves from a caste whose practices raised doubts about their status. Narratives of brahmin settlements in the seventeenth century and later often feature the struggle for caste realignment concerning in particular, the status of Saraswat Brahmins. Particularly striking is the dissonance between Stephen Hillyer Levitt’s account of the polluted or fallen groups of Brahmins who sought to improve their status, and O’Hanlon and Minkowski’s depiction of Saraswats as already landed and well-established by the time of the Portuguese conquest.

So we see that the same text through which a caste consolidated its status, also recorded the banishment of entire villages of the same caste and the loss of caste status, suggesting that centuries separate sections of the text.

The account of a Dharmasabha of 1664 described by O’Hanlon, convened to ascertain the brahmin status of the Saraswats, reveals the Saraswats’ identification with maths in specific villages of Goa and along the western coast, a contrast to Levitt’s account of their fallen caste status. Whether this dissonance resulted from the process of conversion and displacement by the Portuguese, as O’Hanlon suggests, is unclear.

  • O’Hanlon, ‘Contested Conjunctures’, 777
  • Stephan Hillyer Levitt, The Patityagramanirnaya: A Puranic History of Degraded Brahman Villages (India, 2107).

At the heart of the issue in 1664, was the agricultural work and trade that the Saraswats engaged in, the authors noted, and asked why agricultural work had become such an issue.

  • Rosalind O’Hanlon and Christopher Minkowski, ‘What Makes People Who They Are? Pandit Networks and the Problem of Livelihoods in Early Modern Western India’, Indian Economic & Social History Review, xlv (2008), 397


In the Keralolpatti, a text that appears to extends the Parasurama myth to Kerala, Veluthat reports that it is said that 36,000 brahmins were presented with arms by Parasurama, to “protect and rule Kerala, the 160 katams of land between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari”. In each text, different terms are used for the western coast, and different parts of it are conceived to be included in the terrain that Parasurama drew from the sea. For instance, Veluthat says that the Keralolpatti cited 64 brahmin villages of Kerala, but in this context, ‘Kerala’ implied the land between Gokarn and Kanyakumari, while 32 of the 64 villages were north of the river Perumpula in Tulunadu

Did all the texts referring to the Parasurama myth and the brahmins on the west coast, refer to land and property in the same way?

Each text could offer a variation on the question of land claims and inheritance. Veluthat for instance mentions the village of Payyannur, said to contain brahmins of degraded status. The system of matrliny in this village is said to have been requested by Parasurama to atone for his matricidal sin. This is followed only by brahmins in this village

  • see above, Veluthat, Brahman Settlements

There were several version of the Grāmapaddhati. George Moraes suggests that through the Puttige version of the Grāmapaddhati, Haiga and Tulava Brahmins could have posed a rejoinder to the Saraswats.

  • George M Moraes, ‘Notes on the Pre-Kadamba History of Goa’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, v (1941), 167.

On texts that are linked to the Sahyadrikhand and other defences of coastal brahmins

The Paraśurāma myth extended from Gujarat to Kerala, aside from the figure of Paraśurāma having a different significance in other parts of the country.

  • Thomas E. Donaldson, ‘The Cult of Paraśurāma and its popularity in Orissa’, Silpasamvit/Consciousness Manifest: Studies in Jaina Art and Iconography and Allied Subjects in Honour of Dr. U. P. Shah, xv (1995).

In each region where the Paraśurāma myth had become hegemonic, a cluster of other texts recuperated the myth with a different slant on the origin of a community or on an event or sub-narrative that would reinterpret an aspect of the relation of caste and kingship.

  • Rao, “Reconstructing the Social History of South Kanara – a Study of the Sahyādri Khanda”; Nagendra Rao, “History and Historiography: Making of Tulunadu’s Identity” (National Seminar on the History and Culture of South India, Udupi, 2019), https://www.academia.edu/40308963/History_and_Historiography_Making_of_Tulunadus_Identity;
  • Patil, “Conflict, Identity and Narratives”; Bhasker Anand Saletore, Ancient Karnataka (Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1936).
  • Christophe Vielle, ‘How Did Paraśurāma Come to Raise Kerala’, (2014).
  • Bhasker Anand Saletore, Ancient Karnataka (Poona, 1936)

Aside from being able to trace the occurrence of the legend down the western coast, therefore, there was also an intra-regional proliferation of texts that posited the relation of groups contiguous to the Saraswat brahmins to the legend.

While some collectively administered land may have needed a collective decision to lease or sell parts of it, there is currently no definite precedent in the region for inalienability of land as a legal concept.

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