Gowda Saraswat Brahmins

The history of Gowda Saraswat Brahmins originates about the Brahmins who lived on the banks of the extinct river Saraswati of Punjab. They derived their name from either the river Saraswati or from their spiritual leader Great Sage Saraswat Muni who lived on the banks of  Saraswati. These Brahmins were one of the Pancha Gowda Brahmin groups who lived north of the Vindhyas. They belonged to Smarta tradition and primarily  worshiped the five deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya and Ganesha. Throughout the great history, the Saraswat Brahmins have migrated to a variety of locations and are found mostly in Western coast of India.

The Brahmins in India

The Brahmins in India were divided into two major groups based on geographical origin of the people. The Brahmin groups that lived to the north of the Vindhyas were known as Gowda Brahmins, whereas on the other hand, the Brahmins who lived to the south of the Vindhyas  were known as Dravida Brahmins. These groups were further divided into five (Pancha) sections according to the regions of their settlement.

The five Gowda Brahmin groups were the Saraswats, the Kanyakubjas, the Gaudas, the Utkals, and the Maithilas.
The five Dravida Brahmin groups were the  Andhras, the Maharashtras, the Dravidas or Tamils, the Karnata, and the Kerala Brahmins.

As the southern brahmins had domiciled in the south for long, the Saraswats who came to the South newly were described by the local brahmins as the Gowda Brahmins in general (because they belonged to Panch Gowda group) and thus the prefix Gowda was added to the Saraswats who were from the Saraswat region.

The River Saraswati and Saraswat Desh

The mythological river Saraswati is named after the Goddess Saraswati, flowed in Northern India in the present day Punjab and Rajasthan region, from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea(West Sea) near Dwaraka in Gujarat. Its believed that the vedas were composed mostly on her banks. The Rig Veda describes this river as the holiest, the purest and the grandest of rivers. The river has long stories since dried out because it flowed from the receding glaciers of the great ice age 10,000 years ago. The land between the rivers Saraswati and Dristhadvathi (near the present day Kurukshetra) was called the Saraswat Desh which was the homeland of Saraswats who are considered the fore-fathers of Saraswats of Goa, Kanara and Kerala Settlements. There is a strong belief that in Prayag, Allahabad, flowing under-ground Saraswati joins Ganga and Yamuna to form the Triveni sangam. It is also believed that the river changed its course over the centuries. A part of this mighty river became the small river Ghaggar and one of the tributaries of the Saraswati became the Sutlej, now a tributary of the Indus. Today's scientific evidences have proven the existance of the Saraswati river.

Migrations of Saraswats


After thousands of years of flowing, the glacier began empty of its potential and the River Saraswati began to dry and became non-existent by 1000 BC. The entire Saraswat Desh started becoming Barren, the Saraswats had no ways to plant their Crops and they had no choice but to pack up and move. At this period of history we see many more civilizations settlements being abandoned. The migration did not happened overnight but it spread over centuries. The last of the exodus was in about 350 B.C. due to a wide-reaching food shortage which lasted for 12 years. The Saraswats there migrated in three directions - Some followed the river routes and migrated to the South-West (Sind), Some went to the higher regions of North (Kashmir) and some migrated towards East (Bihar).


The migrations to south-west followed the course of the River Saraswati. They went up to Dwaraka and then by ships they sailed towards Goa. For their stay in Dwaraka, the Gowda Saraswats were nicknamed as Dorkes. Along this route, many migrants left small colonies behind, and these settlements have been referred to as Saraswat Tirthas in Mahabharata.


The second route of migration was from Saraswath Desh into the Kashmir. The traditions of Saraswats of Kashmir tells that all brahmins of Kashmir are Saraswats. They have about thirty two sub-sects in Kashmir, belonging to six classes with more than 133 gotras. In the 14th Century, the Muslim rulers of Kashmir commenced persecution of the Hindus. Many if the Saraswats left, and only a few families remained in Kashmir and they were converted to Islam. Some of these families who had migrated southwards, returned to Kashmir when the circumstances became much favorable. Primarily a Hindu state during that time, had become an Muslim state. Kashmir was prey to ravages of Afghanistan as well. These caused so much distress to the people that some prominent Kashmiris appealed to the Sikh Chief Ranjit Singh for help and was succeeded in getting rid of those Afghans. The Kashmiri Saraswats were Devi worshipers. As the powerful Kshatriya kingdoms rose, a few Saraswats migrated to Indraprastha, Mathura, and Prayag, Kashi and other places. But as Kshatriyas fell with the rise of Buddhism, a few Saraswats migrated to Rajputana and Sind, married local girls and formed separate communities. Those who migrated to Kashmir called themselves as Kashmiri Pandits, Sind Saraswats, Kutchi Saraswats, Punjab Saraswats, Rajasthan Saraswats and Gomantak or Gowda Saraswats.


The Saraswats who migrated South East were mainly from the Saraswat desh and they followed the Ganges and reached Trihotrapura or modern Tirhut in upper Bihar . This was around 400-350 BC. The major settlements were in Kanyakubja (Kanpur area), Magadha and Mithila. The Lichhavi were the ruling dynasty at that time, and followed later by the Mauryas. With a strong ability to adapt, the Saraswats easily combined with the locals, but did not try to compete with them in agriculture the major occupation in that area. Instead, they relied on their superior intellect and educational background to secure administrative positions in the Lichhavi Republic based at Vaishali. The Saraswats lived in this area during the reign of the Maurya and later Pala dynasty. After the Pala dynasty rule, the kingdom was plundered by hordes of Muslim invaders and local kings from central India.


Life in Magadha (Bihar and near surroundings) became quite unbearable for the Saraswats, and so, around 1000 AD, almost 1500 years after they left the Saraswat desh, the Saraswats decided to migrate again. However at this time, they moved out mainly in two groups. One group (from Kanyakubja) moved eastwards and settled in Bangla (present Bengal) where in the course of time they assimilated the Bengali culture. The striking similarities between some aspects of Bengali and Konkani languages and cultures probably bear witness to this historic link. Another group (from Mithila) moved southwards and reached the Godavari river, and then proceeded along the south bank towards the source of Godavari near Nasik. The great Rishi Agastya had his ashram in Panchavati near Nasik and Sri Rama from Ayodhya came to Panchavati along the banks of Godavari. The migrants also followed the same route and then moved into Govarashtra which is Goa and to Gokarna Mandala in Uttar Karnataka district, which was the southernmost settlement of ancient Aryans. Having migrated from Trihotrapura which was in Gauda Desh they fixed Gowda and called themselves as Gowda Saraswats. The migration from Bihar to Gomantak is recorded in the Sahyadri Khanda of Skanda Purana. Goa was chosen mainly for its fertile soil and sea ports with flourishing overseas trade. Another reason for their migration into Konkan is the marital relationships between the Kadamba king Jayakeshi (1050-1080 AD) of Goa and a Saraswat king from Trihotra. Some historians believe that the king of Trihut sent ninety six families from ten gothras to the new land to propagate religion and philosophy at the request of the Kadamba King.


The first migration (700 BC) to Goa by Saraswats was directly from the Saraswati river banks via Kutch and southwards mostly through sea routes. The three main groups who came to Goa were the Bhojas, the Chediyas and the Saraswats. These Saraswats in Goa immersed themselves into farming, fishing and trade. They were from the Bhargava and Angirasa clans and maintained connections with the Kutch, Sindh and Kashmiri Saraswats. Many from these areas migrated to Goa in this period in search of greener pastures. The Saraswat Brahmins worked in partnership with the local indigenous people, the Kudumbi or Kumbi tribals who exist still today. The second wave of immigrants were representatives of the Kaundinya, Vatshya and Kaushika gotras. They settled at Keloshi (Quelessam) and Kushasthal (Cortollim) and were named after those villages as Keloshikars and Kushasthalikars. They primarily sought professional careers in the fields of teaching, writing, and accounting. They established the Magarish temple at Kushathali and Santha Durga temple at Keloshi. From here they spread to other villages. The main deities which also came along with them were Mangirish, Mahadeo, Mahalaxmi, Mahalsa, Shantadurga, Nagesh, Saptakoteshwar besides many others. Gomantak region is dotted with so many Kuladevata Temples which testify these facts. All the saraswats in Goa at that time were Shavites. The first group of Gowda Saraswat immigrants from Trihotrapura (around 1000 AD) settled in two different parts of the Gomantak region. Thirty families were grouped in one community and sixty six in other one. The first commune was known as Tiswadi meaning 30 villages (modern Tissuary), and the other Shashatis meaning 66 (modern salcette). The Tiswadi community was migrants from Kanyakubja and Shashatis was from Mithila. There is a view that these settlements together were 96 and is referred as Sahanavis (Saha means six and Navi means ninety) and later known as Shenvis. These settlelers belonged to 10 Gotras - Bhardwaja, Koushika, Vatshya, Kaundinya, Kashyapa, Vasishtha, Jamdagni, Vishwamitra, Gautam and Atri. Once settled down, they continued in their traditional professions of administration and education. Those Saraswats who were intelligent and lucky got royal patronage and positions in governance in due course of time. But the opportunities in these familiar professions were limited in Goa at that time. So some enterprising Saraswats branched out into the practice of trading. The successes of these pioneering Saraswat traders encouraged many other Saraswats to whole-heartedly adopt trading as a main-stream profession. There is another version of the story that, Sri Parasuram brought 96 families of the Panchagauda Brahmins from Trihotra (in Bihar) and settled them at Panchakrosha in Kushasthali of Goa. Such stories are also narrated about settlements of brahmins in Konkan, Kanara Coast and Kerala. This is considered to be more mythology than the history as Parasuram, the 6th avatar of Vishnu, is a mythological figure and should have lived far earlier than the time of Saraswat's migrations. And most probably they arrived in Goa under the leadership of a strong personality named Parasuram. Legends say that Lord Parasuram, shot an arrow from the Western Ghats in adjacent Konkan and the arrow (Baan) landed at the site of Benaulim town. Benaulim also known as Banavali about 40 km from Panaji. Even if the legends are considered only as myths, today a temple of Parasuram exists in Painguinim village near Benaulim town of Canacona Taluka in South Goa.

Small Early Migrations from Goa

By the 10-11th centuries several Sasasthikar families migrated to Thane and Kalyan (in Maharashtra) and started sea trade. In the 12th century, some other Sasasthikar families went south to Honovar, Bhaktal, Mangalore, Tellicherry and Calicut to setup trade. Around the same time Kushathali saraswats went to Gokarn in Canara, purchased land and became landowners in a large scale. Others who followed joined services under Sonde and Vijayanagar kings in Belgaum and Dharwad areas.

Conversion into Vaishnavism

The Saraswats in Goa originally believed in Smartha Tradition. Shri Madhavacharya , founder of Dwaita philosophy, during his return journey from North India visited Goa in 1294. Attracted by his Dwaita philosophy, many Sasasthikar saraswats converted to Vaishnavism. The conversion formalities were completed by Padmanabha Tirtha, who was appointed head of Uttaradi Mutt. During his chathurmasya he converted large number of the saraswats residing in Sasasthi and Bardesh. His disciples converted Sasasthikars who had gone to Thane in North and Calicut in South. However, they did not discard their attachment to the Panchayatana and the Saiva gods. Many of their Kuladevatas are Shaivates (Nagesh, Ramanath) and also connected with Shakti (Shanteri Kamakshi, Mahalasa).

Founding Of Kavale Math

Due to migration and lack of communication facilities, the Saraswats settled in Goa lost contact with their orgins. Being Brahmins, the Saraswats needed a spiritual leader, or a Swamiji. In 740 A.D, on the request of the Saraswats of Gomantak, Swami Vivarananda of the Gaudapada tradition from Kashmir founded the Gaudapadachary Math at Kaushasthali and the whole Saraswat community in Goa and Konkan was the followers of this Math. This belonged to the Smarta tradition advocating Adwaitha philosophy and worshiped Shiva, Vishnu, Ganapathi, Shakthi and Surya. The original Gaudapadacharya Math founded at Kushsthali, was destroyed during the Portuguese rule in Goa in 1564 AD. The 57th guru Vidyananda Saraswathi and his two successors stayed at Golvan in Ratnagiri and the 60th guru Ramananda Saraswati at Chindar. His successors Sadananda Saraswati and Bhavananda Saraswati stayed and attained samadhi at Varanasi and never visited Goa. The community members had earlier approached Bhavananda Saraswati and pleaded with him to come back to Goa. Bhavananda Swamy (the 62nd Guru) sent his disciple Sachchidanandaswamy (the 63rd Guru) to bring back the math in Goa. The Swamy stayed at Sonavade in Ratnagiri till the time the Math at Kavale was ready. The math headquarters was shifted to Kaivalyapura near Shantadurga temple in 1630 AD in the Sonde kingdom and is presently known as the Kavale Mutt.