-With Rekha Rajmohan
1) Mattancherry is a cultural fusion. Could you elaborate on your background and the integration of konkinis into this culture?
Our community belongs to Gaya in Bihar near the Saraswati River. Since we lived near the Saraswati River basins we came to be known as the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB). Once there was a severe drought, the river dried out completely. It was then that our community shifted to Goa and later to different cities. There is a state in India where people speak only the Konkani language, which is Goa. But unfortunately, in the 16th century, during Portuguese rule, they started forcing people to change their religion. In that situation, our ancestors began to shift to different coastal areas in India like Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra etc.
People of our community mainly work as pujaris in temples or businesses. Even today our community continues their ancestors’ legacy (e.g., Jayalakshmi, Giripai etc.). We mainly worship Lord Vishnu, and our puja cultures are different from Kerala cultures. Even if they relocate to any other places, they adhere to our cultures and traditions in terms of food and poojas.
2) As it is not something you can sample elsewhere, your cuisine deserves special mention. Is there any special place we can find this cuisine? Also, what is that we need to actually look out for?
Konkani food is found in areas where our people reside in greater numbers. Konkani cuisine is accessible in Kochi near Thirumala Devaswom (one of the most prominent temples near Mattancherry). Many people prepare the cuisine at home and sell it on the street.
Our food diet changes with the seasons; for example, in Karkada Masam (the month of the Kerala calendar), we cook idlis using the Colocasia leaves. We use fenugreek leaves, Moringa leaves, bamboo shoot to create dosas, parippuvada (dal), and idlis. Our community primarily consumes organically accessible foods that we believe are beneficial to our health. Our meal has no onions or garlic. Still, during any of the functions or marriages, we normally make food that our community eats.
In Tula Masam (a month from the Malayalam Calendar), in temples, we do not accept grains because it is a belief that eating grains at that time is not suitable for health. Still, in today’s generation also, many families follow these traditions.
3)Your festivities are a significant part of your life. Which traditions have you upheld? Has anything significant changed?
Our main celebrations are Navaratri, Diwali along with the traditional festivals in our temples. On Diwali, we make sweets which is a mix of flattened rice, coconut and jaggery, and we have to go the temple for the main pooja which is at 5 in the morning. Our main ulsavam is celebrated yearly, like a grand celebration.
4) Most prominently at Fort Kochi, we can observe that residents have moved to various continents, and the area is now becoming a popular tourist destination. But not much has changed in Mattancherry. The people, traditions, and practises are still present. What have you got to say about that?
Tourists are less than earlier. People are shifting to other countries to earn their livelihood. I guess the government along with the people should come up with major plans to bring about the much-needed change and development in Mattancherry as well. They should pay heed to what the community wants. If our government starts taking steps to develop this area, I am damn sure that Mattancherry will be one of the best tourist attractions in Kerala. In fort Kochi, there have been some slight changes in hotels and restaurants for tourists, but in Mattancherry, there is no change.
5) A relatively conventional family name is Chonath. Could you please describe your ancestry?
After the Goa inquisition, Konkanis were settled in place called Chendhamangalam ( Chonnath in konkani), which is why we have the name of the place held in our names. There are many gotras in GSB. We are commonly known as “Chonnathkaar”.
If you go by the family name, it’s Pai which holds its ancestory to all the lineages ie even the Gotras and Kuladevatha. Kuladevatha is a deity that the people follow.
Each sect of GSB is divided based on the kuldevatha. Under each Kuldevatha there are each sect of people. That is how you identify whether he is a pai, Shenoy, Mallya, Kammath etc
Our Kuladevatha is Mahalasi narayani. There is a temple near Mattancherry, and we go there for daily worship. Our main temple is in Goa. After marriages, couples visit the temple to complete the rituals as it is our community’s main temple.
We don’t marry people from the same gotras because the same gotras belong to the same family background, so somehow, they will be relatives. We match people from different gotras.
And mostly, whenever the people from our community meet in any corner of the world, they will only speak our Konkani language. Whether it is an IPS or any upper authority, they all follow the same traditions as we all follow.