History and Culture


KASHI : The most ancient living city in the world, the sacred seat of learning scriptures since Vedic times, supposed to be the capital of Hinduism.
We are Hindus.

Our religion is called Hindu Dharma or Hinduism.
This religion was not founded or started by one Prophet or one Saint.

Our scriptures categorically say that the Holy Books were created at the time of creation itself by God for the benefit and guidance of the mankind. They are eternal laws that will never change with the changing time.

Our sages and wise men who interpreted these eternal laws never called the Religion by any name; even Hindu Dharma.

The word, Hindu was coined by foreigners, may be Greeks or Persians who had declared that the inhabitants in the region beyond the eastern bank of the River Sindhu are Hindus substituting 'H' for 'S'. The same River Indus gave our country the name of INDIA, although all our ancient books called this country, "BHARATA KHANDA", "BHARAT VARSHA" or simply "BHARAT", the Kingdom ruled by BHARATA, a very very noble monarch who happened to be the son of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, the famous characters immortalized by Kalidas, the Shakespeare of India.

The story of Shakuntala is narrated in Mahabharata and this great epic is stated to have been composed some 5,000 years ago which means the King Bharata must have lived and ruled long long ago, somewhere in the dim past.

But we as a part of the Aryan Society have been living as Brahmins from the very beginning of the Indian Civilization and quite interestingly without our knowledge we have become the vehicles of many facets of the Indian Culture.

And our name is GOWDA SARASWAT BRAHMINS having resided in two great and famous mythological regions, the banks of the river SARASWATI and also GOWDA DESHA which had contributed significantly to the shaping of the Indian nation. 

We salute our forefathers.


We are Brahmins.  Etymologically Brahmin means a person who has the full knowledge of Brahman, that is God. A Brahmin is supposed to be a repository of spiritual knowledge. He is not only a repository but also a nucleus from where the knowledge should radiate in all directions.
(Pic : The Institution of the ancient yajna continues - Yajna at Shirali temple.)

Our scriptures have assigned six compulsory duties to a Brahmin:

 They are Learning (Studies of Scriptures), Making others learn (Teaching Scriptures), Performing sacrifices (Religious Duties), Officiating as a Priest when others perform the sacrifices, Giving gifts and presents to others and Receiving gifts and presents for the duties performed under Teaching and Officiating, as a means of living.
 Thus this is a profession by itself and if one cannot earn enough to make a living, the scriptures suggest taking other occupations like Kshatriyas and Vysyas - which means they can go to the area of trade and commerce but with certain restrictions on the commodities to deal in. Manusmriti gives full details about the commodities prohibited. Our forefathers were very careful in this behalf while they were in business.
A Brahmin has to live for others and not for himself and so there are a lot of restrictions to earn, spend and save. In short he had to lead a very simple life in service of humanity and God.

Therefore his daily routine used to consist of performing five duties or yajnas as follows:
Bhoota Yajna: Giving food and water to animals and birds.
Deva Yajna: Offerings to be made to Fire God, Agni and worship of deities, Sandhyavandan and Gayatri.
Pitra Yajna: Remembering the ancestors everyday.
Brahma Yajna: Studying the scriptures everyday on an on-going basis.
Manushya Yajna: Offering hospitality to guests as an uninvited guest is regarded as God (This is a God-given opportunity to serve fellow human beings). With these features and duties and qualities a Brahmin was highly respected as Bhusura or a God walking on the earth.


Saraswat Brahmins, one of the five ancient Gowda Brahmins, the others being Kanyakubja, Maithili, Utkal and Gowda Brahmins, derived their name basically from the mythological river Saraswati that had flowed in the present Punjab and Rajasthan region, from the Himalayas to the western sea near Dwaraka in Gujarat.

The River Saraswati :
Even today it is believed that the River Saraswati flows underground as detected by the remote sensing satellites. The river can also be seen in parts near the Lake Pushkar in Rajasthan, Sidhpur in Northern Gujarat and Somnath in Saurashtra, Gujarat. There is also a strong belief that in Prayag, Allahabad, flowing under-ground Saraswati joins Ganga and Yamuna to form the triveni sangam. Again this is corroborated now with some research studies that Saraswati flowed very close to Yamuna which changing its course a little, pilfered the waters of Saraswati and emptied it once for all. Therefore, today the once famous and great river that had acted as the cradle of Vedic Civilisation called Saraswati Valley Civilisation, is not visible. Then it is believed that Rajasthan became a desert as the river went dry. This must have taken place thousands of years ago. Manusmriti makes a mention of Brahmavarta as the most sacred land lying between two rivers, Saraswati and Drishadwati which in fact formed the homeland of Saraswats - the Saraswat country and from here several migrations took place by our forefathers to the other parts of Bharat Khanda.

First Migration :
A king from Saraswat country, called Videgha Mathava with his preceptor, Gautama Rahugana set out eastwards to find out new pastures. In those days fire was to be carried physically from place to place and the king carried a tiny spark on his tongue. On the way the preceptor started conversing with the king but the king remained tight-lipped without giving any reply for fear that the spark might fall or get extinguished. The preceptor understood the anxiety of the king and invoked Agni, the fire-god. On hearing the praises, out came the flames of fire from the mouth of the king and started rolling on the ground like the waves of the sea. "Agnideva, what is thy command?" the priest asked, "Follow me," was the commandment of the fire-god. Accordingly, they followed. The flames sped away eastwards through the Gangetic belt and on reaching the western bank of the River Sadaneera vanished. This is how the civilisation moved to the eastern region, later to be known as Aryavarta, and some of the families of Saraswat Brahmins moved to the east and settled down in Trihotrapura a township in Gowda Desha and later called them selves as Gowda Saraswats. According to another version, our forefathers never went to Trihotrapura but were called Gowda Saraswats as Saraswats were one among five groups of Brahmins who were collectively called Panchagowdas as stated above at the beginning. Whatever be the version, civilisation moved from western part of India to the Eastern India and definitely some families, when the river went dry must have gone to Trihotrapura. This anecdote is mentioned in Shatapatha Brahmana.

Second Migration :
As stated in the Sahyadri Khanda of Skanda Purana Lord Parashurama after reclaiming land from the western sea invited various groups of Brahmins from different parts of Bharat Khanda. In response ten families of Gowda Saraswats came down from Trihotrapura with their deities of daily worship and settled down in Gomantak now known as Goa. In gratitude even today the Gowda Saraswats dedicate all their havans and yajnas be it Gayatri or Mrityunjaya to Lord Parashurama stating "Yajnantargat Bhagwan Shri Parashuramamurti priyatam."

Third Migration : 
In the course of time the ten families multiplied and with the passage of time they took to trade and commerce as permitted by the scriptures, besides officiating as priests. Depending upon their occupations this gave them various surnames as they have to-day like Kini - a treasurer handling money with the jingling sound, Mallya - a construction contractor who built mansions or mahals, Nayak-a leader in any army. In Goa they were in full bloom and they built up hundreds of shrines and temples besides establishing Shri Kaivalya Math in the eighth century.
(Pic : Shri Mangeshi Temple)  
Gomantak virtually became a golden land for them for a long time, till Goa came under the rule of Muslim kings and then under the Portuguese. Both the rulers especially the latter were ruthless to Gowda Saraswats, so in the sixteenth century they had to migrate to other parts of the country like the Malenad and the coastal belt of Karnataka and Kerala, besides Maharashtra. Here they had to start afresh from a scratch and all this they did just to protect their deities and preserve their religious beliefs for posterity. Not all the Saraswats did migrate from the banks of the River Saraswati to the Eastern India or Goa. Only one section called Gowda Saraswats travelled and migrated this way. Even here there is another version that people followed the course of the River Saraswati went up to Dwaraka and by ship they sailed to Goa. For their stay in Dwaraka, the Gowda Saraswats are nicknamed as Dorkes also. After settling down in Goa, Konkani became their official and contact language which continues even to this day.

Brother Communities :
Their brother Saraswats migrated to various other parts of the country. Those who migrated to Kashmir called themselves as Kashmiri Pandits, Sind-Sind Saraswats, Kutch-Kutchi Saraswats, Rajapur-Rajapur Saraswats, Punjab-Punjab Saraswats, Rajasthan-Rajasthan Saraswats and Chitrapur-Chitrapur Saraswats.

This in a nutshell is the mythological and historical background of the Gowda Saraswat Brahmins popularly known as GSBs. 

Culture and Tradition :
In respect of culture and tradition of the GSBs H. H. Shrimat Sudhindra Tirtha Swamiji has this to-say: Basically Gowda Saraswat Brahmins are mild natured. In education, trade and commerce and service sector they have contributed very significantly. Wherever they reside they identify themselves with the locality and become one with other people. They build mandirs and temples in the places of their residence and offer prayers for the welfare of the people of the locality. They seek the assistance of the people in their own community and rarely do they seek the help of others, even if they are in great financial difficulties. They are always conscious of respect and honour instead of wealth and money. For all their religious and cultural activities they collect donations and subscriptions from their own people. They have an attitude of helping others and they hold Swamiji, God and Dharma in high esteem. Even if they are in difficulties or even if they are away from their home and town they communicate with each other only in Konkani.

Three Great Saraswats :
This study will not be complete unless we make a mention of three great Saraswats who contributed significantly in the arena of education. They are as follows:

Shri K. K. Pai Ex-Chairman and Managing Director Syndicate Bank, a veteran GSB offering flowers to Saraswat Muni.

Saraswat Muni : Saraswat was the son of Maharshi Dadhichi and the River Goddess Saraswati brought him up. When he was a student mastering the scriptures on account of successive droughts, the river went dry and people leaving their home and hearth on the banks of the River Saraswati left for other places in search of food and water. The young Saraswat also wanted to leave the place but the mother persuaded him to stay back and pursue his studies, and assured that she would provide him food and water. According to another version, he had the prowess to conquer hunger, thirst and sleep. Like this 12 long years passed and the normalcy returned only thereafter. In the meantime the Brahmins had forgotten the Vedas in their anxiety to survive. 

When they were eager to learn again, only one person, that was Saraswat, was available as a teacher. They became his shishyas irrespective of their age and learnt from him the Vedas that were forgotten. They were altogether 60,000 brahmins and single handedly Saraswat taught them in his gurukula. Perhaps nowhere in the history of mankind there is a record available that one single teacher had taught such a huge assembly of students. This story is told in Mahabharat and it is believed that long ago our forefathers must have been his disciples and we acquired the name Saraswats as his disciples. Vishnupurana while giving a list of Vyasas (which in fact is a title given to a sage who had rendered selfless service for the preservation and propagation of Vedas) mentions Saraswat's name also.

Jagaduru Gowdapadacharya : Lived in 8th Century and for the first time expounded Adwaita philosophy. His very name and fame attracted Shri Adiguru Shankaracharya and at the behest of Shri Gowdapada, his shishya Shri Govindapada gave deeksha to Shri Shanakara and also to Shri Vivarananda Saraswati to commence a new Guruparampara for GSBs. More is narrated about him under "Our Religious Seats, Shri Kavle Math."

PadmaShri Dr. Tonse Madhav Anant Pai (1898-1979) : Dr. Pai a veteran GSB brought life to a barren hillock called Manipal by starting various educational institutions in every stream. His Academy of General Education is running educational institutions in every branch of human knowledge and there are more than 45,000 students studying, not only in India but also in Nepal and Sikkim. A legendary figure during his life time. Brought name and fame to the entire Samaj.

Present Status :
GSBs have traveled a long way from the times of Saraswat Muni. They are no longer a community primarily depending on officiating as priests. In Goa itself during the later part of their history, they took to different occupations as evidenced by their surnames that were suggesting the occupations they had pursued. To-day even those occupations are also abandoned and for economic reasons they are in the fields of education, trade, commerce and services sectors. 
(Pic : The university town of Manipal is a living example of GSB Konkani potential and excellence.)

Finance and Banking is one of their strong fortes. Pioneering efforts were made by the great visionary, the Late Shri Ammembal Subba Rao Pai, a leading lawyer of Mangalore (1852-1909) by founding Canara group of schools and also the now famous Canara Bank. He is still regarded as the pathfinder for the GSBs. Persons like Late Shri T. A. Pai and then Shri K. K. Pai brought quite a few GSB youth into the arena of banking and finance. During the year 2000 A.D., five out of twenty government owned giant banks have GSBs to head them as Chairmen & Managing Directors which is a sure indicator of the excellence of GSBs. They are Andhra Bank-Shri B. Vasanthan, Bank of Baroda - Shri P. S. Shenoy, Canara Bank - Shri R. J. Kamath, Syndicate Bank - Shri D. T. Pai and Union Bank of India -  Shri V. Leeladhar. Shri K. V. Kamath, MD & CEO of ICICI, one of the largest financial institutions of Asia, is another great name for innovations in the financial sector. (Another Center of G.S.B. Excellence)

Chunk of the community belongs to the middle class. As the matter stands there are no large industries to their credit and pioneers and leaders are very few amongst them. Sad to say (we desire somebody should correct us if we are wrong) that there are no Vedic scholars amongst the GSBs who at one point of time were the very custodians of that great spiritual wealth. This is the position in the year 2000 AD.