A visit to the majestic Karhaadaa culture!

By Awadhoot R. Hardikar
August 2007

A senior English daily editor, Mr. K. R. Bhatt was long since inviting us to visit his native place, the Padre and Perala and surrounding villages in Kasargod district of Kerala state. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bhatt, Mr. Sachin Tatake and myself toured that area in the last week of June 2007. The ancestors of these families had migrated into that area nine hundred to thousand years back; maybe due to natural calamities or atrocities made by those intolerant of our culture as had happened elsewhere. Many of them have migrated prior to our borrowing the family name system from the British establishment. Anyway, this is a populous area in which more than 25,000 Karhade Brahmins are residing preserving with minute details our own culture including the Karhada language! Mangalore, Chikmangaloor, Karwar in Karnataka state and Kasargod in Kerala state are the known districts in western coastal area beyond Goa for Karhada culture. Out of the 24 Gotras among Karhades here one could come across people of this community belonging to only seven gotras. Most of them have family names a Bhatta - maybe due to their scholastic learning or profession. Even in Maharashtra we do find Karhade people having this surname. The noted poet Shri. Suresh Bhat and Shri. Shreekrishna Bhat - noted journalist / astrologer are Karhades.

Majority of them are agriculturists, besides preserving their golden tradition of studying with the aim of preserving vedic literature, thus achieving speciality and mastery in vedas and sanskrit shastras - such as Paniniya Grammer, Navya Nyaya Shastra, Meemansa Vedanta, Sahitya Shastra. Dozens of scholars in these branches of learning have marked their names in these Indological learnings. Some of them I may mention here are Pandit Khanderi Ananta Shastri. Perala Krishna Bhatta, Shreepathi Shastri, Madhav Upadhyay, Vishvanath Bhatt, Ganapathi Talek, Ramachandra Bhatta, Durgaprasad Bhatta, Venkataraman Bhatta, Dr. Radhakrishna Bhatt. This list is a long one, showing peculiar enrichment of our culture. The names are fashioned with regional colour.

The special contribution of Karhada Brahman community people is also known for Yaksha Ganam - in which Pandit Perala Krishna Bhatta, Ram Bhatta, Sadashiv Bhatta, Balip Narayan Bhagwat are a few names known for their rich contribution. Shri. Yogesh Sharma has marked his name in Carnatic music. Shri. Girish Bharadwaj is reputation for developing special mechanical devices in rubber production. Shri. Balkrishna Bhatta is a MLC. Many Doctors, Pleaders, Engineers, Business Managers, Industrialists, Lawyers, Architects, CAs have sprung from here and spread in surrounding cities/areas. The Karhadas, as elsewhere, are known even here for their true, effective and harmonious intellectual activities right from historical period. In return, many have received recognitions, respects and regards from society, including Shri. Shringeri Math of Adi Shankaracharya. This is because of their modesty, learning and enchanting humane qualities and for developing a true and ideal Brahmanic culture - which requires no efforts or methods in discarding other communities; also there is no requirement of constantly creating icons, imposing qualities on lesser quality people of own caste, neither is there any need to follow a special variety of propogation in pulling down the qualitative people by not even mentioning their names and ill-intended whispering for other sub-castes constantly running through hidden forms owing to the false superiority complex as is experienced elsewhere. A very peculiar, sublime and spiritual quality for which Karhada culture is known from historical period is superbly preserved here. Here one would find a strong and steady belief in their muscle and brain with constant cultivation of harmonious humane qualities! As a result of these qualities, we did observe their progressive outlook in practical life.

"The Karhada Abhyudaya Sangha" at Perala is an illustrious community institute which is truely functioning for the community with true democratic principles. Although Perala is neither a District Headquarter nor even a Taluka Headquarter, that a village has such a vibrant activity of a Sangha itself is a novelty. In addition to already existant construction, admeasuring 7,500 sq. feet a new hall is nearing completion admeasuring 5000 sq. feet. Rarely would one find a community building with such a huge area. This is the only Sangha which has published a directory of names and addresses with many details of Karhade Brahmans of southern coastal area. A new President is elected after every two years, by which new blood with newer ideas of development of the Sangha, resulting in not making the Sangh a self-destructive place of groupism, full of passivity in heart, and thus making it a pond of stale water is also a novelty. We were surprised to learn that there is an active participation of every community member, including youth and women on large scale! It is therefore, that the sangha has been able to construct two big halls admeasuring 5000 sq. feet each. A transparency with true sense of brotherhood is perceived here.

Thoroughly devoted Shri. Madhav Bhatt Perla as chief editor and Shri. Venkat Subba Rao as associate editor are running a monthly magazine "Karada masa patrike" which is regularly published - partly in Karhada language as they call it and partly in Kannada for the last six years. Subscribers run into thousands.

Long back, Pandit Guru Shri. Shreepathi Shastri had published Prahladacharitam in Karhada language. It is a champookavya styled composition, There are constant publications of translating good sanskrit or any language verse / good thoughts in Karhaadaa language.

I have heard pecularities of Karhada language in Sagar (Madhya Pradesh), Sawantwadi - Vengurla - Malwan (In Konkan), Manglore (Karnataka) and now in this area! They have slight variations due to proximity and local language spoken at large i.e. regional language like Kannada, Tulu, Bundelkhandi, Konkani, Marathi, Malyalam, but the basic characteristics are the same! Here in houses, people still communicate in Karhada language. I used to call it a dialect; but here I came to know that there is a large number of publications even in Karhaadaa language, a monthly magazine poetry, plays, novels, programmes like Yakshagana and ample daily use of Karhaadaa language is taking place. Shri. Harihar Athlekar from Sawantwadi has published a novel "Kreetaputra" mostly in Karhada language. Having perceived all this, I cannot hesitate to call it a language, whatever the learned call it. I still vividly remember, the debate among linguists whether or not Konkani is a language. At that time, those who held it as a language, placed as proofs, an ample amount of publications in that language. With the same yardstick, we call Karhaadaa a language. Two persons as per my knowledge have got PhDs on Sagar and Mangalore Karhaadaa languages from Nagpur and Pune Universities respectively. They are Dr. Indumati Shevade and Dr. V. V. Paranjape.

It was an enchanting marriage ceremony, we enjoyed profoundly, in which the traditions of Karhadas which I had been hearing only for the last sixty years in Maharashtra were vividly and minutely experienced. In this function no ugly exhibition of wealth was seen, never the Karhada modesty was waning and at the same time, the usual majesty was intact! The rituals were performed by a group of Vedic scholars, all Karhadas, including a lecturer in a local college with PhD in economics with his soft, clean clear and conspicuos pronounciation of Mantras with peculiar Karhada style. His name was Dr. Radhakrishna Bhatta, functioning with pride of being a Purohita and never a bit of shyness for his profession.

It is a well known fact that when a small group of people parts from the bigger group for any reason and migrates into a new locality having cultural and linguistic differences, the small group always tries to keep up its own identity intact! The bigger group of that community is always adjusting with newer situation arising due to ideological oneness with a still bigger group. This process, sometimes, causes the bigger group to forget/drop their peculiar characteristics, sometimes lose them completely. If some Karhaadaa wants to see his roots, the golden tradition of his community, the distinctive factors and features of his culture and identity; he has to visit this small, migrated groups and stay with them to learn it. He can learn our own distinctive identity which is humanly marvelous due to harmonious attitude towards all human beings, spiritually and culturally richest and having distinctive community features of its own! Then he will never be subjected to any inferiority complex, as we never ever have been inferior to anyone from historical period to this date!

Karhaade's in kaasaragodu - a cultural overview

by Mundodu Narayana Bhat
August 2011

The coastal dakshina kannada district of erstwhile madras presidency (now a part of kerala and karnataka states) is a place where one can have a glimpse of pristine karhaade culture. It is here where karhaade customs & traditions have been assiduously guarded generation after generation. This has been rendered possible by unique karhaade traits: (a) civility, modesty and graciousness has ensured that they do not get into conflict with other local people (b) willingness and ability to learn and appreciate local languages, etiquettes, sensitivities ensured that they are not singled out and discriminated against (c) tolerance, liberalism and progressiveness has enabled them to keep pace with the changing world (d) self-esteem and conformist temperament has goaded them to revere value systems that served them well and play the game accordingly and (e) compassion and cohesiveness has underscored interdependence and perpetuation of joint family system and well-knit social organisations.

An historical backdrop would be helpful. A keen observation of chronology of events and sociological pattern drives us to surmise that almost every karhaada who migrated to this region was either a (a) Sanskrit / vedic scholar / priest or (b) a 'jyothishi' or (c) a chef (or 'paaka-shastrajna', if this adds lustre). However, most of them were constrained to resort to agriculture for livelihood as the mahaaraastrian royal patronage, under which these migrants basked for a while, started waning. This partially explains relatively meagre financial resources of the vast majority. Small parcels of land were acquired, quite often on rental basis and agriculture became a way of life.

These, coupled with limited exposure to outside world led to deprivation of the benefit of modern education for long. The first engineer, allopathic doctor, charted accountant, post-graduate came only in 1960's while the first ph.d. came only in 1970's. As the families grew in size, the dependence on inherited landed properties made little sense and hence many migrated to nearby urban centres. Thus, the present generation has come to see and experience the benefit of higher / professional education, modern farming and industrial adventures.

What is typical 'karhaade'?:

  1. A karhaade is family is very close knit supportive and liberal joint family. Even while living separately (referred to as a 'birhad' - 'bidar' here) for reasons of education, profession or business, ties with the ancestral home remain intact - all actions remain under the guidance of the senior most member of the family. Everyone conforms. For example, an invitation for a house-warming ceremony at Bangalore will go out not in the name of the one who built it but in the name of the head of the family (grandfather, father, paternal uncle, elder brother or cousin) though he lives in a distant village in kaasaragodu. Similarly, at the end of the wedding ceremony the guardianship of the bride is formally passed on not to the groom but to his parents with a request to care for her as they would do in the case of their own daughter. These are conventional ways of respecting elders in the family and accepting their command. It may be noted that karhaade dialect (karaadi boli bhasha) is distinct - some of the words here are different from the ones used by chitpavan (kokanasth) or karnatakee (desashasth) brahmins in this region.
  2. Amba bhavaani, Mahaalakshmee or Durga is highly revered by everyone and is the village deity - though every family has it's 'kula-devatha' and an individual has his/her 'ishta-devatha' . Most of the families continue the tradition of performing durga pooja (called 'thrikaala-pooja' - performed thrice during the day) at least once a year. There are four durga temples in four corners of the region where karhaades have congregated - kongooru, aavala, agalpaady and thaire. 'Navarathra' is the most popular festival at all these places of worship. These temples act as cultural centres as well. All festivals are collectively celebrated - everyone making due contribution in terms of money, material or labour. The unison is such that there is an unwritten law that no one would travel outside the village during annual festival - this is to ensure participation by one and all.
  3. As a part of social responsibility, karhaades have set up a number of primary / secondary schools in the region imparting value based quality education.
  4. Marriages, brahmopadeshas, post-death rituals are all taken as community responsibilities. Invitations are usually worded to reflect this reality: 'please come with friends, relatives, well-wishers sufficiently early and supervise / be in charge of the proceedings' is the usual tone. In response, volunteers do turn to assist mobilisation, caring for invitees, cooking & serving food etc. In a characteristic function only priests & a few specialist chefs are remunerated / compensated.
  5. Community leadership rests with 'muktheshwaras'. This 'muktaasan' is hereditary. They oversee all social events and take the lead in ensuring that they are in consonance with our well kept traditions. Divergences, if any, are to be endorsed by their collective wisdom. On occasions like marriage and upanayana it is customary to greet them by offering 'taamboola'.
  6. Karhaades are, by and large, 'Dharmanishta's. Daily routine (nithyakarmas i.e. pancha mahaa yajnas being assiduously practiced), sixteen sacraments, post-death rituals, samvatsarika and mahaalaya 'shraadha karmas are meticulously observed as mandated by Veda shaastraas / dharma shaastraas even in financially deprived circumstances. Excepting where four-day marriage and upanyana samskaaraas are reduced to two day rituals (in response to changing social circumstances) there is no compromise on what is mandated.
  7. Sanskrit and vedic scholars are held in high esteem. At every social function they are specifically identified, revered and honoured by offering vastra, tamboola and dakshina. In fact, in the course of rituals like upanayana & wedding, it is customary to announce that 'it is time for the 'vaidikas' to come to the centre stage' and accept the offerings.
  8. Karhaades have innate interest in music, art and literature in numerous formats.
    1. Their contribution to 'yakshagaana tala maddale' is singular. (yaksha = relating supernaturals; gaana = songs; tala & maddale = tal & mridanga). In this simple, inexpensive but unique format epics like Mahaabhaaratha or mythological stories are presented in folk music and stories narrated in theatrical conversation. This is both educative and entertaining. Since during the period between june and september kaasaragodu region receives heavy rainfall and agro activities are low, the time is opportune to give vent to local talents. There are at least a dozen houses in each village which would host these performances 9 pm to 6 am. Incidentally, they also act as workshops for the young aspirants. It is worth noting that some enthusiasts have ventured to script the 'prasangas' i.e. stories & plays in local maraathi language.
    2. A number carnatic vocalists and instrumentalists have distinguished themselves and frequented audio-visual media. They have also turned many households into music schools.
    3. 'gaandra' is a distinctive type of 'gaayan' peculiar to this region. They are sung solo or in groups by womenfolk on events like cradle ceremony, naming ceremony, wedding, post-wedding grihapravesh of the couple etc. There are compositions in local maraathi for every such events. These often carry interesting similes, for instance, from the life stories of Lord Krishna ( e.g. subhadraa kalyanam.
    4. Men of letters have penned stories, dramas, poetry, devotional songs (sthuthi) in English and Kannada; written features / lead articles in local as well as national dailies and magazines; published collegiate text books; participated by presenting research papers at national, international symposiums, seminars & workshops.
  9. Food habits of karhaades are 'saathvik'. Though experimentation with local stuffs and adaptation to local conditions have changed the form and content of the meal as also the gadgets in the kitchen, traditional items like ghaavan, paatoli, sukka, varan (dali udo here), lonche, appe, kheer / sheekaran (payas here) pooran-poli ( holige here) served with coconut milk, continue occupy a place of pride on the paan.
  10. 'Athithi devo bhava' is what one can experience on a visit to even the poorest of the households. One is sure to be welcomed with a smile and overwhelmed by the hosts' efforts to put the visitor in comfort.
  11. Karhaade women have played a significant role in running household while painstakingly guarding the 'reet' / 'rivaz' (cultural ethos). In every household, it is the great grandmother who is in the forefront with a checklist of do's and don'ts. Men, on their part, have always acknowledged their rights & privileges. Consider, for example, this 'rivaz': It is customary for the invitees to offer some 'seed-money' to the couple at the time of 'naaganthani' (reception & satkaar held at groom's house) on the last day of a wedding ceremony. It is only after bride's (and that of her guardian's) explicit consent in the presence of everyone that the sum received by the bride is pooled with that of the groom. What an exemplary way of dealing with sensitivities!

What is atypical 'karhaade'?:

  1. Very few karhaades here can read or write modern 'maraathi' language. Their migrant forefathers had had no access to maraathi text books or schools. What is handed down by previous generation out of memory based on what one heard from the other (shruthi & smrithi) is all that remained. There are reasons to believe that the household spoken maraathi language has, by and large, remained faithful to the language as was spoken and written at the time of their migration. Scores of words currently used here can be found only in ancient texts and have disappeared ('m' sounding consonants e.g. kela, aala - banana & ginger - are still kelam, allam here) from modern maraathi literature. Of course, one cannot deny the fact that they borrowed many words from other local languages. This is how every language on this earth has grown. This partly explains why Maraathi spoken at kaasaragodu is at variance with Maraathi spoken at mangalore or udupi. Evidently they migrated for various reasons at different points in time. For all practical purposes, school education had to be initially in Sanskrit and later in English & other local languages - Malayalam and kannada. Consequently many 'maraathi works' by karhaades have found expression in kannada script.
  2. Traditional karhaades have not recognised any 'guru parampara'. They are open to accepting ideas from every source. But, migrant karhaades here being 'smarthas' wedded to 'adwaitha' philosophy, have adopted tutelage of shreemad shankaraachaarya of Shringeri shree shaarada peetham.
  3. 'Brahmanical' thoughts, value systems lifestyles and contentment in life that over emphasised on vedic learning and teaching stunted the growth of many intellectuals beyond a village school teacher level. This is in sharp contrast to the major strides made by karhaades elsewhere. Perhaps, this is one of the instances where 'sticking to one's knitting' did not pay. Many karhaade scholars who could easily make a mark at the state / national level failed to exploit their full potential. The scenario, however, is rapidly changing.
  4. Marriages between close relatives (men marrying first cousins - maternal uncle's / paternal aunt's daughter) has been a routine. This is, perhaps, because of limited choices within a small, closed (even marriage between various Brahmin sub castes was considered a taboo till recently) group - much like 'parsi' community in Mumbai. The danger of such marriages, it is unfortunate, is not being perceived.
  5. There is no pomp and ostentations here but ambience is maintained. Verbal expression of inner feelings may appear to be lacking - words like 'jevan chan jhala', 'tumala bhetun aanand jhala' may be hard to come. But, at the end, actions speak more than the words - their eyes would tell all that and more.
  6. There is a practice of offering oblations to asuras / demons / spirits who, it is believed, serve as guardians of the mankind. Some of them are created by the Supreme Lord to fight against the evil. others are, in general, very benevolent and are cruel only to those who follow the path of 'adharma'. (there is a story of king mahabali, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, who was granted a boon to revisit the kingdom which he surrendered honorably. on these days - first three days of deepawalee - 'baleendra pooja' is widely performed by the local karhaades).
  7. The local influences are felt on several rituals as well. karhaades in maharashtra prefer more 'saathvik' approach in offering oblations i.e. 'sthuthi', 'keerthan', 'bhajan', 'poojan' etc. In this part of the country we have a bit of 'raajasik' approach. For example Navagraha havan instead of navagraha pooja ; pavamaana havana in the place 'udaka shaanthi' ; chandikaa havan in the place 'chandee paaraayan'.

It must be admitted that the influence of urbanisation and cross-cultural influences are certainly making a dent on the make-up, individual personality traits and thought processes. While fashions should change to keep pace with changing circumstances, discarding value systems that served us well, generation after generation, would only amount to throwing baby with bathwater.

Special: Karhaadaa rituals followed for all 16 sanskaras (shodasha sanskar) in brief with a tabulated summary.
Click here for only the tabulated version for easy reference

Books edited by Shri. Mundodu Narayna Bhat (© M. Narayana Bhat; Email: dr.m.narayana.bhat@gmail.com):

  1. Nithyakarma followed by Karhades
  2. Benefits of nithyakarma
  3. Upanayana sanskar followed by Karhades
  4. Shraaddha sanskar followed by Karhades

Shri. Mundodu Narayan Bhat has also shared the traditional "kastoori tilak" stuti stotra of Lord Shri. Krishna.

  1. Composition: Padre Shree Guru Shreepathi Shastri
  2. Music & Rendering: Shreemathi Girijaa Bhat, Yedamale & Shreemathi Sandhyaageethaaa, giri
  3. Violin: Shreemathi Premaleelaa Aatikukke

Note: Also checkout this article on historical background of Karhade Brahmins overall and particularly those in Kasargod by Shri. Radhakrishna Belluru a Karhade Brahmin from Kasargod. Translated and shared with us by Shri. K. R. Bhatt of Mumbai. This was printed in Kasargod Karhade Brahmin Sangh's anniversary issue circa 2001.

Request to all Karhade people
Email: contact@thekarhaadaa.org

Copyright © The Karhaadaa All rights reserved. | Terms of Use