The antiquity of Konkani literature has been a matter of debate for a long time. While some scholars like Dr. J.H. da Cunha Rivara, Dr. Jerson da Cunha and Dr. Jose Pereira point out that Konkani literature flourished before the Portuguese destroyed, other scholars including Dr. S.M. Katre reject this view. However, findings of the past few decades underscore the fact that Konkani was being used for writing literature long before the arrival of the Portuguese.
It would be quite natural, therefore, to chronologically place Konkani literature in three periods- Pre Portuguese, Missionary and Modern. In a brief article like this, it is not possible to review the literary merits and de merits of the works. Hence, the most important works/writers representing their era and genre have been referred to.
Pre Portuguese Konkani
The earliest sample of Konkani is found in a Marathi work of the saint-poet Namdev and is dated 14th century AD. “This devout bard, describing the child Krishna’s pilfering of the cowgirls clothes, makes the five of them beg the naughty god for their saris in five tongues, Konkani being one of them” (vide Dr. Jose Pereira, Literary Konkani, a Brief history, Dharwar, 1973, page 20. Also see Konkani A Language, Dharwar, 1971, page 84) The stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata attributed to Krishnadas Shama (Manuscript in roman script preserved in the Braga library, Portugal) and Godde Ramayana of Kochi also belong to this period.
The missionaries who arrived in Goa after the Portuguese conquest wrote a number of vocabularies, dictionaries and grammars. Besides, they also published a number of works in Konkani prose and verse. The missionaries were obviously inspired by religion and intended to communicate religious message. Hence they wrote mostly religious books. According to Dr. Jose Pereira, the very first works of the missionaries in Konkani were a few catechisms, of which no trace remains.
Amador de Santana translated Ribadeneyra’s Flos Sanctorum into Konkani in 1612. This was followed by many translations of religious texts like the Devachim Yekangra Bolannim (1660) by Joao de Pedrosa and Sagallea Varussache Vangel (1667) by Ignazio Arcamone. Diogo Ribeiro felicitously rendered Bellarmine’s catechism into Konkani.
The original works were, as a rule, larger than the translations. Significant among such original writers were Antonio de Saldanha who is remembered for his Santu Antonichim Acharyem (1655). In his times, Gaspar de S. Miguel was considered a master of everything. Unfortunately, nothing of his creative works remains. But the most monumental creation of the age was Miguel de Almeida’s prose poem, the Onvalleancho Mallo in 5 volumes (First volume published in 1658) where abstract theological concepts are expressed in a vivid poetic language. About this book Jose Pereira points out that “in it scholastic precision, an opulent philosophical vocabulary, Ciceronian periods and the imagery of Iberian baroque rhetoric are acclimatized n the Konkan’s musical tongue”
Another important work of this period is a poem on the passion of Christ written by Fr. Manoel Jaques Noronha of Sancoale . It has about 168 strophes. He is the first Goan priest who started the chain of Goan writers.
After the political upheaval of 1857, the British crown took charge of the administration of India and soon afterwards, colleges which imparted education in English were established in various parts of the country. As a corollary to the new education and the western ideas gained through it, an Indian renaissance swept across the country. Indian writers, who had an insight of the western ideas and literary principles, started expressing in literary genres like short stories and novels which were non-existent till then. Thus Indian literature stepped into a modern literary period. Naturally, Konkani could not remain outside its fold.
It was in this new era that Konkani writers turned to their mother tongue for literary expression. Eduardo Jose Bruno da Souza launched his news paper Udethenche Sallok in which Konkani short stories appeared. He went on to publish his Christanv Ghorabo (1891), the first social novel in Konkani and then Sorgacho Thevo (1915), a novelette. He then wrote a long poem, Eva Ani Mary.
Till the advent of Bruno, Konkani literature was mostly religious in nature, as pointed out above. Bruno’s first novel changed all that and with it started the secular Konkani literature
From another perspective, writers in Konkani were confined to Goa till late nineteenth century. By the turn of the 20th century Konkanis of Kerala and Karnataka woke up to the literary potential of their mother tongue and started publishing their literary works of considerable merit. The most important works and authors representing the genres are mentioned below.
After the success of Christanv Ghorabo, a number of novels by his contemporary writers such as Alexo Jose Fransisco, F.X. Fernandes, Sebastiao Dius, J.J. Bito and Inacio Campos appeared. Sanvsar Butti by Shenai Goembab is considered an important work of fiction by some.
Even as this trend of publishing social novels continued in Goa, neighbouring Karnataka’s writers followed suit, albeit with considerable delay. By mid twentieth century, prominent novelists like J.S. Alvares and V.J.P Saldanha had started publishing novels which caught the attention of the Konkani readers. Shortly, Irene Pinto, Edwin J.F. D’souza and Dolfy Lobo arrived on the scene.
The novels of Pundalik Naik, Damodar Mauzo, Mahabaleshwar Sail have taken the genre to very great heights. Some of these have been translated into English and other Indian languages.
The first few Konkani short stories had appeared in Udentechem Sallok.. Shenai Goembeb too published a few short stories like Mhoji Ba Khoi Gelli, Babu Mamalo Ponnos and Vasu Shenaili Popay Acharya Ramchandra Shankar Naik, Laxmanrao Sardesai, Krishna Karwar, Shankar Bhandari, Gurunath Kelekar, Uday Bhembre, A.N. Mhambro and Caetan Mendez are a few writers who contributed short stories initially. However, it is Chandrakant Keni who made a big presence in the genre. During the seventies, the short story was revolutionized by young writers like Sheila Kolambkar, Meena Kakodkar, Pundalik Naik, Gajanan Jog, Damodar Mauzo, etc. Soon afterwards N. Shivdas, Mahabaleshwar Sail, this writer and Hema Naik climbed on the bandwagon. Pedro John de Souza, Faustin De Souza, J.U. Rego, J.M. Rodrigues, Nandini, Micmax, Jayanti Naik, Shashank Sitaram, and Prakash Paryenkar are noted short story writers.
Though religious verses were being written for a long time in Konkani, it is towards mid twentieth century that Konkani poetry started taking a definite shape. Kashinath Shridhar Naik’s Sadyavelim Fulam (1946) seems to be the earliest collection of poems. Luis Mascarenhas, who founded the Konkani Dirvem, contributed a number of his poems to the magazine form time to time. However, Abravanchem Yagnadan (1948) is his masterpiece. Bakibab Borkar, R.V. Pandit Manohar Sardesai together formed a triumvirate in the realm of Konkani poetry, influencing the poets of later years in one way or other. Borkar published his Painzanam in 1960 and caught the attention of poetry lovers. Pandit created literary history by bringing out five collections of his Konkani poems in 1963. But it was Manoharrai Sardesai who cast a spell on the Konkani community at large.
Shankar Bhandari, Shankar Ramani, Yeshwant Kelekar, J.B. Moraes, J.B. Sequeira, Ramesh Velluskar, Pundalik Naik, Prakash Padgaonkar, Madhav Borkar, Nagesh Karmali, Cha Fra D’Costa and quite a large number of poets have taken Konkani poetry to great heights.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Konkani plays were written on the basis of themes and episodes taken from epics. Bolantur Krishna Prabhu of South Kanara wrote several such plays based on Puranic episodes. Shenai Goembab on the other hand adapted a number of plays of Shakespeare and Molliere into Konkani and these were successfully staged. Acharya Shankar Naik also contributed a few adaptions and farces.
However, it is Pundalik Naik who stands a head taller than all others in the area of Konkani drama. His plays are known for their theme, style and substance. Cha Fra D’Costa also wrote and successfully staged a number of plays. Anirudh Bir, Dattaram Bambolkar, Prakash Thali and Sridhar Kamath Bambolkar have contributed significantly to the drama.
The Tiatr form dating from the Portuguese era is still very popular in Goa. Joao Augustinho Fernandes is held to be the first one who wrote the first Konkani Tiatr. Thomazinho Cardozo has written and staged a number of Tiatrs.
The writings of Shenoy Goembab can be considered a turning point in Konkani literature. No writer has influenced the Konkani community as much as Shenoy Goembab has done through the medium of his well researched articles and books. The essays of Laxmanrao Sardesai, Acharya Ramachandra Shankar Naik constitute some of the finest writings in Konkani. Ravindra Kelekar’s essays touch every aspect of human activity and are renowned for their simple, elegant and transparent language, reflective tone and bold views.