by Mariano Jose Dias


Explicit evidence to the effect that Devanagari is the natural script of the Konkani language, comes from none other than Jesuit sources in Goa, in the 16th century. This was dealt with by this writer in his article “Liturgical books in Devanagari Konkani”, in Renovaςão, 25 (1995),  pp.203-204.


The dynamic organizer of Jesuit missions in the East Visitor Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606) was keen that Konkani language be learnt in its own script that could be none other than devanagari, then called letra da terra. It is sufficient to recall what the chronicler of the Society Fr. Francisco de Sousa ( ? -1712) recorded in his Oriente Conquistado (Lisboa,1710) 2nd Part C.I. Div.II, 9, Bombay edition, 1886: "The Visitor ordered that eight scholastics learning Moral theology, be relieved from any other ministry so that they speak only in Konkani among themselves and the Rector ensured strict observance of this order: at certain time during the day they would practice by talking to local people and learn to read and write in the script of the place" (Ao Collegio de Salsete se applicaram este anno oito Irmãos moralistas ao estudo da lingua Canarina, tão necessaria para a cultura dos Christãos e conversão dos gentios. Ordenou o Padre Visitador, que os desoccupassem de qualquer outro ministerio, que não fallassem entre si senão na lingua da terra, e o Padre Reitor era exactissimo em fazer observar esta ordem: que todos os dias praticassem com os naturaes a certas__horas determinadas, que aprendessem a ler e escrever nos proprios caracteres do paiz..).


More specific in this regard is the testimony of the scholarly Francis Garcia S.J.(1580-1659) whose illustrious career in the Indian missions ended  in his disastrous rule as Archbishop of Cranganor (Kodangallur) (1641-1659) which coincided with the fateful 'Coonan Cross' oath in 1653 in Malabar. In his letter to the Goa Inquisitors in 1656 he disclosed that he had been parish priest in the Salsete parishes of Margão and Loutulim for 11 years and that he was conversant with three scripts of Konkani viz. chalantra or common script, the second in which Hindu religious books are written and the third palea nagara that  few  know to read (a qual sey mais que bastantemente, como Vossas Merces, se forem servidos, se_poderam informar dos bramenes de Salsete. principalmente dos d'aldea de Margam e de Lotulim, nas quais igrejas  fui vigario onze annos. Sey ler tres letras da mesma lingua: a primeira se chama chalantra, que he a ordinaria; a 2a na qual se escrevem os livros da ley dos gentios e suas historias; a 3a se chama palea nagara, a qual sabem poucos ler). Cf.  O Homem das trinta e duas Perfeições e outras Historias - Writings of Indian Literature, trans. Dom Francisco Garcia S.J. edited with footnotes by Jose Wicki S.J. Lisbon 1958) p.324.


With such wealth of its own scripts, the question arises as to why Konkani used by Catholics in Goa arbitrarily was made captive of an alien script. It was, however, an unfortunate accident of History that printing of Konkani books by Jesuits in Goa, was confined to Roman script and this ended up by eclipsing the Devanagari from its dominant position. Yet it must be said to the abiding credit of the Jesuit  Konkani pioneers that they wrote in Devanagari and strove hard in vain to have their books printed in the same, as will be seen below.


It was most logical that printing of Konkani books, when undertaken by the Jesuits in Goa in the 16th century, should be in Devanagari; the mighty Valignano, however, apparently decided otherwise, even though he lent his authority to printing Tamil books in Tamil script. Known for his partiality in favour of the Japanese and animus against Indians, particularly canarins, as Goans were termed in a derogatory connotation throughout Portuguese presence, his discriminatory attitude towards printing in Indian scripts spared the lingua malavar (tamil) but not Konkani.


As regards Tamil, Valignano commissioned the aged Fr Henrique Henriques, working in the Fishery Coast, to prepare for printing a Tamil catechism (..o Pe Amriquez, virtuoso e velho, occupa-sse en tirar algumas cousas de Deos na lingua malavarina pera se impremirem, porque o Pe.Visitador mandou  fazer impressão malavarina.) Cf. Letter of December 24, 1576 of Fr. Christopher Luis. S.J. to the General Fr Everardo Mercuriano, Documenta Indica by J.Wicki S.J.(ed), vol. X, p. 801).


Not even one year had elapsed, by his letter of November 18, 1577, written from Malacca to the same Father General, Valignano triumphantly announced that printing of the Tamil catechism is complete to the great consolation of Tamil converts who were amazed with such a new thing (Tambien se acabo la imprecion de la lenguoa malavar, de la quall escrevy en anno passado, y ya se emprimio la doctrina cristiana con mucha conςolacion de los christianos daquellas partes, que quedaron espantados de ver cosa tan nueva”). (Ibid., p. 1006). Notwithstanding his insight into the importance of Konkani’s own script, by the  same letter from Malacca, virtually he struck the death knell of printing Konkani books in devanagari, to the chagrin of most Konkani pioneers, Fr. Thomas Stephens S.J. being the most outspoken among them. This clearly hints at an afterthought and reversal of earlier favourable decision as Brother João Gonsalves S.J., who had already cast fifty Konkani types, did not dare (!) to complete the job because it was found to be extensive and difficult: «Mas quanto a lo que toca a la imprecion de la lenguoa canarina, aunque se hizieron hasta 50 letres ou matrizes. todavya eran ellas tan muchas y tan trabalhosas, y corre esta lenguoa por tan poqua terra, que se dexo a la fin de fazer, porque el Hermano no se atrevyo a fazer tanto. Plegua a N. Senor que podamos hazer el mismo en Japan, ado haziendosse, saldria com maior provecho por ser la jente mas capaz» (Ibid.). It is to be noted that the same Brother Gonsalves had completed the full range of Tamil types used for the catechism printed in Quilon in 1578 and it strains credibility in that he should have backed out from similar feat as regards Konkani types, ostensibly on the ground of complexity and large numbers. Plausibly the initiative to stop making Konkani types, attributed to the Brother, is a camouflage to conceal orders to the same effect, from Superiors, possibly Valignano himself.


The virtual imposition of Roman script on Konkani owing to alleged difficulty to cut respective Devanagari types, was recorded by another Jesuit chronicler Fr. Sebastião Gonsalves (1555/6/7 - 1619) who was in India from 1594 and from 1602 in Goa where he died as ‘praepositus  of the Professed House. In his Historia da Companhia de Jesus no Oriente, edited by J..Wicki S.J. (Coimbra, 1962), Vol. III,  p. 24, it is stated that Goans have good handwriting, (the reference is to Devanagari) but the number of the characters and combinations is so large that till now it has not been possible to print any book based on them. Thus it is necessary to print in European characters whatever is written in their language (Tem boa letra, mas são tantos os caracteres e figuras que não foi possivel téagora imprimir-se algum livro nellas de modo que he necessario imprimir nos caracteres europenses (sic) o que em sua lingua se compozer)


Thus the position stands clearly established:


1. Konkani Jesuit writers in Goa in the 16th century had mastered Devanagari script and wrote books in the same script e.g. the catechism of Fr. Marco Jorge S.J. was translated in Konkani by a lay Brother (Documenta Indica IX 305); one extant evidence is Thomas Stephens' Purana in Devanagari (Presently in the Marsden collection in the School of Oriental Studies, London. It belonged to the library of the Goa Jesuit Professed House) - photocopy of one of its pages may be seen as appendix to Fr G. Schurhammer’s article “Der Marathidichter Thomas Stephens SI  Neue Dokumente in Orientalia, pp. 377-91).


2. Bro. João  Gonsalves proved, by making fifty Devanagari Konkani types, that it was possible and that their full range could be completed, in due course, with the determination and skill that enabled him to do the Tamil types which would be no less forbidding.


3. The coverage of Konkani language, limited to Salsete during Valignano's time, weighed with him to drop printing in devanagari characters (..v corre esta lenguoa por tan poqua terra, que se dexo a la fin de fazer..). This was indeed a pragmatic criterion, given the Visitor's tight financial position, if only the so-called cost-benefit aspect had to prevail, in detriment of wider missionary interests as in the case of Tamil. This was, however, at the expense of disfiguring Konkani by the adoption of Roman script.


There may also have been a reason underpinning the change of course, as far as printing Konkani in Devanagari is concerned: the political situation in Salcete was fluid and Jesuits were on the run. This is disclosed by Valignano by his letter from Malacca of September 16,1577 to Father General Mercuriano in which he mentions inter alia that Jesuits are struggling against the current in conversion work (Y esto es, Padre, lo que esfria el hervor  de conversion, y cierto que vamos en ella del todo contra agua) (Ibid., p.871). He had even to lend 2000 pardaus to the Governor Antonio Moniz Barreto to raise 200 soldiers for defence of Salcete and had to close the Seminary for lack of means as well as withdraw the eight Konkani trainees to St. Paul's college (Ibid., p. 892). This is confirmed by F. Sousa in the above quoted Oriente Conquistado, II,1-3,33. Despondency about Jesuit survival in Salcete, possibly, would not have been extraneous to the decision not to proceed with Konkani Devanagari types.


Incidentally, the noted Jesuit historian Josef Franz Schutte, quoting the above mentioned Valignano's letter of November 18,1577, concluded that the Konkani printing press had “proved a failure” as regards Devanagari (Valignano’s Mission Principles for Japan (Gujarat, Sahitya Prakash), Vol. I, p.176. In reality, however, as shown above, it did not fail, it was aborted.


4. The summary stoppage of the preparation of Konkani Devanagari fonts for printing books, recalls Valignano's arbitrary proclivity to disparage Indians, in comparison with the Japanese termed as white (..la gente es toda blanca), whereas Indians are mentioned as black (Dopo questi non si ha da ricevere niuna persona naturale della terra (excettuando il Giapone), si perche, como si é detto, é gente negra, di mala qualita et di bascissimo ingenio et poco capaci). Cf. Valignano'sSummarium Indicum Alterum” in Documenta Indica XIII, p. 70. and more explicitly in «.. es tanta la differencia de los Japones a los de la India, que tienen en ninguma cosa em que se puedan compara »- Cf.  Ibid., p 218. This explains the outrageous contention in the Visitor's above quoted letter of November 18,1577 about higher abilities of the Japanese to profit from the printed word in their script  «..saldria com maior provecho or ser la jente mas capaz». With such  display of  virtual missionary apartheid, canarins were relegated to a lower status of having books in Konkani printed in Roman script whereas the Japanese were to be gifted with  a printing press with their characters.


Naturally, the imposition of Roman script for printing Konkani books would not be acceptable to Jesuit writers, though they had to bow to obedience. As suggested above, there would have been resentment and frustration among them, concerning their inability to have their books printed in Devanagari, at par with those in Tamil script. This frustration would not have remained muted. We have, on record, Fr. Thomas Stephens' outrage expressed vigourously in his letter of December 5,1608 to Fr. General Claudio Aquaviva, which includes his resentment about the Provincial's lack of interest in attending to the matter, much less take it at heart.  He highlights his efforts during many years to have Konkani books printed in Devanagari script, as those in Tamil are very fruitful in their areas. He would not be unaware of the abrupt end to the initiative to make Devanagari types by Bro. João Gonsalves and the role the then Visitor had in it. He admits the difficulty in having six hundred types made but he finds a remedy thereto by reducing them to two hundred. Presumably, he would not dare take up the matter with General Aquaviva, known to be a close friend of Valignano, to seek the reversal of a decision taken by the latter. This may be the reason why he waited for many years, until the Visitor had departed to Macau in 1597, where he died on January 20,1606. His broadside against the Provincial's lopsided sense of priorities and indifference to his pleadings is symptomatic of his disillusion with the establishment's apathy towards the cause he had so much at heart: Devanagari script in print. He had to content himself with his  Purana being circulated in manuscript copies to satisfy the heavy demand which included even Hindus, as attested by his Necrology of February 19,1620 - he died in 1619 (Schurhammer, ibid., p.390-1). His request to Fr. General to pass necessary instructions to the Goa Provincial to promote printing in Devanagari appears to have gone unheeded. The relevant para. of Fr. Stephens' above quoted letter reads: “Antes que acabe quero advertir a V. paternidade que ha muitos annos que grandemente desejei ver nesta Provincia alguns livros impressos na lingua e letra da terra, como os ha no Malavar com grande fruito daquela christandade e nunca se eff'eituou por duas causas: a primeira porque parecia imposivel fazerem-se tantas matrizes que passarião de seiscentos, porquanto os characteres são sillabas e não letras, como são os nossos 24 de Europa; a outra porque esta sancta curiosidade não se podia effeituar sem ordem e favor do Provincial, elles tem tantas cousas em que entender, que nao tem vagar pera cuydar nisto, quanto mais pera o tomar a peito.  A primeira_difficuldade tem seu remedio, porque se podem reduzir estas matrizes a duzentas;- a 2a se tirara se V.P. ouver por bern escrever ao Pe. Provincial sobre isso, encommendo lhe muyto pera que faςa o que achar ser a mor Gloria de Deos e edificacão e proveito desta christandade" (Schurhammer, Ibid., p.389). Fr. Stephens' Purana had three editions in Roman script in 1616,1649 and 1654 from Rachol.


The glory of God and edification of the faithful, that Fr. Stephen’s rightly sought by endeavouring to have books printed in Devanagari script were irrelevant to Valignano in Salcete, but not in Tamil speaking areas. The duty to study Indian languages specifically enjoined by the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus (P.IV c.12 n.2) had to include the respective scripts and, by implication, printing. This was only partly observed when Konkani was forced into the strait jacket of Roman script: a disservice that sowed the seeds of controversies about Konkani being a dialect of Marathi on the ground inter alia that it has no script of its own, it was fabricated by missionaries, etc. etc. which drew stern response from Shenoy Goembab, Dr Jose Pereira, and others.