Goud Saraswat Brahmins of Cochin

Goud Saraswat Brahmins of Cochin
Cochin GSB
Total population
Regions with significant populations
South Kerala

Konkani, Malayalam


Hinduism of the Madhwa tradition

Related ethnic groups

Goud Saraswat Brahmin, Konkani people, Malayali Brahmins, Rajapur/Bhalavalikar Saraswat Brahmins, Kudaldeshkar Gaud Brahman, Daivajna, Padye, Bhatt Prabhu, Chitpavan, Goan Catholics, Mangalorean Catholics, Karwari Catholics

Cochin Goud Saraswat Brahmins, also known as Cochin GSB's are a sub-group of the Goud Saraswat Brahmins, who are native to Cochin and Travancore in the Kerala state of India. They are descended from those GSB's who settled in former princely states of Cochin and Travancore. GSBs of northern Kerala are similar to GSBs of Canara in speech and customs, whereas GSBs of former princely states of Cochin and Travancore have developed their own dialect and Customs, which distinguish them from rest of GSB community. In Geographical terms, Cochin GSBs are those who live south of Trissur district of Kerala.



GSBs started trickling into Cochin from late 13th century onwards following the military campaign by Alla-ud-din Khilji. The largest and the last great migration happened in A.D 1560 in wake of the inquisition in Goa. History of Cochin GSBs can be divided into three eras.

Late 13th century to late 18th century - Golden Era

The islamic incursions into Goa in late 13th century triggered a migration of Goud Saraswat Brahmins, a small number of them settled in Cochin. In the 14th century, following a great flood, Cochin (only a village before the Portuguese turned it into their first city in India) started to emerge as an important trade post, and commercial prospects attracted many Goud Saraswat Brahmins to Cochin.[1]

The Goud Saraswat Brahmins of Cochin played a key role in the emergence of Cochin as the international trade center. Local rajas had granted them privileges to encourage trade in their domain. With the advent of Europeans, Cochin GSBs quickly developed trade links with them.

In A.D 1542 Kashimath samstan was established thus establishing religious autonomy of Cochin GSBs. A papal bull initiated inquisition in Goa 1560, triggering massive exodus of GSBs from Goa. A large contingent of GSBs joined existing GSB settlement of Cochin. Most of the newcomers were from the modern day Salcette district of southern Goa and were mostly entrepreneurs. The capital and skills brought in by GSBs were played a major role in the ascendancy of Cochin which became one of the most important city of India.

The political ascendancy of Europeans in Cochin saw GSBs emerge as one of the most important trading communities of Cochin. The Saraswat brahmins with their language skills and commercial acumen established themselves as the intermediaries between the Europeans and the native. It must be noted that Cochin GSBs did not play any role in inland trade of Kerala. All major GSBs temples were established in this period. Prosperous GSBs patronized the temples.

The GSB temples and the Kashimath samstan are reminders of the success and stature that Cochin GSBs achieved in this era.

In 1654, the Tirumala Devasom recorded the arrival of 360 families in Cochin. Among them was Devaraya Kamathi, one of the most prosperous merchants in Goa, who brought so many bags of gold coins that it required 200 persons to carry them.[1]

Late 18th century to 1980s - Era of stagnation

Towards the end of the 18th century, the importance of Cochin as a commercial hub started diminishing. As a result Dutch power in Cochin started to wane. This development has adversely affected Saraswat Brahmins, who depended on Dutch for trade and protection. In 1772 the GSBs of Cochin came under the jurisdiction of Cochin rajas, disagreements appears to have developed between the two. The Saraswat brahmins who did not invest enough resources in building and maturing relationship with indigenous communities found themselves in a position of weakness and isolation.

Another major development which affected GSBs in an adverse manner was the crowning of Sakthan Thampuran in late 18th century who was, for reasons not clear, ill disposed towards them. Following a dispute, Sakthan Tampuran ordered sacking of Cochin tirumala devaswom and GSB businesses. Many prominent GSBs were killed and the Cochin GSB temple was looted. Social status of Cochin GSBs suffered immensely from this episode. This was the beginning of a long isolation of Cochin GSBs from the rest of the Kerala population.

Around the same time, British replaced Dutch as the paramount power of Cochin. This episode was much more far reaching in consequences as far as Cochin GSBs were concerned. The British did not have any commercial interest in Cochin as Dutch did, which inevitably led to the decline of Cochin as a commercial hub. The Cochin GSBs who were the middlemen between Europeans and Malayalis were thus deprived of the source of income. The GSBs of Cochin, who mainly consisted of entrepreneurs and not literary class, simply did not have the know how to survive in the new order. Large sections of the community was quickly reduced to poverty under the circumstances. While community as a whole declined, the GSB temples continued to be rich providing the focal point around which the GSB life revolved, both in spiritual and secular sense.

By early 20th century, Cochin GSBs were reduced to an impoverished minority. Around this time cochin GSBs started making forays into inland trade. A small but prosperous entrepreneur class emerged in the ranks of Cochin GSBs. 1930s were the times when Kerala witnessed major social changes which saw the caste system weakening. GSB community remained largely impervious to these changes, and preferred to live in isolation. Land reforms initiated by government of Kerala contributed a lot to the decline of GSBs temples, a decline which continues even today. These two centuries were a period of great stagnation and degeneration among GSBs, a blow from which Cochin GSBs are yet to recover completely.

From 1950 onwards Cochin GSBs have started taking up white collar jobs, Banks founded by GSBs of Canara provided opportunities which previously did not exist. This gave rise to a small GSB middle class. Isolation of GSB community, however, prevented them from the reaping the benefits of Gulf boom of 70s. Towards the end of this period Cochin GSB community consisted of a small wealthy upper class, a small middle class, and large low income group. The success of the GSB entrepreneurs was evident from the fact that GSBs businessmen figured in among the top tax payers of Kerala state in disproportionally high number as late as early 1990s.

1980s to present - Revival

The advent of 1980s ushered an era of changes, both economical and social, within Cochin GSB community.

At the economic front, Kerala witnessed a change in the commercial landscape with flood of capital from the middle east. The Saraswat entrepreneurs who were hitherto successful were forced to compete with emerging business class flush with Persian Gulf capital, forcing saraswat brahmin youngsters seek professional career in government and emerging service industry.

At the social front, breaking down of joint family system saw many GSBs venturing out of the ghettos, thus bringing them in contact with various malayali communities. This has resulted in the infusion of some fresh ideas into the community. Coming out of shell, Cochin GSB have started building building skills that enabled them to enter mainstream and compete successfully in a variety of pursuits.

The GSBs have also benefited from the accelerated pace of Globalization and the resulting boom from 1990s. The GSB middle class is fast expanding. Financial status of the community has steadily been improving with the wealth distribution becoming more even. Once an entrepreneur community, Cochin GSBs are now getting employed increasingly in service sector. A small trading class still thrives.

Increased social interaction with Malayali communities, while bringing in number benefits, is also threatens the continuing existence of GSB community as a separate one. This close social interaction has brought in inter caste marriages which could erode GSB population in long run.

Increasing shift of center gravity towards the professional middle class from the entrepreneur class, lower class emulating the middle class and climbing the social ladder, integration with Malayalam speaking communities, etc are the major trends that shape the Cochin GSB community at the moment.

Merger of Travnacore Marathi Deshastha brahmins with GSBs

The Travancore region of Kerala is home to considerable number of Marathi Deshastha Brahmins who migrated from Tanjavur and Madhurai. Past few decades have witnessed sections of this community increasingly identifying themselves as Konkani GSBs. Intermarriages between the Marathi and Konkani Brahmin communities are on the rise. Some of the Marathi Brahmin community have even adapted Saraswat Brahmin Surnames.

Internal strife in Kashi Math

In 1989, Mr.Shiavananda Pai of Ernakulam was initiated as the junior Pontiff of Kashimath Samsthan. For reason not fully known, a rivalry between the senior and junior pontiffs came to light in 2001. The courts have decided in favor of the Senior Pontiff Sudheendra Thirtha, according to the latest reports. The whole episode has created a major discord in the community.


In the absence of reliable census data, it is difficult to ascertain the number of Cochin GSBs. The census reports from early 20th century conducted by Cochin and Travancore princely states give a combine figure of approximately 14,500. The population of these geographies have increased five fold now. Assuming the GSB population grew at the same rate, a figure of 70,000 may be an extrapolated

Cheralai area of Ernakulam city, Downtown Ernakulam, Allapuzha Anandanarayanapuram, chertala (muttam), Thuravoor, Kayamkulam, Kollam, and downtown Ernakulam , North Parur, Varapuzha, Cherai, Vypeen , TRIPUNITHURA (PURNAVEDAPURI) are the some of the areas one finds siginificant GSB population.


Most Cochin GSBs speak a dialect of Konkani among themselves. Cochin konkani has incorporated large number of Malayalam words, extent of Malayalam influence varies from place to place. GSBs of Cherelai and Ernakulam and Tripunithura area of Cochin speak purer Konkani. As one moves southwards influence of Malayalam becomes more pronounced.

Almost all of Cochin GSBs write/read/speak Malayalam. Older GSBs hailing from predominantly GSB areas tend to speak grammatically wrong Malayalam with an accent. Malayalam spoken by Cochin GSBs is often caricatured in films and on stage in the past. Younger generation of Cochin GSBs have better command over Malayalam. A Good number of Cochin Konkanis have knowledge of Hindi. English is equally popular. Many GSBs of Cochin also understand Marathi as it is very close to Konkani.

There have been some efforts to develop Konkani, centred most around Cochin, but often they tend to be individual efforts. GSBs of Cochin by and large are indifferent to such efforts. T.D. High school of Cochin offers Konkani as third language. Konkani literature is insignificant save some poems and devotional songs.

Social profile

Saraswat Brahmins are one of the most ancient tribes within Hindu society, retaining many of the ancient practices. Mainstream Brahmin community always had reservations against the Saraswat Brahmins for many Saraswat Brahmin customs were at odds with mainstream brahmin traditions and observations, though no such basis can be traced to Hindu scriptures.

The post inquisition Saraswat Brahmin Diaspora experience is remarkably similar in wide areas where Saraswat Brahmins settled. The ruling elites were quick to realize the value of Saraswat brahmin skills, whereas Social elite tried to undermine Saraswat Brahmins through persistent litigation and smear campaign. The saraswat experience in Kerala was no different.

Kerala society of yesteryears practised a very rigid form of caste system; The sudden appearance of Saraswat brahmins in large numbers triggered two different and somewhat opposite reactions from elites of Kerala society. The ruling elites welcomed Saraswat brahmins and granted many rights to them. The Saraswat brahmins were gifted prime real estate properties to build their temples, they were allowed to build brick houses, and were even given right to collect taxes in many localities. Most of the saraswat brahmin temples stand on properties gifted by Kshatriya and Nair elite.

The social elite consisting of different indigenous brahmin sects viewed Saraswat brahmins in a different light. At the highest level, Saraswat brahmins belonged to Panch gauda as opposed to the indigenous brahmins who were part of Panch Dravida group. The Saraswat brahmins entered Cochin by sea, something which was a taboo in those days. The non vegetarian diet of Saraswat brahmins constituted probably the most contentious issue. Finally, the saraswat brahmins did not have any reservations against having a professional partnership with the Europeans in matters commercial. The Saraswat brahmins thus represented a type of alien Brahminhood which was in total conflict with the brahmin prototype prevalent in Kerala. Notwithstanding all the above, the Kerala brahmin opposition to Saraswat brahmin was not a knee jerk reaction, but a gradual one spread over a long period of time.

The as Western civilization took root in Kerala soil, the kerala brahmins, fearful of losing their exclusivity, started moving to remote parts of the Kerala state. The Saraswat brahmins with more liberal attitudes towards Westerners stayed behind to take advantage of the commercial opportunities. The local brahmins viewed this as guilt by association. The expansion European power and commerce brought staggering success to the Saraswat brahmins and jealousy among sections of native population. The influential Tulu faction, who had a history of disputes with Saraswat brahmin in Tulu Nadu, also worked towards denying Saraswat brahmins many privileges rightly due to them. The Saraswat brahmins, thus, did not really become part of the larger Brahmin community, preferring to maintain autonomy and entrepreneur activities at the expense of integration leading to some sort of social stigma.

Two centuries of introverted life has somewhat taken a toll on the Cochin GSBs and has deprived the community of social and linguistic skills required to thrive in a state which has a different social structure than the state in which they have their roots. It has resulted in a community which is essentially introverted which internalises its energies, and is not integrated completely with the mainstream of Kerala society. Till some years ago, GSBs were caricatured in popular media. Even though such caricaturing is not in fashion any more, stereotyping of GSBs still persists, albeit with less intensity.


Cochin GSBs have adapted vegetarianism in order to be accepted as Brahmins by Kerala society, this distinguishes them from rest of the southern Saraswats. The Cochin GSB cuisine is therefore vegetarian which retains many Goan characteristics. The main staple is rice and lentils(dal). This is supplemented with vegatbles. Ambat, Gussi, Valval, Humann, etc. are some traditional GSB gravies. Cochin GSBs prepare a variety of rice pancakes(Dosas) and dumplings(idlis). Santhan(a flat steamed rice dumpling) and Hittu(pyramid shaped steamed rice dumpling wrapped in sachet made of jack fruit leaves) is unique to Cochin GSB cuisine. Pathrode is another GSB delicacy which is made of colocasia leaves and rice.


Cochin GSBs are Vaishnavites following Dwaita school of Madhwacharya and are followers of Kashi Mutt which traces origins to Kumbhakonam Math.

The Cochin GSB life revolves around their temples, there are about 35 of them in south/central Kerala. Annual festival of the temple is an occasion of great celebration among Cochin GSBs, diwali is also celebrated with great enthusiasm. Ugadi, Ganesh Chaturti, etc. are other festivals celebrated by the Cochin GSBs. Some GSB gramas celebrate Ukuli. Cochin GSBs have great devotion to Tirupati Balaji. Presiding deity of most GSB temples is Balaji. GSBs are also devoted to Narasimha.

The GSBs of Cochin are enthusiastic pilgrims. Tirupati is the most popular destination. More and more are visiting pilgrim centres of North India. Goa and Karnataka also figure out in GSB pilgrim itenerary. Pandharpur which used be another popular pilgrimage destination, no longer enjoys the popularity it used to be in the past. Singing bhajans is very popular among Cochin GSBs, Marathi bhajans praising Vithoba being the most popular.

Unfortunately Sanskrit scholarship is non existent among Cochin GSBs. Cochin GSB priests are only competent in performing poojas, none of them are known to be vedic scholars. GSB priests officiate mainly in GSB temples and Households. Their services are also sought by expatriate north and western Indian communities. Community now faces acute shortage of priests, and this is has resulted in deterioration of observance in GSB temples. This, in addition to a variety of other factors, have conspired to make GSBs of southern Kerala flock to Malayali temples, a practice frowned upon few decades ago. Large number of GSBs visit pilgrim centres like Guruvayoor and Sabarimala, something unheard in the past.


Thanks to the Kerala government policy of spreading literacy, Cochin GSBs have a high literacy rate. The community now places a high premium on education. Commerce is the most popular discipline among Cochin GSBs. Chartered accountancy is highly regarded. Engineering is a sought after discipline; more and more GSBs are now pursuing Engineering degrees. In the past, Cochin GSBs boasted famous doctors in their ranks, but nowadays the number of Cochin GSBs pursuing a career in medicine has been reduced to a trickle. Few Cochin GSBs pursue liberal arts and languages other than Hindi.

In spite of being a small community, Cochin GSBs have made their contribution to educational field of Kerala. Prestigious Alleppuzha Medical college was founded by GSBs of Allapuzha. Padiyar College of Homeopathy is yet another GSB venture. Many GSB temples run schools. T.D.School of Cochin is the first co educational institute of Kerala. Cochin T.D temple also manages a teachers training centre. There is another T.D.School in Allapuzha which is run by the Allapuzha T.D temple.


Baliga, Bhaktha, Bhat, Kamath, Kilikar, Kini, Mallya, Nayak, Pai, Padiyar, Prabhu, Shenoy, Sharma, Rao etc. are common surnames among Cochin GSBs. Some Bhat families have adapted the surname Vadhyar while some use Mallan instead of Mallya. Recently, certain families have adopted the surname Mallaya (instead of Mallan). Kilikar, Sharma and Rao are surnames adapted by Cochin GSBs. Generally Cochin GSBs do not add name of their village to their name like Karnataka GSBs. Adding name of their Tharavadu is a Malayali custom adapted by some Cochin GSBs. Large of number of Cochin GSBs have added father's first name to their given names and dropped surnames altogether.

Economic profile

The most prominent among Cochin GSBs are traders, Some of them have achieved great degree of success. GSBs traders have done well in Hardware, Textile, and Sanitary retailing. GSBs have also excelled in Publishing and construction businesses. Traders, though prosperous, do not take part in international trade as their forefathers did. The professional class consists mainly of Chartered accountants, engineers, and lawyers. Most of the salaried class include bank employees and government employees. IT boom has helped Cochin GSBs to improve their social and financial status. Cochin GSBs can now be found almost all over the world. Many have migrated to the US, UK, Europe, and Australia as well as to large metropoles of India. A good number of cochin GSB families have moved to middle strata of the society thanks to the IT boom. Unfortunately, benefits of education and globalization are yet to percolate down to sizeable sections of Cochin GSBs.

Famous Cochin GSBs

  • T.V.R.Shenoy, Journalist
  • Late Dr. K.Narayana Pai, Physician, Honoured with Padmashri by Govt of India.
  • Dinesh Nayak, Indian national hockey player
  • Balakrishna Kamath, Upcoming Mridangist
  • Appu Bhat, Ranga Bhat and Vinayak Pandit, Assisted Dutchman Van Reede in the compilation of Hortus Malabaricus, a complete study on the herbs and other medicinal plants of Kerala.
  • Roopa Revathi, Singer, Winner of Amritha TV's reality show Super Star Global 2007-08
  • Hari Sharma, Malayalam writer.

Other Konkani speaking communities of Kerala

Contrary to the popular perception, the GSBs are not the only konkani speaking community of South/Central Kerala. Largest konkani speaking community in this parts of the country are Kudumbis. It is said that Konkani spoken by Kudumbis is by far the purest strain of Konkani. Vaniya and Daivajnas communities are also found in Cochin whose mother tongue is Konkani. Negligible number of Konkani speaking Nawayath Muslims and Mangalorean Catholics domicile Cochin. There is a considerable social interaction between GSBs and Kudumbis.

The GSBs are identified with Konkani language in Kerala. There are concerted efforts among other Konkani speaking communities to give up Konkani in favour of Malayalam to improve social status, A trend emulated even by some GSBs of certain parts of Kerala, most notably in Kottayam,Trichur districts. Fortunately enough Konkanis of kochi speak their mother tongue without hesitation.

See also


  1. ^ a b Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p. 125


  • Dakshinatya Saraswats by V.S.Kudva
  • History of Kerala by Padmanabha Menon

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