They came to the city way back in late 19th century. From adapting to the Kannadiga culture like celebrating Ugadi every year to being more open about inter-caste/community marriages now, the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins have come a long way with the ever evolving city of Bangalore.
“Our ancestors are basically Brahmins from the Kashmir Valley. Way back in the 1708, they slowly started moving towards the south of India and most of them settled down in Gokarna, a temple town of Karnataka,” says Anand Nagarkar, theatre person and Kannada TV artiste.
Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins and Goud Saraswat Brahmins are both different sects of Konkan Brahmins. There are about 500 families of Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins and 3,000 Goud Saraswat Brahmin families in the city.
Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins are prominently visible in Malleswaram and surrounding areas. A branch of their mutt, Chitrapur Mutt, is also located in Malleswaram.
“Prakash Padukone, Girish Karnad and Nandan Nilekani are a few prominent Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins in the city,” says Nagarkar, who is also a Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin.
While 57-year-old Nagarkar was born and brought up in the city, his forefathers made Bangalore their home when they came here in the early 1900s.
“My family is from Shirali, a small town near Bhatkal. Most Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins are from this small town as many of them have ancestors who migrated to Shirali from Kashmir centuries ago,” says Nagarkar.
Having spent more than five decades in the city, Nagarkar has obviously seen his share of changes, both in the community he belongs to and in the city he has made his home.
“People were much more religious when I was growing up. I remember, whether young or small, everybody was very particular about the morning prayers,” he explains.
Nagarkar says that he witnessed a lull in being religious even in his community sometime in the 1990s. “However, just like a cycle, people are moving towards being more and more religious now. So, we started as a very religious community, went through a lull and now we are going back to what it was.”
In February 2008, the community celebrated the completion of 300 years of its Holy Guru Parampara. Under the initiative and guidance of their Mathadhipathi, His Holiness Sri Sri Sadyojata Shankarashram Swamiji, several hundred participants from all age groups, some 85-plus years’ old, from all over India and abroad walked from Gokarna to Shirali, a distance of 97 km, in two days. “It was indeed the most remarkable and unforgettable event in the history of our community,” says Nagarkar.
At the same time, a big change Nagarkar has witnessed in the past 50 years is the fact that members of his community are not as orthodox as they used to be. “Inter-caste marriages were taboo in our community, but, gradually, people have opened up to them,” he says.
This view is endorsed by home-maker Shobha Gautham, 60, who married a Kannadiga over 30 years ago. Not just that, she tells us how of her three other sisters, one married a Muslim and another a Christian — only one of them married someone from the same community.
“Today, we are one happy family. We celebrate Eid and Christmas as well as ‘our’ festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi, Ugadi and Deepavali,” says Shobha.
Shobha, who was born a Mankikar and whose ancestors hailed from the small North Kanara village Manki, comments on how the roots of Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins can be traced back to their ancestral village through their surnames. “Mankikar means from Manki, Kumtakar means from Kumta and so on,” explains Shobha, who has lived in Bangalore since the 1970s.