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THE SURNAME SHENOY
By Mohan Shenoy

The surname Shenoy is common among the Gowda Saaraswath Braahman families. All Saraswath people got their name Saaraswath from the Saraswati river along the banks of which they were originally settled.

The Saraswati river is now seen only as a subterranean shadow in the pictures of the state of Punjab taken from the satellites.

There occurred a 12-year famine in about 5000 B.C. (period mentioned needs authentication) in Punjab which caused the river Saraswati to dry up and vanish. This famine was enough to kill a large number of people in the area due to starvation. A lot of information which the people of the time kept memorized was lost by the death of the masses. The written information on papyrus was either left unattended to be lost to nature, or carried along to the destinations by the escapees.

A large number of able bodied survivors escaped to the east and came to live along the banks of the river Ganga and its tributaries. Many families settled down in the new location but a good percentage of the new generations returned to Punjab in later years.

After many many years the migrant Saaraswats in Gangetic plains gained name and fame in the new colonies as wise men. They had known ways and means to appease gods and to consign the souls to the heaven after death. They performed elaborate fire sacrifices and dictated the correct procedures for the same. They were in demand in all different kingdoms and courts. They were identified by their family names such as Bhrigu, Angirasa, Vsishta, Kashyapa, Agastya and Atri. All those men through the ages born to Bhrigus for example would be known by the same name. They were placed in the highest class among men and called the Braahman(s).

The Saaraswat Braahman had other rivals such as the Kanyakubja, Maithila, Gauda and Utkal Brahmans who were either original residents or off-shoots of the new settlers.

Meanwhile in the peninsular portion of the land known as Bhaarath (later referred to as India) below the Vindhya mountain ranges, there were Braahman families bearing names such as Dravida, Tailang, Karnaata, Madhyadesi, and Gurjara. Thus there were in the course of time, about ten different primary divisions constructed among the Braahmans of Bhaarath.

The Story of Lord ParasuramaThe history of Saaraswat Braahmans is incomplete if Lord Parasurama is not taken into account. It is said that Parasurama was the godly administrator of the west-coast of India so much so that he had thrown his pickaxe across the sea to extend the land upto the line along which his axe fell. Therefore the land consisting of Konkan, Goa, coast of Karnataka, and Kerala is known as Parasurama territory.

To give a more rational explanation to this improbable legend, the discovery of land beyond the Western Ghats and conquering it by Parasurama led to the theory of the pickaxe. This land was inaccessible for people of Gujarat, Madhyadesha, Karnaata, Tailang and Dravida and hence it was a new discovery when Lord Parasurama rode across the Western Ghat mountains and established his control over it.

The Story of Braahman settlements in Goa
Once Parasurama established himself as the ruler of Konkan, Goa and other coastal territories, he experienced the lack of Braahmans in the region. He arranged to bring in Brahmans from the Tri-hotra region of northern Gangetic plains. The region in the northern Gangetic belt (consisting roughly the present districts of Champaran, Saran, Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur) was known as Tri-hotra which later shortened to Tirhut.

The first batch of Braahmans were settled in Goa. Their family names or Gothra(s) were the following: Bhaaradwaaja, Kausika (also known as Kaumsa), Vatsa, Kaundinya, Kashyapa, Vasishta, Jamadagni, Vishwaamitra, Gautama and Atri. More Braahmans from other areas including the Bengal came to Goa on invitation of the rulers following Parasurama.

These families were belonging to Sankha Pingala Kamsa, Garghya, Angirasa, Nair dhruva, Dhananjaya, Mudgala, Vainya, Harsha, Hariha, Shandilya and Sankhyana.

Family Deities or Kula Devata
The Brahmanas brought the idols of gods along when they arrived in Goa. Their gods were Mangesh, Mahadeva, Mahalakshmi, Mhalasa, Shanta Durga, Nagesh and Sapta Kotishwara. Each person knows and remembers the name of his family deity since during various rituals the family deity is first invoked and thereafter the god that is to be worshipped.

Also it is a practice for the newly married Saaraswat couple to visit the temple of their family deity in Goa immediately after a marriage. The temples of all the family deities of Saaraswats are located in and around Goa.

The Gowda Saaraswat Brahmans
The Saaraswat community in Goa and along the Westcoast of India has three main sub-communities. They are 1. Chitrapur Saaraswats, 2. Gowda Saaraswats and 3. Dravida Saaraswats.

The Chitrapur Saaraswats have been the original Parasurama invitees and referred to as the Shenvi families because of their high levels of intelligence, physical growth, exceptional character of honesty and integrity. They were employed in high positions in the courts of the rulers of Goa and of other surrounding places.

The Gowda Saaraswats were the Saaraswat families who arrived later in the fourth to eleventh centuries and brought with them their food habits and enterpreunerships. They commonly ate fish but not any other non-vegetarian food items. Like all Hindus they were cow-worshippers. They were also capable of taking up occupations such as agriculture and shop-keeping. They wanted to retain their separate identity when they arrived in Goa from Gowda desha that existed in Bengal and Bihar region during the first three centuries A.D. There are other explanations also for Gowda word.

The Dravida Saaraswat Braahmans are those that live mainly in Konkan and Thane regions of Maharashtra. They have taken up the traditions and practices of the Maratha Braahmans such as Chitpavan and Deshastha.

Influence of the Kadamba and Keladi Kings
After Parasurama, history tells us of the Kadamba dynasty ruling Goa and surrounding areas. Kadamba kings were themselves Braahmans belonging to the Haritha gothra. The Saaraswats of Goa lived peacefully in the Kadamba kingdom. Banavasi a town situated southeast of Goa was its capital.
In the 14th Century Muslims conquered Goa and ruled it briefly. In the 16th Century the Portuguese arrived and took over the administration of Goa.

To escape persecution and conversion the Saaraswat people and other Hindu people migrated out of Goa and settled elsewhere. When they left their lands and houses back they carried as much gold and jewelry as they could with them. The Keladi king received the fleeing Saaraswats with open hands and encouraged them to settle down in his kingdom. The Saaraswats flourished in the Keladi kingdom. They were traders, soldiers and advisors. They were invited by the small and big kings alike because they were honest and hard-working. They often brought gold and jewelry and shared their wealth with the king.

Later in the Keladi kingdom all the Saaraswats came to be known as Shanbhogue. Shanbhogue also indicated that the person is a writer or a literate person employed by the king to collect revenue from the subjects and deposit it in the treasury of the kingdom. These Shanbhogues were known for their honesty and integrity and they were considered to be fully reliable in every deal.

Many of the families went further south along the coast and reached Kochi (formerly Cochin) in Kerala. Many families broke their journey and settled down when they found a good place along the route. At present Saaraswats are found in every town and village along the coast from Goa down to Kochi and beyond. They are spotted easily because they have a fair skin and a handsome physique. Their women are some of the most beautiful ladies in the region and in the world.

Most of the Saaraswats refrain from alcohol, fraudulent deals, breaking laws of the land, and taking bribe to show favours to perform the duties assigned to them. They maintain good business practices and pay taxes honestly. They do not indulge in rape and murder and respect women and the elderly.


The Surnames of the Saaraswats
There were no surnames before the 16th Century for Saaraswats because they were identified by the place they lived in or if they had recently migrated to another place then by the name of the place they came from. A man from Goa would be known as Goakar, and one from Tendul would be known as Tendulkar.

But the Portuguese wanted a surname added for identification and there arose the practice of using Pai as the surname for the Saaraswats. Every Saaraswat was known as Pai added to his given name. It would be Mohan Pai for Mohan along with the place of his birth included as the fore name. A Mohan Pai from Karwar would be known as Karwar Mohan Pai.

In Goa the surname Shenai or Shenoy was common along with the surname Pai. The Pai surname was reserved for the rich landlords and the surname Shenai/Shenoy was given to the accountants, clerks, agents, and employees of letter. They were employed to read or write letters by even the Pais. They were always employed in the court by the kings of Goa.

The Shenai/Shenoy was always a Saaraswat Braahman. Later when the Gowda Saaraswat population increased in the Kannada areas and in Kerala, they adopted the surname Shanbhogue first and later changed it to Shenoi, Shenai, or Shenoy for convenience.

There was confusion in writing the word Shanbhogue in English. Often the name was written as Shanbhag. There was confusion in the spelling of Shenoy also. Many people adopted the spelling Shenoi. Those using Shenoi are found in Goa, Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Kerala and in big cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata. Those using the spelling Shenoy are more frequently seen among the Gowda Saaraswats than those using the spelling Shenai or Shenoi. Any one using Shenai or Shenoi (with a letter i instead of y) is only digressing from the common practice of using y to write Shenoy.

The surnames exclusively used by Gowda Saaraswats are Kamath, Kudva or Kudav, Baliga, Kini, Nayak, Prabhu, Mallya, Bhandarkar and of course Pai and Shenoy. These surnames do not indicate the Gothra of the person. However except for Pai and Shenoy the surname of the groom is different from that of the bride until they are married.

A bride takes on the surname of the husband after marriage. There is also a practice to give a different name to the bride as her married name. The bride's married name is chosen by the husband or his mother. Since there is no marriage within a Gothra among the Gouda Saaraswats, the Gothra of the husband is assumed by the bride and all their children will be considered belonging to the Gothra of the man.

The marriage is between the two families and the girl after marriage becomes one in the husband's family assuming all his traits and identities.


The Vachcha Gothra
The Gothra of the Shenoys/Shenois/Shenais is commonly Vachcha which is not listed in any of the Gothra lists. Vachcha is not the same as Vatsa which is listed in every list of Gothras. Therefore Gowda Saaraswat Brahmans belonging to the Vachcha Gothra are probably the most recent migrants into the Konkan, Goa and rest of the West coast regions.


Shenoys (Shenois) who are Christians
The surname Shenoy/Shenoi occurs among the Christians who got converted voluntarily from Hinduism. The Portuguese clergy insisted on changing the name and surname of the converted Hindus into Christianity in the 16th Century and later until Goa was liberated in 1964.

Since Goa became a part of the Indian Union, some of the progressive Goans got themselves converted. Often so because of their marriage to a Christian. However since the religion was not a significant factor for citizenship and other identification documents, the names were not changed like before.

During the Portuguese administration in the year 1630 for example in the city of Madgaon (Margoa) a Krishna Kamath got converted and changed his name to Brizio Fernandes. A new born male infant in 1596, in the town of Velim born to the wife of Loku Shenai was christianed as Pera Da Cruz.

Concluded.

Reference: History of the Dakshinatya Saraswats by V.N.Kudva, published by Samyukta Gowda Saraswat Sabha, Chennai, India
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