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The Sanskrit Roots of Konkani

“An Etymological Glossary…” is an interesting piece of scholarship and enquiry printed in 1917, that became the forerunner of other linked research later in the century, as diverse as Dr. S.M. Katre's seminal work “The Formation of Konkani Language”, the personal research work done by Rao Bahadur Sripad S. Talmaki, Jerome Saldanha`s “Origin and Growth of Konkani”, and V.N. Kudva's “History of Dakshinatya Saraswats”, all of which note the high percentage of Sanskrit (or Sanskrit origin) words in Konkani.

Hattiangadi Narayana Rao, better known by his frequently used acronym 'HNR' was a contributor to the “Saraswat Quarterly”, writing a range of short, pithy pieces on work, life styles, literary aspirations, translations of Kannada works into English and allied subjects. From these and other writings, for some years in the early part of the last century, HNR could also have been Editor of the journal mentioned above. The Saraswat Quarterly`s masthead also carried the words “Organ of the Kanara Saraswat Association, Gamdevi, Bombay” and its style was quite punchy. In one of his essays ”Literary Pursuits” (June 1919) HNR categorically mentions that ”.everyone may have his hobbies, among mine is the investigation of Konkani etymology”. 

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Post-graduation, Narayana Rao taught for some time at the Govt. College, Mangalore. Later he moved to Madras (Chennai), passed the Law exam and practiced for some time."He was also one of the flag bearers of the"Mangalore Renaissance", and came under the influence of Brahmo Samaj and its program of social and religious reform,editing their journal"Indian Social Reformer",and still later a journal called "East and West". Later, he was a member of Prarthana Samaj and did considerable service to their cause. He moved to Bombay where he edited the “Indian Spectator” and still later a journal called “East and West”. His clear style of writing and wide knowledge made an impression on readers. Narayana Rao also translated, for the first time, classical English poetry into Kannada. His “Angla Kavitavali” (1919) came in for high praise from scholars; the Centenary of the book being celebrated by the Kannada deptt. Mumbai University in 2019. Narayana Rao thus set the bar high for bringing in modernity in Kannada literature through his translations and essays.

Although the "Etymological Glossary" is more in the nature of a pamphlet, Narayana Rao clearly indicates the extent of serious work and thought he had put into writing it (we unfortunately cannot locate Pt. 2 of his work). He stresses that correct usage of words helps in placing origins of the words and their historical perspective. Language, however, is a living entity and its evolution in response to social and historical circumstance is natural. Languages are often used in varying degrees of functional effectiveness, and oftentimes symbols of identity construction and status in society. There is a constant ebb and flow of influences and evolution, often dictated by external circumstances. The links between Sanskrit and Konkani have, on the one hand (HNR says) stood the test of time, yet shown flexibility for usage. Thus a language without the backing of its own script, yet riding on the back of other scripts as Devnagari, Kannada and even Roman (as in its usage in Goa), proves its utility in a changed world, and remains alive.

“An Etymological Glossary…” is an interesting piece of scholarship and enquiry printed in 1917, that became the forerunner of other linked research later in the century, as diverse as Dr. S.M. Katre's seminal work “The Formation of Konkani Language”, the personal research work done by Rao Bahadur Sripad S. Talmaki, Jerome Saldanha`s “Origin and Growth of Konkani”, and V.N. Kudva's “History of Dakshinatya Saraswats”, all of which note the high percentage of Sanskrit (or Sanskrit origin) words in Konkani.

www.ChitrapurEbooks.com thanks Shri Ramcharan Hattiangdi for sharing with us the rare photograph of Shri Hattiangdi Narayana Rao from his family collection.