Pausing a moment to look at ourselves as a community, we realize that as Chitrapur Saraswats, we have two images of ourselves. One of our our distant past which is shrouded in popular/folk jargon, without a proven geographic indicator, with nothing by way of epigraphs or mention in parallel/contemporary texts, nor with other concrete evidence on our origins or provenance; in short, a matter of conjecture and debate; And then there is our recent past (the last three centuries or so) which emerge relatively clear in the prism of history and records.
A consistently high and increasing level of literacy in local languages over the last three centuries or so in our community, supplemented with a steady increase in the English language-knowing population as well (The British had very early established their rule over peninsular India.) and with the arrival of railways, telegraph, better roads, and improved communications, awareness about other regions of India -and the world - steadily increased in our community. Besides, Church missions established in India had printing presses of their own, notably the Basel Mission Press, Mangalore, which undertook to print (besides religious tracts) secular works in Kannada/Konkani on a large scale. Most had a limited print run, but the spectrum of works produced was large, ranging from publications on geography, history, country remedies, plays, short stories and comments on systems of governance, reforms etc. Much of these remain unknown to most of us, partly because of unfamiliarity with the local languages, but more so because contemporary generations are unfamiliar with the physical and mental terrain in which this literature is set. Nevertheless, this is also a part of the heritage of the region, which moulded the thinking of people of the region, and deserves to be noted.
It was a chance conversation in May 2013 about a classic related to our Guruparampara that sparked off the idea of a website and digital library. By transforming texts into digital reproductions (i.e. eBooks) we could not only preserve, but also revive books/ texts that were out of print, or pushed by time into forgotten corners of our collective minds. The benefits of digitising were easy to see :
(a) Ebooks do not occupy physical space, and can be accessed on devices that are commonly extant today (Phones, Tabs, PCs) (b) They do not require preservation in the conventional sense, and can remain 'alive' in digital form almost forever. (c) With the unstoppable advance of the Internet, distributing digital media would is possible with minimal resources.
And so it was that www.ChitrapurEbooks.com came into being on Hanuman Jayanti (April 14th) 2014, with a single page, hosting a single eBook. 5 Years on, the website has burgeoned into a healthy digital repository with over 160 titles (totalling 7700+ digitised Pages, 570Mb of Data, and 37,000+ Downloads) comprising books, commentaries, articles and photo presentations tracing the religious and secular network of ideas and actions that have helped shape the Chitrapur Saraswat Community over the last three centuries or so. Individuals and organisations within the community, and outside, have encouraged our nascent venture, and they are acknowledged in all these digitized works.
Our abiding gratitude, however, remains with P.P. Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji for His steady encouragement and blessings. Very early, He had given us a Benediction which we treasure as a true sign post for the future of this venture.
Our search for literature Authored by/about/for Chitrapur Saraswats has so far has been largely limited to Library catalogues available in the Public domain, physically rummaging through private book collections, tracing mentions in bibliographies, cold searches on Google and often, those brought to our notice by our viewers. The results have been startling to say the least: Several thousands works by hundreds of Amchi Authors in dozens of languages. One can safely surmise that there are a large number of works that are yet to be uncovered: books that have not survived physically, those that were privately published/circulated and never made it to any Libraries, those that exist in private collections, those that predate the digital catalogue era, or forgotten books authored under names like "Rao" etc. which are difficult to clearly identify as Aamchi.
We envision this digital repository as a base to collect relevant material that traces the evolution of the community through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Many of us would be familiar with the story of the American Scholar who “chanced” upon our Community members in Mumbai in the early 1970s. The consequent chain of events resulted in interesting developments, ending with the first (and so far only) academic socio-economic study of the Chitrapur Saraswat Community. Devoid of hyperbole, Dr. Frank Conlon's magnum opus (A Caste in a Changing World: The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmans,1700-1935, Berkeley) is based on documented facts, and examines oral and written evidence to study the exponential transformation of a micro community from its sleepy, rural surroundings in coastal 18th Century Karnataka to its hyper-urbanist status in the 20th century. His narrative however, stops short in the Inter-World-War space (1930s). Speaking of our community, it can be said with a measure of confidence, that (comparing the history of different communities the world over) never have so few achieved so much in such a short time span!! Consequently, the body of works that we hope to build up through this web library should be of importance to future scholarship in studying the socio economic trends within this community, and carrying the story forward from Dr Conlon's observations and conclusions. We hope that studying 20th and 21st century Aamchi mores, values and goals would not only be interesting, but also a useful tool to help us know ourselves better.
Ours, therefore, is a work in progress: A time consuming task building a bank of information and texts that balances the religious, social, economic. We like all the information we put on the website to be properly introduced and referenced, with linkages explored wherever needed. Our aim therefore is to select carefully and purposefully from all sifted material, and to avoid random and blind digitizing. We want the finished product to become a key and a tool that would help in further research and understanding of trends in the community.
As our efforts at documenting and digitizing cross 5 years, we thank all those who have assisted and encouraged us through their ideas and efforts over the years. It is our hope that this initiative will have a wider ripple effect within the community to churn out fresh directions and approaches, help the community understand itself better, set new perspectives and horizons, assist in assimilating constructive ideas from our surroundings, and give bearings to a local, yet global, community that is the Chitrapur Saraswats.
We'd like to thank and acknowledge all our interlocutors and collaborators who have assisted us in different ways, in particular, Sh Praveen Kadlemam, President of KSA, Sh Rajaramam Pandit former Chairman, KSA, Sh. Jairam Khambadkone, current Chairman, KSA, and Smt Smita Mavinkurve, Editor KSA.
Jaishankar Bondal & Shantish Nayel
Yugadi, Vikari Samvatsara, 2019 CE