Saurashtra is primarily known as a region in western part of India and people in the region speaks Gujarati language. Sourashtra is a language in South India spoken by Sourashtrian community. Sourashtrian community have migrated Sourashtra region of Gujarat many centuries ago, but have similarities in culture till date. The southward flight of the Sourashtrians seems to have been triggered by the frequent Muslim invasions, most notably by Mahmud of Ghazni, of their homeland and the instability caused by it. Sourashtra in context to language and community is written with some variations like Sourashtra, Sourashtram, Sourashrians etc.
“Saurashtra” is a geographical region situated in Gujarat’s semicircular area located North West of Arabian Sea. Politically “Saurashtra” is comprised of 7 districts namely, Porbandar, Junagadh, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Rajkot & Surendranagar. Referred to as Surashtra also have some other names as well over a period of time, since the Mahabharata and Vedic period, this region is mentioned again as Surastrene, or Saraostus in the 1st century CE Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Saurashtra is a location of midwestern India, located on the Peninsula Sea Gujrat Mapshore of Gujarat verbalise. The peninsula is also called Kathiawar. The Peninsula is common with the Kachchh realm which occupies the northward, Saurashtra or Sorath forming the southern parceling; on eastern part, the Cambay gulf.
Saurashtra carrying alternate names and spellings like Saurashtram, Sourashtra, Sowrashtra, pattunulkaarar, Palkar, Saurashtri etc. and also the name of an Indo-Aryan language of Kathiawar-Saurashtra. Though Saurashtra Language is not spoken in the Saurashtra region now, people of this region who migrated to Southern India many centuries ago and who is especially settled in towns like Madurai, Paramakudi, Salem, Tanjore of Tamil Nadu and part of Andhra Pradesh still preserve and speak the language “Saurashtra”. The script of this language is derived from the Devanagari Script and shares similarities with modern day Gujarati. However, after migration of this community in 11th century, Gujarati is influenced by Arabic, Urdu, Portuguese, English and Parsian differs in many respect with Sourashtra language. On the other hand, the community who travelled from Saurashtra to South India through Surat, Marathwada, Ratnagairi, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh during several centuries took colour from languages & cultures of all the regions they crossed.
Sourashtra as community:
Sourashtra or “Sourashtras” refers to a community of people who had their original homes in Gujarat and presently settled almost in all major Towns of Tamil Nadu and are concentrated more in Madurai which is considered as their cultural Headquarters, but have also settled in Bangalore of Karnataka and,in Tirupati of Andhra Pradesh. After 20th century, some families have settled in Mumbai, New Delhi and in foreign countries like USA, UK, Dubai, Singapore etc.
The origin of the name date backs to the time when the ancestors of theses people inhabited the kingdom of Saurashtra in Gujarat State. The Tamil name by which these people is known in Southern India is Patnūlkarar, that is silk-thread workers or weavers who speak “Pattunuli” or “Khatri”, a dialect of Gujarati. The details about Sourashtra community is discussed by A.J. Saunders. Dr.Uchdia Norihiko of KOBE, Japan, came to Madurai in 1972 and stayed for two years to do post doctoral research as a Senior Fellow in Linguistics under the auspices of Annamalai University, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. With help from O.S.Subramanian, Dr. Uchdia Norihiko is working on ‘Origin and Development of Sourashtra Language’. A.J. Saunders has authored ‘Oral Literature of Saurashtrans’ (1979), The Language of the Saurashtrans in Tirupati (1983), A Saurashtra-English Dictionary (1990).
Sourashtra, also known as Palkar. Sowrashtra, Saurashtram, is an Indo-Aryan language derived from Sauraseni Prakrit. The Ethnologue puts the number of speakers at 510,000 (1997 IMA), although the actual number could be double this figure or even more.
“Equivalent of Saurashtra in the Linguistic Survey has been recorded as Saurashtri which is yet another name of Patnuli dialect of Gujarati spoken by the silk weaving community of Madurai who are considered to have migrated from Gujarat to the south several centuries ago. On the basis of current preference for the name of their mother tongue, we have, however, adopted the name ‘Saurashtra’ and not Saurashtri. On account of several generations of association in the Dravidian Language area, the speech is supposed to have been strongly affected by Dravidian traits. We preferred to call that dialect of Gujarati with such traits as Saurashtra. … Regarding Saurashtra, however, some interest has been shown, of late, on the technical aspects of this variety while the inclination to affiliate it with Marathi is also visible among some scholars. In any case, some authoritative work on this variety of language remains to be done. Pending the same, however, we have to keep it under Gujarati according to the Linguistic Survey.” vide Census of India 1961 Vol.I INDIA Part II –C (ii) Language Tables, Published by the Manager of Publications, Civil Lines, Delhi, pp. CCXLIV + 554, (1967).
Oral tradition says that they have migrated on the fall of ‘Somanath Temple’ when Gazni Mohammed invaded and plundered Hindu Temples. It is said they lived for about two centuries in Devagiri and later moved to Vijayanagar Empire at the invitation of the Kings. They manufactured fine silk garments for the use of Kings and their families and were engaged in Silk trade.
When Nayak Kings started to rule Madurai, they were invited by the Madurai Nayak Kings and were given accommodation around Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai, where even now there are many Sourashtra families living. The migration might have taken place in various groups at different times and they settled in many places in Tamil Nadu. Later Hyder Ali invited some families from Thanjavur to settle in Srirangapattanam in Karnataka. Those people are now in Bangalore after the fall of Srirangapattanam and they are called as ‘Jamkhaanadavaru’. Similarly some families went to Andhra and settled in Tirupati. Because of lack of frequent communications, there are so many dialect variations in this Language. The majority of people are settled in Madurai.
In history they are referred to as Patkar, Pattegar, Patvekar and Patnulkarar. In Tamil the weaving community is referred to as ‘Kaikkolar’. In Tamil Nadu State they are called Sourashtra (Patnulkarar) or merely Palkar. Edgar Thurston refers this Community as Pattunulkaran. The details about Sourashtra community are discussed by A.J. Saunders. A History of the Sourashtras in Southern India by the Sourashtra Literary Societies of Madura and Madras was published on 17 January 1891 under the Chairmanship of Sri T.M.Ramaswamaiyo, the Secretary being Sri K.V.Subbaiyo. In that book, it is stated that the following books were consulted: Dr.Balfour Encyclopedia of India, Ramesh Chander Dutt’s Ancient India, Alexander Cunnigham’s Ancient Geography of India, Tod’s Rajasthan, Professor Lassen on Prakrita Languages, Bombay Gazeteer, Researches of the Asiatic Society, A Grammar of the Gondian Languages.
The Ethnologue puts the number of speakers at 310,000 (1997 IMA), although the actual number could be double tor even three times this figure or even more because many people wrongly stated their mother tongue as Tamil in census enumeration as it is not taught in school and it remained mainly a spoken language, though Literature are available in Sourashtra, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Roman and Devanagari Scripts. Now Journals in Sourashtra script are published, such as Bhashabhimani, Zeek, Jaabaali, and Sourashtra Mithran.
The speakers of the Saurashtra language, known as Saurashtrians, maintain a predominant presence in Madurai, a city, also known as ‘Temple City’ in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Though official figures are hard to come by, it is believed that the Saurashtra population is anywhere between one-fifth and one-fourth of the city’s total population.
Also Saurashtrians, maintain a predominant presence throughout the Tamil Nadu Starting from Salem, a city, To be believed to have derived its name from the Tamil word Selai(Sari) (a traditional Dress worn by Women) because of the Saurashtrians weavers used to weave Silk sarees (Pattu Selai). Still many of the Saurashtrians residing in main land Salem (Areas including Ponnamapet, Ammapet) Used to weave Silk Dhoties. Silver leg chains are produced in (Shevapet) Salem and it exported to all over world. They also present in the Districts of Namakkal, Dindigul, Madurai, Vellore, Tirunelveli.
It is not known how many groups migrated from North India to South India. But because of absence of contact among the groups for a long time, dialect variations have emerged based on the place of their settlement. The alternate name of Sourashtra is PALKAR which term is used colloquially among them. But all Associations are named as Sourashtra Sabha/Association only.
Sourashtra though refers to a migrated community, also refers to the language spoken by the Sourashtra community people (or Sourashtrians). During their migration from the north-western region of bharada khanda (ancient Indian peninsular region or present day Gujarath), they adapted to the regional and cultural aspects of the particular region they reside. In this way, Sourashtrians acquired proficeincy in the regional languages but without loosing their own language. When various technologies developed, they never failed to record their literature with the modern developments. Around 1850s to accomplish the vision of Sourashtra Literary Laurels, due to the hardwork of several visionaries for more than four decades a unique writing system developed which represents the originality, signficant features of Sourashtra language. Sourashtrians are mostly silk weavers and silk thread merchants, originated in the Saurashtra region (present day Gujarat, and parts of Maharashtra) in Northern India and later settled in Madurai and surrounding regions of Tamilnadu, few centuries ago.
The origin is certain, and research has proved the current day Sourashtra spoken by us is a modern form of pre-Gujarati spoken thousands of years ago. “…Their home language (Sourashtra language) is still a modern form of the old Saurashtri or Pre-Gujarati as it was over a thousand years ago, which was the language they brought with them through Maharashtra and Andra Desa to Tamilnadu. This language preserves, naturally enough many archaic features of Gujarati and at the same time shows influence of the sister Aryan languages of Konkani and Marathi and of Dravidian Telugu besides of course Tamil which has now virtually become the second mother tongue of the Sourashtrians….” says Suneetkumar Chatterjee a famous linguist.
But the time period when they migrated from Saurashtra region to south is still uncertain. Following theory are prevalent:
The first theory is that, during the times when the infamous Ghazani Mohammed invaded Northern India from Afghanistan, a few families might have migrated South to escape from the series of invasions.
Another assumption is a few families that came with the entourage of Shatrapathi Shivaji when he invaded south, might have stayed back to form their own community.
This is the most popular and widely accepted theory by historians. During the Vijayanagaram Empire rule in Northern India, the Nayakars ruled the South as part of the empire with Madurai as their capital. During that period a few families from the Saurashtra region were called into Madurai to be the “Royal Weavers” for the Nayakars. This would explain very high concentration of Sourashtrians still today around the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal, the Nayakar’s Palace. Since Sourashtrians are Silk Weavers by profession it would also disprove the theory that they came with Shivaji.
Later Sourashtrians settled in Madurai, spread around to Trichy, Salem, Kumbakonam and other surrounding areas as the population grew, but still managed to keep their unique language, and culture intact. Current day Sourashtrians, refer themselves as Tamilians as their identities and still speak Sourashtra at home. An estimated half a million Sourashtrians are living now mostly in Tamilnadu and a few are spread around all over the world.