23 Feb 2021  |   05:30am IST

Mahargao or Mathagram?

The world over, varying explanations are provided for the etymology of a place. But in our country the tendency is to suppress all versions and propagate only the brahminical narrative 

Take the names of States of the Union. The etymology of their names is ex-facie evident. Thus the land of the Gujar is called Gujarat, of the Rajput is called Rajasthan, of the Tamils is called Tamilnadu, of the Telugus is called Telengana, of the Odhiyas is called Odhisha and so on.

But what about Maharashtra? Does the name come from the Mahar? Encyclopedia Brittanica says “Mahar, caste-cluster, or group of many endogamous castes, living chiefly in Maharashtra state, India, and in adjoining states. They mostly speak Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra. In the early 1980s the Mahar community was believed to constitute about 9 per cent of the total population of Maharashtra — by far the largest, most widespread, and most important of all the region’s officially designated Scheduled Castes (people of the lowest social class, who had been branded “untouchable” before the Constitution of 1949 outlawed discrimination against them)” .

Fittingly the man credited with being the father of the Indian Constitution Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar is a member of this lowly caste. Does it require a great deal of logic to conclude that Maharashtra is simply Mahar rashtra (land of Mahar)? But try telling it to the upper castes.

You will be promptly told Maharashtra stands for Maha-Rashtra (Great Nation). Has it ever existed as a nation? And how can a great nation be a little part of another great nation that India happens to be? The truth in our times is, the subaltern class has to be denied all credit.

Let us travel from Maharashtra to Margao. How does this town get its name? Was it Mahargao as it was always believed to be, or was it Mathagram as the Saraswats now want us to believe? This lobby with its tentacles everywhere has not surprisingly got its version in the Wikipedia which reads: 

Margão is the  spelling, with Madgao being used in . It was called Madgaon in Marathi. One theory holds that the name is derived from the  mazga`ama (Maṭhagrāma) which means a village of monasteries. In Ravanphond, now a suburb of Margao, there are shrines of Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath. (B D Satoskar: Gomantak ani Prakriti Sanskriti). The abode of Nath medicants was called a Matha (Monastery). Madagao was called Mathagrama on account of Vaishnavite Math belonging to Dvaita sect which was founded in the latter 15th century and shifted to Partagal after the establishment of the Portuguese power. (Vithal Raghuvendra: A Socio Cultural History of Goa from the Bhojas to Vijaynagar).

History in Goa, as we are witness to, is mostly, as recorded by the Brahminical order or those who toe its line and go  unchallenged since the Bahujan Samaj tamely accepts the offerings from the pen of the twice born. Not too long ago we saw how this lobby rose up in one voice to challenge the book of poems Sudhir Sukht by late Vishnu Wagh, that rather rare epitome of intellect and courage among the bahujans. 

The popular version extant since before the arrival of the Portuguese is that Margao was the habitat of the mahars and hence called Mahargao (village of Mahars). As we know the Mahars are a community of weavers and formed the backbone of the fighters of Shivaji until the Chitpawans took over the gaddi and demobilised them. The Mahars in protest joined the British forces and fought with a vengeance to defeat the Peshwas at the Battle of Koregaon in 1818 and forever end Peshwa rule. The Mahars gleefully celebrate this victory every year.

The Mahars were certainly not the only inhabitants of Margao. As in most villages, there were other communities living in it. Other areas in the village also bear the names of the principal inhabitants. Thus we have Modsai where the modvol (washerman) lived, Malbhat where the malo (barber) lived, Comba where the Cumbar (potter) lived and so on. So the villages and localities gained their names after the people who lived there. But why Mahargao? Why not Malbhat or Modsai as name for the entire village?

For an answer, you may look at any Assembly constituency. My constituency of Nuvem, comprises of the villages of Betalbatim, Calata, Majorda, Utorda, Nagoa, Verna, Loutolim and Nuvem. But the constituency is called Nuvem after the biggest village. The same holds for Mahargao. It got its name after the biggest community living there, in the same manner as the States too got their names. 

Does it not sound logical that Mahargao should evolve phonetically into Margao? Do we not have a classic example where Maha has evolved into Ma? Have you noticed that there are Mamai temples in Goa? Mamai was the presiding deity of my village too prior to 1588. But in reality there is no such deity as Mamai. What exists is Mahamai (great mother) which has evolved into Mamai. Now do you get the progression? Mahamai to Mamai, Mahargao to Margao? 

How can Mathagram become Margao? Besides mathagram is not Konkani but a Sanskrit word. The very claim of Vithal Raghuvendra that the village got its name from a Math after a Vaishnavite math was set up in the village in the fifteenth century debunks that claim. Does anyone dispute that the village existed since much before the fifteenth century? Had Madhavacharya not preached in the 13th-14th centuries before the math was built? So what was its name before the Math was set up? Was it not Mahargao? 

Let me conclude by saying that I am neither a historian nor an etymologist. There may be other explanations too, for the origin of the name. But my question is when there are one or more possible claims must not all be highlighted? And none suppressed?

(Radharao F. Gracias is a senior Trial Court Advocate, a former Independent MLA, and a political activist)


Iddhar Udhar