At one of Mangalore's gateways of yesteryears, on its former outskirts at Nanthoor near Padav hills, stands a large cross. Erected there during the mid-nineteen hundreds by late Bishop Victor Fernandes to honour the memory of martyrs in what Mangaloreans term as the ``Canara Captivity'' during a not much known about chapter of Indian history. It is believed that at this place were herded over two hundred years ago one of the groups of hounded and captured Catholics of the Kanaras, who were then marched 200 miles to Tippu Sultan's Seringapatam via dense jungles and gorges of the western ghats, along the Kulshek-ar, Virajpet Coorg, Mysore route.
The Catholic community of Mangalore on Karnataka's Kon-kan coast along the western periphery of the southern Indian peninsula claims to trace its origins to a people of Aryan heritage, from Brahmavarta on the banks of the legendary but now defunct Sara-swati River. On its drying up some 5000 years ago, a segment of these people are said to have moved to the Gangeticplains and Trihotra-pura of erstwhile Bihar, to still move on to and finally settle down on the fertile coastal plains of the Konkan.
This thanks to sage Parasurama, whom legend credits with having reclaimed for them this land from the Lord of the Sea, by throwing his hatchet seaward while standing atop the Sahyadri mountains.
These "Children of Saraswati", so described in his shortly to be released book with the same title by author Alan Machado Prabhu, got exposure to Portuguese incursions in their midst in the 15th and the 16th centuries and embracing Christianity inherited the resultant Lusitanian legacy in Goa. For various reasons, cultural and religious, some of them found need to still migrate southward, to the court of the Zamorin of Calicut as skilled artisans, craftsmen and agriculturists, making nevertheless their main base en route at Kudala (which means the confluence of two rivers), on the invitation of the Paleyagar of the then Mangalapura, by which name was known erstwhileMangalore.
Following his defeat at the hands of the British in the Ist battle of Mangalore, an enraged Tippu, who believed that the local Christian community's aid and support to the British had cost him his battle, unleashed his wrath on them. In a ruthless swoop by his armies, 35,000 Catholics were rudely uprooted from their village homes as scapegoats, and herded off for incarceration in the dungeons of Seringapatam. Not all of them reached the destination. Release came to the motley bunch of survivors only in 1799 after Tippu's death and the fall of Seringapatam after the second battle of Mangalore.
But with release came a sense of purpose, a sense of common identity, for a people who had hitherto considered themselves mainly as an extension of the larger Goan community. In its rebirth, for the first ti-me a distinct ``Mangalorean'' identi-ty was born. Historian Jerome Saldanha, while chr- onicling the history of the community on the eve of the first centennial anniversary in 1899, called theintervening 100 years as the golden era for these people.
Unlike the close-knit and homogeneous small community of 1899, today Mangaloreans are diverging. Leaving their native shores they are spread far and wide pursuing new and rewarding careers elsewhere in India and all over the world. In India, other than that of a President or a Prime Minister, there is no seat of honour, profession, trade or virtue that has not been claimed, graced or enriched by a Mangalorean.
The bi-centennial anniversary of the ``release from captivity'' of the forefathers of the Manga-lorean community falls on May 4, 1999.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.