NAWAYATS AND KONKANI MUSLIMS – Masjid Alfalah

NAWAYATS AND KONKANI MUSLIMS

The various Muslim communities that sprang up on the Konkan coast of India in the seventh century share three common characteristics: the first is a common origin in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf region, second is a common adherence to the Shafi’i madhab, or school of Islamic law, (founded by Imam Shafii, d. 819) and finally the common descent from Arab mariners and merchants. Among these communities at least three groups came to be called Nawayats. The name appears in a variety of forms in Arabic, Urdu and English, including Nait, Naiti spelled with the letters ta ( ) or te ( ) . The mariners among the Arabs and Persians of the time were no doubt called Na-Khuda, a combination of naav=boat and khuda (lord), both words of Old Persian. The composite word thus means “boat-lord”. The Arab and Persian na-khudas have been translated into English as mariners, sailors, sea-farers, ship captains, ship owners, and the like. There is controversy among the Nawayat scholars and academic researchers regarding this term. Based on a detailed and sophisticated philological analysis D.V. Chauhan has concluded in his important study that “the term Navait in the Arabo-Iranian historical sources and also in Indian languages is in fact the Prakritisation of the Arabo-Iranian term navakidh, shipowners.” The term “navakhidh” (correct transliteration nawakhid) is most likely to have become “nawayat” as persuasively argued by D.V. Chauhan. Regardless of the origin and meaning of the term Nawayat, it is clear that there are three groups of Muslims who are descended from the Arab immigrants and their progeny and dispersed to various parts of western and southern India. The first group of Nawayats are those who live predominantly in the town of Bhatkal, in North Kanara district in the southern state of Karnataka. The second group of Nawayats are those who live, among other places, in Chennai (Madras) and Hyderabad. The Chennai and Hyderabad Nawayats are closely linked with ties of kinship and intermarriage. According to the Gazetteer of the Bombay City and Island “the Muslims of the coast of Bombay State now styled Konkanis were formerly known as Naitias or Navayats Our concern heretofore is with the third group of historical Nawayats who were initially called Nawayat but are now known as Konkani Muslims inhabiting the region of Konkan as described earlier.

MUSLIM CONQUEST OF THE DECCAN AND KONKAN

The Muslim position was further transformed in 1294 with the invasion and eventual annexation of the Deccan by Sultan Ala al-Din Khilji of Delhi. Although the conquest of the Deccan was no more than a looting expedition in the beginning, it sowed the seeds of territorial occupation and the subsequent inroads into Konkan itself when Dabhol (not to be confused with Dabhel, further northwest on the Sindh coast) was overrun by Malik Kafur, the trusted general of Ala al-Din Khilji in 1312. The Khiljis were overthrown by the Tughluqs, and they in turn by the disgruntled amirs who founded the Bahmani Empire in the Deccan in 1347. As recorded by Firishta, a medieval Persian historian, the two major ports of Konkan, Chawl in the north and Dabhol in the south became part of the Bahmani Empire and upon its breakup at the dawn of the sixteenth century, the ports came into the possession of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur kingdoms respectively. The Konkan ports flourished under Muslim rule and carried on multiple trade exchanges with other coastal and overseas ports, and with inland trade centers. In the early sixteenth century the busy port of Chawl attracted a “great concourse of ships,” and served as an alternate entreport for the textiles of Cambay in Gujarat; the spices, coconuts, and areca nuts of Malabar; and grain and cloth of the Deccan. Dabhol thrived on trade not only with Cambay and Malabar, but also with the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Bassein, Thana, Danda Rajpur, and Sangameshwar were other active coastal ports. Although the Konkan ports handled a far smaller volume of trade relative to that of Gujarat, Malabar, and Coromandel ports, they formed a convenient mid-way point on the sea route from Southeast Asia to the Red Sea. Most of the of Konkan ports had a substantial trading population of Muslims as noted by the Portuguese Barbosa in the sixteenth century. In addition to the ship-building and commercial activities at the ports, some Muslims acquired positions at Bijapur’s Adil Shahi court, exemplified by the case of Mulla Ahmad Naita and the appointment of qazis and pesh imams by Adil Shahi authorities in Konkan. Archaeological research reveals traces of Muslim presence in the medieval period through Arabic and Persian inscriptions (from 14th century) in mosques, forts, and tombs dating from the mid-seventeenth century.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS OF THE MUSLIM ERA

Writing toward the end of the nineteenth century historian A.K. Nairne observed that “the remains of Musalman buildings in the Konkan are few and unimportant. Dabhol was so frequently burnt by the Portuguese, and Chaul so thoroughly destroyed by Shivaji that there is little more than enough to show that they were once great places. At both there are a number of tombs scattered about, but none of great pretension. At Dabhol there is a fine mosque with dome and minarets standing close to the water’s edge, and now almost buried in coconut trees. It is of considerable size, and its situation is striking, but is should not be thought very much of in Gujarat or any other district rich in Muslim remains. The site of the Muslim city of Chaul is even more covered by coconut gardens than Dabhol. The most striking ruin is a hammam khana or bath, containing one large central chamber and two smaller ones, all octagonal and each lighted by a circular opening in the cupola which covers it. At Kalyan formerly called Islamabad, there is a large Musalman population and several mosques in use. There is however nothing either old or remarkable except one mosque, which would be very fine if it had a dome in proportion to its other parts. This stands on the edge of a noble pond, round which there are many tombs and other indistinguishable remains, as well as one considerable building said to be the tomb of a governor named Mohrtada Khan, on which is the date H. 1108. This is probably the person called by the Portuguese Mortada Khan, Nawab of Bhiwandi, who ravaged their territories at various times about 1690. The absence of other buildings is due to the ravages to which this district was subjected in the early days of Shivaji. [ John] Fryer, who traveled in India from 1673 to 1676, speaks of the remains of the Musalman city of Kalyan, then only recently destroyed, as noble and striking, and goes so far as to call them “the most glorious ruins the Mahommedans in the Deccan ever had occasion to deplore.” At Kharepatan, there are the foundations of a large Musalman town in a fine situation and a great number of tombs, but no building remains standing. At Rajpuri near Janjira, now a wretched looking village, there are the tombs of four of the [Siddi] Nawabs situated in a pretty glen and close to the creek. There are, of course, tombs and mosques of an ordinary description in many places, but none architecturally remarkable. The tomb of a saint at Bhiwandi, said to have been previously a diwan of Bijapur, and that of a princess at Lanja said to have been the daughter of one of the Bijapur kings, may be mentioned.” Speaking of the various forts, Nairne says, ” at Vijaydurg, the most massive of the buildings within and in the fort walls are evidently Musalman. At Avchitgad, the crenelated battlements of the outer wall seem to prove the same origin. The island fort of Arnala near the mouth of the Vaitarna appears to be entirely Musalman, with domes, Saracenic arches, octagonal recesses,and other features never seen in Maratha forts, though there are also marks inside of its Hindu occupation. But there is scarcely any mention to be found of any of the Konkan forts in the records of the Musalman time… The picturesque bridge at Nagothna … is said to have been built about 1582 by… Kazi Alauddin of Chaul and as this date is between the siege of Chaul during the alliance of Musalman kings against the Portuguese and the activity of Nizam Shahi troops at the same place twenty years later, it may without improbability be assumed that the bridge was built to facilitate the march of the troops from Ahmadnagar to Chaul… The chief peculiarity of the bridge is its narrowness, the space between the parapets being only nine feet nine inches. Villages with Musalman names are often met with, of the origins of which nothing can be heard. Two small districts, close to Dabhol retain the names they received from the Mahommedans, though everywhere else the ancient Hindu names of prants and tarafs have been preserved. These are Haveli Jaafarabad containing thirty seven villages, and Haveli Ahmadabad containing twenty-one, and the probability is that when Dabhol was first taken by the Musalmans these villages were assigned for the support of the governor and his establishment.”