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East Indians


East Indians

East Indians or East Indian Catholics
Regions with significant populations
     →Bombay (1960s) ~92,000[1]
Marathi–Konkani languages.
Christianity (Roman Catholicism)
Related ethnic groups
East Indian people, Kuparis, Indo-Aryans

East Indians or East Indian Catholics are an ethno-religious Roman Catholic community, based in and around the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and North Konkan district (Thane) in the present state of Maharashtra, India.[2] These people are of the original small communities from the North Konkan regions mainly Kulbis (Kunbi), Samvedi Bramins, Kolis (fishermen), Wadvals (farmers), Agris (salt pan workers/owners) and Somavamshi Kshatriyas which had been evangelised by the Portuguese.


  • History 1
    • Pre-Portuguese era 1.1
    • Portuguese era 1.2
    • British and modern era 1.3
  • Culture 2
    • Architecture and Cuisine 2.1
    • Language and literature 2.2
    • Traditions and festivals 2.3
    • Costumes and ornaments 2.4
    • Language 2.5
    • Historical society 2.6
    • Songs and music 2.7
  • Films 3
  • Notable East Indians 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Pre-Portuguese era

Although it is commonly thought that the origin of Christianity in North Konkan, was due to the proselytising activities of the Portuguese in the 16th Century, it was St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ, who preached in North Konkan. There are evidences of this in the writings of Kosmas Indicopleustes of his having seen in Kalyana a flourishing Christian Community in the 6th Century and of Jordanus, of his having laboured among the Christians in Thana and Sopara in the 13th Century. The Dominican friar Jordanus Catalani, who was either Catalan or Occitan (southern French), started evangelising activities in Thana and Sapora was the first work of Rome in North Konkan. Sopara was an ancient port and an international trading center. The water once extended all the way to Bhayander creek thus making the whole area extending from Arnala to Bhayander an island – referred to as Salsette island. In the time of the Buddha, Sopara (ancient Shurparaka), was an important port and a gateway settlement. Perhaps this induced Ashoka to install his edicts there. Sopara is referred in the Old Testament as Ophir, the place from which King Solomon brought gold, Josephus identifies Ophir with Aurea Chersonesus, belonging to India. Septuagint translates Ophir as Sophia, which is Coptic for India. This refers to the ancient city of Soupara or Ouppara on the western coast of India.[3]

It should then come as no surprise that contact with India dates as far back as the days of King Solomon. Pantaneus visited India about AD 180 and there he found a Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew language, left with the Christians there by St. Barthlomew. This is mentioned by Eusebius, and by Jerome in one of his letters. The finding of a Gospel of Matthew left with the Christians by Bartholomew is very strong evidence to the existence of a Christian community in India in the first century at the time of the visit of St. Bartholomew. It traces the history of the Church in India to the first century. In fact, it is an independent confirmation of the Indian church's ancient and apostolic origin. Most history of The Indian Church was lost between the 9th and the 14th Century, as Persia went over to the Nestorianism in 800 AD. Since the provision of Church offices and all the apparatus of public worship, was looked to a foreign source; when this foreign aid was withdrawn. the Indian Christians were reduced to "nominal" Christians.[2]

Portuguese era

The whole policy of the Portuguese, who came to India in 1498, was to bring the Indian Christians under their concept of Roman Catholicism.[1]

The Brahmins and other high-class Hindus who were prudently and ceremoniously converted by the Portuguese, were treated with honour and distinction.[1] In stark contrast, was the attitude of the Portuguese to those groups who were engaged in cultivation, fishing and other rural occupations handed down to them by their ancestors. These groups were given neither education, not proper instructions in the dogmas and doctrines of the church.[1] Among the converts the Portuguese made, it cannot be denied that a large number of them were descendants of the Christian Community founded by Apostle St. Bartholomew and these new converts were not strangers to the old Christians.[1] They were their own people with whom they had been living for centuries. The Portuguese however welded them into one community.[1] Ever since then, this community has remained a separate entity, without becoming one with any of the other Christian communities. In certain instances, they were even referred to as "Portuguese Christians".[1]

The Franciscans spearheaded evangelisation efforts in the "Province of the North" (Província do Norte).[4] Between 1534–1552, Fr. António do Porto made over 10,000 converts, built 12 churches and founded a number of orphanages and monasteries. Prominent among these converts were two yogis from the Kanheri Caves who came to be called Paulo Raposo and Francisco de Santa Maria. They in turn spread Christianity among their fellow monks converting many of them in the process.[4] Another famous convert during this time was the Brahmin astrologer Parashuram Joshi. He was a learned, austere and devout person and embraced Christianity on 8 September 1565, taking the name of Henrique da Cunha. Joshi's example was followed by 250 Hindus, including over fifty Brahmins.[4] In Salsette, Fr. Manuel Gomes converted over 6,000 Hindus in Bandra, earning the title of the Apostle of Salsette.[4] Revdanda in Raigad is the location where St. Francis Xavier delivered one of his early sermons in India. The chapel still exists in a run down condition. The chapel is within the walled fort, on the south side and not far from the main road.

The number of converts in 1573 was 1,600. From 1548, the Jesuits in Bassein (Baçaim) and Bandra converted many of the upper classes. For instance, the Bassein Cathedral registered the number of baptisms as being 9,400. At Thane (Tana), the Jesuit superior Gonçalo Rodrigues baptised between 5,000 to 6,000, many of them orphans and young children of lower caste Hindus sold by their parents.[4] By the end of the 16th century, the Roman Catholic population of the Portuguese province of the North consisted of around 10,000 to 15,000 people, centered mainly in and around Bassein.[5]

However, following the defeat of the Portuguese at the hands of the Marathas and the advent of Maratha rule, the Catholics were discriminated against by the state administration.[6] In the aftermath of the fall of Bassein, many Catholics were heavily taxed by the Marathas who used the money to feed Brahmins and to conduct a massive re-conversion campaign aimed at bringing them back into the Hindu fold. Large numbers were re-converted in this manner.[6] Most Portuguese priests were forced to leave and by treaty, only five churches (three in Bassein City, one in Bassein District and one in Salsette) were permitted to remain.[6] The remainder of the Christian population was left to the native clergy under a Vicar General at Kurla. When, in 1757, Antequil du Perron visited Salsette, he found a flourishing Catholic population with many churches rebuilt and an open practise of Christianity, but with European priests totally absent.[6]

Later on the advent of the British, there came a lot of change.[1] In the 1960s, the Archdiocese of Bombay estimated that there were 92,000 East Indians in Bombay out of which 76,000 were in suburban Bombay and 16,000 in urban Bombay.[1]

British and modern era

On 11 May 1661, the marriage treaty of Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza (Catarina de Bragança), daughter of King João IV of Portugal, placed Bombay in the possession of the British Empire, as they had pursued ever since their takeover of Surat, allegedly as part of Catherine's dowry to Charles. A weakened Portugal, no longer part of the Crown of Spain, had to oblige. Nevertheless, parts of current Mumbai, such as Bandra, besides Thane or Vasai remained Portuguese well into the first third of the 18th century.[7] From the early days of the East India Company, there were no other Indian Christians in the North Konkan except the East Indian Catholics. Employments that were intended for Christians, were the monopoly of the East Indians. With development, came in railways and steamship, a boon for the travelling public. And with that came a number of immigrants from Goa who were also known as Portuguese Christians. The British found it expedient to adopt a designation which would distinguish the Christians of North Konkan who were British subjects and the Goan, who were Portuguese subjects (Mangalorean Catholics were no Portuguese subjects at this point any more). Accordingly, on the occasion of The Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the Christians of North Konkan, who were known as "Portuguese Christians" discarded that name and adopted the designation "East Indian”. By the adoption of the name "East Indian" they wanted to impress upon the British Government of Bombay that they were the earliest Roman Catholic Subjects of the British Crown in this part of India, in as much as parts of Bombay, by its cession in 1661, were the first foothold the British acquired in India, after Surat. As the children of the soil, they urged on the Government, that they were entitled to certain natural rights and privileges as against the immigrants.[2]

In September 2014, local Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections.[9]


Modern East Indian culture, almost like Goan and Mangalorean catholic cultures, can be best described as an increasingly Anglicised Indo-Latin culture.

Architecture and Cuisine

The ordinary Koli house comprises a verandah (oli) used for repairing nets or the reception of visitors, a sitting-room (angan) used by the women for their household work, a kitchen, a central apartment, a bed-room, a gods' room (devaghar), and a detached bath-room.

The East Indian cuisine is a unique blend of Koli, Maharashtrian, and Portuguese cuisine. Bombay's "pau" or "pav" is derived from Portuguese "pão", as much as "batata" (potato in Portuguese).

Language and literature

East Indian Catholics speak a particular dialect of Marathi, which they retained as their mother tongue despite the Portuguese influence. The Marathi language is central to the community's identity. Murphy author of Trans. Bomb. Geog. Soc., 1836–38, Vol. I. mentions the dialect of Marathi spoken by the East Indians of Salsette, Mahim, Matunga and Mazagon, which enters very largely into the language spoken by the Kulbis, Kolis, Bhandaris, Palshes, Prabhus, Panchkalshis, Kuparis, Vadvals. This was probably Konkani.[10] Some of the East-Indian upper-class families and in the Khatri ward of Thane speak Portuguese.[11] 110 Portuguese lexical items are found in Marathi.[12]

Traditions and festivals

Although, they have preserved their pre-Christian Marathi culture and traditions, many Portuguese and influences have been absorbed. They still retain many of the practises of pre-Christian tradition.[13]

Costumes and ornaments

The traditional dress for the female is the lugra and for male is a khaki short pant and white banian. A Koli Christian bridegroom usually wears a dilapidated Portuguese Admiral's uniform, which is specially preserved and lent out on such occasions.[14]

In the olden days, East Indian women wore a blouse and cotton lugra the hind pleats tucked into the waist at the back centre of the legs, while the girls do not make use of the upper portion of the sari covering the head and breast until they are married. This mode of wearing the sari is known as sakacch nesane as opposed to gol nesane the round or cylindrical mode of wear. The latter is popular among young girls and women.[15]

Formerly, women among the well-to-do used ornaments like rnuda, rakhadi, kegada, phul, gulabache phul and chandrakora, for the head, the thushi, galasari, Putalyachi mal and tika around the neck; bugadi, karaba; kudi, kapa and ghuma for the ears; and for the nose, nath, phuli, moti.[16] Mangalsutras (wedding necklace), made of the black beads being stringed together in different patterns.[16]


The language spoken by East Indians is usually classified as East Indian dialect a mix of various languages like Marathi, Portuguese, English and Hindi.

It is a collection of dialects of Marathi-Konkani languages spoken in the Konkan region is referred to as Maharashtrian Konkani. The sub-dialects of Konkani gradually merge from standard Marathi into Konkani from north to south Konkan region.

The various sub dialects spoken by the East Indian Community are;

Vadvali language Vadvali or Phudagi was spoken by Vadvals, which means agricultural plot owners, of the Naigaon, Vasai to Dahanu region. Somavamshi Kshatriyas speak this dialect. This language is preserved mostly by the Roman Catholics native to this region, since they are a closely knit community here and have very few relatives outside this region. There are many songs in this language. Recently a book was published by Nutan Patil containing around 70 songs. The songs are about marriage, pachvi etc.

The dialect of the Agri community in Thane (Salt makers) and Kolis (fisherfolk) of Vasai and neighbouring Mumbai (Bandar) resembles vadvali dialect closely, though they speak with a heavier accent. There is a village in Vasai called Chulna, which was Roman Catholic (now cosmopolitan). The striking feature of the dialect here contrasting it with Vadvali, is the preference of pronouncing the thinner 'l' and 'n' ('ल' and 'न') instead of the thicker 'l' and 'n' ('ळ' and 'ण'), whi isretained even in the current a agenrationpeakers.

Samavedi: Samvedi language is spoken in the interiors of the Nala Sopara and Virar regions to the north of Mumbai in the Vasai Taluka Uran Panvel, Thane District of Maharashtra. The name of this language suggests that its origins lie with the Samvedi Brahmins native to this region. Majority of East Indians speak this dialect.

Kadodis language: Kadodi community people were originally Bra.hmins, they converted to Christianity at the time of Portuguese ruin, 30 years ago. The is a little difference between Samvedi and Kadodi.

Thakri (Spoken by the Adivasi and katkari community found in Raigad district.

Kadodi, Samvedi, Vadvali, Koli and Agri resembles each other very closely. Both Vadvali and Samavedi have relatively high proportions of words imported from Portuguese, because of direct influence of the Portuguese who colonized this region till 1739. Similar to Goan konkani which has the simila Goan Konkani however has been granted official status of a National language

In this context, it includes dialects spoken outside the state of Goa, such as Mangalorean Konkani, Chitpavani Konkani Malvani Konkani and Karwari Konkani

  • In common usage, Goan Konkani refers collectively only to those dialects of Konkani spoken primarily in the state of Goa, e.g. the Antruz, Bardeskari and Saxtti dialects.

Historical society

There are five broad cultural groups of East Indians —- Kulbis, Samvedi Christians (commonly called Kuparis), Koli Christians, Wadvals, Salsette Christians and the urbanised section.[2]

Songs and music


The first feature film in East Indian Marathi–Konkani Dialect, Tu Maza Jeev was released on Maharashtra Day in 2009 [18] Directed by: Ranjan singh Produced by: Nelson Patel (Godnel's Studio, Malad West)

Notable East Indians


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Baptista 1967, p. 27
  2. ^ a b c d Baptista, Elsie Wilhelmina (1967). The East Indians: Catholic Community of Bombay, Salsette and Bassein. Bombay East Indian Association. . Contents taken from East-Indians –- History (PDF, 80 KB) article, has been borrowed mainly from Elsie Wilhelmina Baptista's above book.
  3. ^ Thana District Gazeeteer Part – I: Popualation:Christians-History
  4. ^ a b c d e Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p.104
  5. ^ Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p.108
  6. ^ a b c d Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p.132
  7. ^ "Catherine of Bragança (1638–1705)".  
  8. ^ "MSP announces candidate list for assembly elections".  
  9. ^ "East Indian party to field 5 candidates from suburbs".  
  10. ^ Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island I, II & III 1997, Chapter III : Population : Languages
  11. ^ Thane Gazzetter: Ppolation: Christians – Speech
  12. ^ Grover, Neelam; Mukerji, Anath Bandhu; Singh, Kashi N. (2004), Grover, Neelam; Singh, Kashi N., eds., Cultural geography, form and process: essays in honor of Prof. A.B. Mukerji, Concept Publishing Company, p. 275,  
  13. ^ "The East Indian Community Original Inhabitants of Bombay, Salsette & Thana". 
  14. ^ Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island I, II & III 1997, Chapter III : Population : The Kolis
  15. ^ Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island I 1986, Chp. People: Dress
  16. ^ a b Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island I 1986, Chp. People: Ornaments
  17. ^ "East Indian Marathi songs". 
  18. ^ "First East Indian movie releases on Maharashtra Day".  
  19. ^ Target Goa. "Two hats of James Ferreira couture and activism". Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  20. ^ Dog Eat Dog was an official selection at the Festival De Cannes 2007
  21. ^ Dhyan, Chand (1952). GOAL. Chennai, India: Sports & Pastime. p. 10. 


  • Baptista, Elsie Wilhelmina (1967), The East Indians: Catholic Community of Bombay, Salsette and Bassein, Bombay East Indian Association 
  • Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island. I, I & III. The Gazetteers Department (  
  • Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island I. The Gazetteers Department (  

External links

  • East Indians on Facebook
  • The East Indian Catholic website
  • East
  • East Indians U.A.E.
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