Among the various brahminical communities in India, the Citpāvans-also known as Konkanasthas because of their roots in the western coastal region ofMaharashtraplayed a major role in the political ﬁeld in Maharashtra and India between the beginning of the eighteenth century and 1947. From near-complete obscurity, they suddenly rose to prominence around 1700, providing the Maratha polity with a dynasty of Peshwas (prime ministers of Maratha kings and de facto rulers) between 1713 and 1818, until the British took possession of their capital of Pune. Afterwards, the community produced stalwarts in all ﬁelds of public life, notably intellectual and political ﬁgures such as P. V. Kane1 or Bal Gangadhar Tilak.2 A number of these individuals contributed to the construction of Hindu nationalist ideology, for which V. D. Savarkar3 is a founding ﬁgure. One of the most remarkable features of the Citpāvans overall, in the context of this volume, is the care with which they have recorded the history of their families since the 1910s, in volumes written in Marathi and called kulavṛttāntas (family histories).4 As the name indicates, each book concerns one family or a “clan” of Citpāvans, i.e. all the members of the group sharing the same surname, and collects a great number of public or private records regarding the male members of the kula; they do not, however, go back to an ancestor living before the sixteenth century. The interest of the Citpāvans in the recording of facts and the conservation of documents is illustrated on a larger scale under the Peshwas, whose archives are the richest of all the Indian polities before British hegemony. This richness of documentation and this awareness of history strongly contrast with the paucity of sources mentioning the Citpāvans before 1700. The Vāḍeśvarodayakāvya5 (VK) or “Poem on the appearance of Lord
Vāḍeśvara”, a 700-verse Sanskrit poem of the seventeenth century, deserves special consideration in this regard. Although it has received little scholarly attention since its edition by A. D. Pusalkar in 1962,6 the text is important for several reasons: ﬁrst, its period of composition, in the 1620s-1630s, makes it one of the earliest sources mentioning the Citpāvans and one of the oldest accounts of the creation of the Citpāvans and of their position in Konkan society. Second, it gives an early and rather detailed picture of their special enduring relationship with the epic hero Paraśurāma, who is their tutelary deity and is seen to play a decisive role both in their settlement in Konkan and in the creation of this land itself. Third, the poem
deals with a form of Śiva (Vāḍeśvara) for whom the Citpāvans have the greatest reverence and whommany of them have for kuladeva (family deity),7 as his temple is situated in Guhagar, the place of origin of many Citpāvan families. Even nowadays, many of them go there to worship Vāḍeśa especially at important times of their life (such as marriages, births and before settling abroad). Fourth, it reveals the representation that a Citpāvan Brahmin, the poet Viśvanātha,8 made of the history of the Konkan land in general and more peculiarly of his native town Guhagar and of his community in the early modern period. After a short discussion of the historical and cultural context of the composition of the poem, we will summarize the VK and highlight how the poem articulates the mythical and historical planes in the narrative of the history of Konkan. Close attention will eventually be given to more literary aspects, mainly lexical ones, of the VK, as the etymologies play a crucial role in Viśvanātha’s narrative and conception of history. Speciﬁc importance will be attached throughout the article to the poem’s presentation of the Citpāvans.