Good morning. This morning's topic is Sapt-Konkan, the coastal ecoregion of the Western Ghats, defined by the Purana's as Sapt-Konkan or "Parashuram Shristi". And there is a legend about it.
The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, have a fascinating geological history. They are the most important feature of the landscape of the southern peninsula and in these same hills we confront our future. Unfortunately they continue to suffer drastic degradation due to human pressure.I have been writing about these mountain ranges for quite some time now. My book "The Western Ghats" was published in 2005. Most of the writings could be accessed in the links given below:For some key chapters from my book "The Western Ghats", please log on to:
For detailed blog (6 Chapters from my book) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For biospoheres & bioregions of the Western Ghats please log on to:
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WESTERN GHATS COASTAL ECOREGION
The Emerald Country
Honda, Sattari, Goa - pic by Mohan Pai
Konkan, Goa & Karavali
The precise definition of Konkan varies, but most include Maharashtra's districts of Raigad, Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, the state of Goa, and the Uttar Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Sapt-Konkan is also known as ‘Parashuram Shirsti’; according to the legend, Lord Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu stood atop the Sahyadri and shot an arrow into the roaring sea and beyond and created the coastal tract. The Sapta-Konkan as depicted in Skanda-purana stretches from Maharashtra to Karnataka . This is actually logical since there are a lot of similarities in the food-habits (rice and fish), crops cultivated (rice, mangoes, cashews and jackfruit) and the physique (tall and well-built) of people dwelling in this area. Konkan Division is also one of six administrative sub-divisions of the state of Maharashtra, comprising of its costal districts.
Sage Parashuram, a painting
An ecoregion is defined as a large area of land or water that contains geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that
a) share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
b) share similar environmental conditions, and;
c) interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long term persistence.
Based on these criteria, Konkan division of Maharashtra, Goa and Karavali region of Karnataka form one homogenous ecoregion. Biodiversity ignores national and other political boundaries, so a more relevant conservation planning unit is required.
From the Imperial Gazeteer of India (1907-1909)
Konkan.— A name applied to the Marathi-speaking lowland strip along the southern portion of the Bombay Presidency, situated between the Western Ghats and the sea. The term has no very distinct ad- ministrative signification, and its former geographical limits have become less strictly defined than of old. The coast strip, to which the word is now applied, is a fertile and generally level tract, varying from 1 or 2 to about 50 miles in breadth between the sea and the mountains, with an area of about 12,500 square miles, and, approximately, a population of 3,800,000. It is watered by hill streams, and at parts intersected by tidal backwaters, but has nowhere any great rivers. A luxuriant vegetation of palms rises along the coast, the cocoa-nut plantations forming an important source of wealth to the villagers. Splendid forests cover the Ghats on its eastern boundary. The crops are abundant ; and owing to the monsoon rainfall being precipitated upon the Ghats behind, the Konkan is peculiarly exempt from drought and famine. The common language of the Konkan is Marathi. Kanarese is spoken in the southern part, and a little Gujarathi in the north of Thana. In a geographical sense, the Konkan forms one of the five territorial Divisions of the Bombay Presidency, the others being the Deccan, the Karnatik, Gujarat, and Sind. It includes the town and island of Bombay, the three British Districts of Ratnagiri, Kolaba, and Thana, the three Native States of Jawhar, Janjira, and Sawantwari, and the Portuguese territory of Goa ......The Konkan is bounded by Gujarat on the north, by the Deccan on the east, by North Kanara District on the south, and by the Arabian Sea on the west. The history of the Konkan will best be gathered from a perusal of the historical portions of the separate articles on the included States and Districts. The earliest dynasty connected with the Konkan is that of the Mauryas, who reigned about three centuries before Christ; but the "evidence of the connection rests altogether on vol. viii. T 290 KONKAN, an Asoka inscription discovered at the town of Sopara in Thana District. The dynasties that succeeded were the following, in their order, so far as order is ascertainable : — The Shatakarnis or Andrabhrityas, with their capital at Paitan in the Deccan ; the Mauryas, descendants of the elder house ; the Chalukyas ; the Silaharas, whose capital was perhaps the island of Elephanta in Bombay Harbour ; the Yadavas, with their capital at Deogiri, the modern Daulatabad ; the Muhatn- madans (Khiljis, Bahmanis, Bijapur chiefs, Mughals, and Ahmadabad kings) ; Portuguese commanders (over a limited area) ; Marathas ; and British. The principal incidents in the annals of the Konkan are of modern interest. The Konkan coast was known to the peoples of Greece and Rome, and both Ptolemy (150 a.d.) and the author of the Periplus (247 a.d.) afford evidence that Greek traders from Egypt dealt with the Konkan ports. Many of these last are named by the Greek geographers ; and while the modern representative of the ancient town has been in many instances identified, in others the ingenuity of conjecture is still employed. To take one or two examples, it is yet a matter of uncertainty whether Byzantium is the Konkan pirate fort of Vijayadrug ; whether the word Chersonesus refers to Goa, or whether the term Heptanesia relates to the islands that stud the modern harbour of Bombay. The arrival of the Beni-Israel and the Parsis from the Persian Gulf and Persia are important incidents in Konkan history. The Beni-Israel, whom high authority has not hesitated to call the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, are found all over Bombay Presidency. The descendants of the first Parsis, who landed in Thana about the 7th century, now crowd the streets and markets of Bombay, engross a large part of the city's wealth and principal trading operations, and have their agents in all important provincial towns.
Vasco da Gama landing at Kappad.
The Portuguese reached Malabar in 1498, and fixed the head-quarters of their naval dominion at Cheul or Chaul. In 1510, Goa was seized, and from this time until 1630 the Portuguese shared the rule of the Konkan with the Muhammadan kings of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur. The rise and fall of the pirate power of the Angres, who fixed themselves in the island strongholds of Kolaba, Suvarndriig, and Gheria or Vijayadrug, and from 1700 to 1756 harassed English, Dutch, and native shipping alike, mark a disastrous period of Konkan history. Since the British administration was set up in 1818 on the overthrow of the Marathas, the peace of the whole area, if some disturbances in Sawantwari in 1844 and 1850 be excepted, has remained unbroken. The great city and harbour of Bombay are situated about one-third down the length of the Konkan from the north. The Portuguese territory of Goa used to form its southern limit ; but the District of North Kanara has been transferred from Madras to the Bombay Pi and now constitutes the southernmost District of the D as the Konkan.
Imperial Gazetteer map of Konkan
Physical Aspects, Natural History, and Geology.- -The folio paragraphs have been condensed from a short mon<>Climate & Vegetation
The climate of the Sapt-Konkan shows two rainfall gradients.
The West-East Gradient
The west-east rainfall gradient is determined by the effect of Ghats’ escarpment. The reliefs of the Ghats act as a barrier to the eastward movement of the cloud masses brought by the summer monsoon rain-bearing winds of the south-west monsoon.
These masses bring prodigious amount of rainfall over the western slopes of the Ghats. For instance in Agumbe (height 645 m) which is situated at the edge of the Ghats, the mean annual rainfall is 7,460 mm, and in some years it exceeds 12,000 mm in only 130 rainy days. Overall the western slopes receive 2,000 to 7,500 mm of rainfall.
Once this obstacle is crossed, the rainfall decreases rapidly to <>
The monsoon begins to retreat by the end of September in north India but it takes nearly 15 days for the front to withdraw from Kutch to Ratnagiri which it reaches in the beginning of October, in another 15 days it covers 400 km, the distance separating Ratnagiri from Coondapur. The front passes through Mangalore at the beginning of November and Kozikode in a fortnight, and reaches Kanyakumari only in early December. Thus the withdrawal is spread over a period of nearly two and a half months. The advance and specially the gradual withdrawal of the monsoon leads to a reduction in the rainy period from south to north and consequently a concomitant lengthening of dry season. This gradient is one of the key factors for understanding the variations in the floristic composition along the Ghats.
Wet Evergreen Forests
Wet evergreen forests are mostly confined to the windward side of the Ghats where the rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm. The deep valleys on the western windward side nurture closed canopy, stratified evergreen forests. These are arranged in a series of tiers. Each tier receives a different amount of light; the tallest trees are bathed in perpetual sunlight, smaller trees and shrubs receive dappled light. The forest floor is almost in complete darkness. The canopy is supposed to be closed because the contiguous crown of tall buttressed trees merge to form a veritable roof. Occasionally, giant trees termed as emergents push through the canopy to obtain dominant position. Light, temperature and humidity differ at different heights beneath the canopy. Two or more strata of shade loving trees find the appropriate level at which light intensity and relative humidity are best suited for their metabolic activities.
The density of growth in these hot and humid jungles is so great that over 70 tall trees can exist in one hectare. These trees may be 35-45 m high and have evolved small narrow leaves to minimise moisture loss through evaporation. The lower growing plants have larger leaves in order to maximise the benefit of the little light that manages to penetrate. At every level, leaves tend to be narrow with drain-like tips so that the monsoon water flows off efficiently. This makes it possible for the leaf to remain relatively dry and ‘breath The forests are in leaf throughout the year and hence termed evergreen. These trees shed their leaves at a slow and steady rate throughout the year, which results in continuous decay and decomposition on the forest floor which is full of leaf litter and decaying wood on which mushrooms, lichen and fungi thrive. In the relative gloom of the forest floor herbs are frequent with good representative of gingers and orchids. Climbers and lianas supported by sturdy trees, spiral towards the canopy in search of better light and fresh air..
Dry Evergreen Forests
The steep eastern slopes of the Ghats where the rainfall is less than 1,500 mm harbour dry vegetation types. However, in the relatively moist valleys and along streams, forests are evergreen and distinct in floristic composition with its counterpart on the western side. Physiognomic structure of these forests varies according to moisture level of the soil. Generally they are short forests, with a canopy seldom higher than 12 m, and with two strata.
Moist Deciduous forests
Moist deciduous forests, which are in primary nature, are found in the rainfall zone of 1,500 mm to 1,800 mm; as a transition between wet evergreen and dry deciduous forests. Large extent of these forests occurs in the Wayanad, Mysore and Karnataka plateau. Moist deciduous forests also occur within the potential area of wet evergreen formations, where the rainfall is more than 2,000 mm. Its very presence in the zone indicates their secondary nature after a possible degradation of original wet evergreen forests. On the leeward rain shadow side as well as on the coastal lowlands there are fairly long dry periods. Moist deciduous trees survive the rigours of the dry months by shedding all their leaves simultaneously to avoid loss of water through transpiration.
During the leafless period the trees carry on their reproductive cycle by spectacular flowering followed by abundant fruiting. With the pre-monsoon showers, a flush of fresh leaves appears to herald the beginning of a fresh annual cycle. A number of good timber trees are found in these open canopy forests.
Climatic Variations and Endemics
The high degree of endemism in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats can be attributed to the isolation of the Ghats from other moist formations and the prevailing drier climatic conditions in the surrounding areas. This isolation seems to have facilitated the process of speciation (formation of new biological species) leading to the phenomenon of vicariance between sister species derived from a common ancestor, one of which thrives in the evergreen forests of the Ghats and the other in the adjacent dry regions (for example Diospyros assimilis in the moist evergreen forests and D. Ebenum in dry forests).
South of Kodagu, the Western Ghats are comprised largely of high ranging hills with several enclaves which formed ideal refugia for certain species when the climatic conditions became drier . Within the Ghats, the variation in the degree of endemism is mainly determined by
a) the increase in the number of dry months from south to north and
b) the decrease in the temperature with increase in altitude. These two gradients also explain the numerous cases of vicariance encountered within the evergreen continuum. Local topographic variations add another dimension to the floristic diversity and endemism.
CASHEW APPLE: The nuts are first removed andprocessed and have a large local as well as exportmarket. The cashew apple is first smashed, and then fermented to be made into the famous liquor- the Cashew Feni.
The main crops of the traditional horticulture of the region are Coconut, Betel nut, Cashewnut, Banana, Jackfruit, Mango, Bhirand or Kokum, Pineapple and a variety of gourds.
The Kadambas (1000-1350 AD) and later the Governors of Vijayanagar promoted mango orchards in this region. Although crude methods of grafting were already known in India, the Jesuits helped perfect the art of mango grafting in Goa.
Seaside Vegetation & Mangroves
The marshy areas, the swampy places where the sea comes in high tide, or where a river finally empties itself into the ocean, these are the places where many kinds of fish come to spawn. Often these areas are very large; trees do not grow here, for salt water washes over them, or floods them regularly; the loose muddy sand shifts easily, and the only plants which can take hold are mangroves with their long spreading roots. The mangrove bushes prove their worth during a storm, for they break its force; in a rough sea the mangrove belt acts as a ‘buffer’ and prevents erosion and keeps the coastline in tact. The mangrove vegetation has to survive on the scorching, shifting and saline sands. Trailing stems, fleshy leaves, salt excreting glands are some of the aids for their survival. The mangroves in the slushy estuaries have special features to overcome the difficulties of their habitat. The mangrove trees and shrubs anchor themselves against the push and pull of the tides by stilt roots. Air in the marshy soil is meagre. The trees often turn their breathing roots upwards in search of fresh air. The seedlings of mangrove trees remain attached to the parent plant until they have a chance of surviving on their own. They fix themselves like darts in the marshy saline slush to avoid being washed away by the sea until they have a chance of surviving on their own. If we remove the mangroves, the coast is exposed to the danger and damage from storms and rough seas.
A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural run off and industrial effluents are some of the factors. Most of the surviving mangroves are now confined to West Bengal and the islands in the Bay of Bengal. Some of these have been responsible for the protection of certain endangered species of turtles, crocodiles and the rare fresh water sponge.
Sacred Groves and Sacred Trees
Many traditional societies all over the world revered and worshipped nature and considered certain plants and animals as sacred. India has a long tradition in protecting nature - both plants and animals considered as sacred. Forests have been the lifeline for tribals and other forest dwelling communities since ages. Communities all over India followed the practice of setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped.
The forest deities are generally of a primitive nature. Sometimes in the form of unshaped stone lumps smeared with red paint - Kalkai in the Konkan, Kenchamma in South Kanara. They are amongst the fiercest of deities; and breaking even a dead twig in a sacred grove is sure to invite the wrath of the deity. Sacred groves are to be found all over the country and abundantly along the Western Ghats and the west coast. Sacred groves ranged from 50 hectares or
The West Coast south of Surat runs parallel to the great escarpment of the Western Ghats for its entire length of about 1,600 km culminating at Cape Comorin. The Sapta-Konkan approximately occupies 900 km of the entire Ghat’s coast. The straight looking coast is however quite jagged, marked by a large number of coves (small sheltered recesses in the coast) and creeks(small tidal inlets or estuaries of small streams). A large number of small streams descend from the precipitous Western Ghats and flow through the narrow coastal plain to open into the Arabian Sea.
A typical view of the Konkan, consisting of white-sand beaches and palm trees (mostly coconut and betel nut).
Although the streams are small, some of them have formed spectacular waterfalls. The Konkan coastal plain is cliffy and there are several shoals, reefs and islands in the Arabian Sea. Mumbai was a large island but parts of the sea have been reclaimed in recent years to connect it with the mainland. There is a submerged forest near Mumbai which suggests that the sea level rose on the Konkan coast not long ago. The coastal plain is dotted with flat-topped hills. Transverse flat-looped spurs come down almost to the shoreline from the edge of the plateau and dip into the sea at Karwar, the northern part of Karnataka. These appear to be abrasional platforms, now dissected by the west flowing streams.
Mahadayi River at Sonal, Goa - pic by Mohan Pai.
Although the Ghats run parallel to the coast, the width of the coastal lowland varies. At Konkan it is about 50 to 60 km wide. From Goa to Kozhikode, the width of the coastal zone is more variable than in Maharashtra.
The Sahyadris dip into the Arabian Sea at Karwar
It is about 40 km wide at the latitude of Goa and then suddenly narrows near Karwar where the Ghats almost meet the sea. To the south of 140N, the coastal zone now called Dakshina Kannada, widens once more to almost 80 km south of Mangalore. The coastal region after Kodagu, known as Malabar, is not more than 30 km wide up to the latitude of Kozhikode. From here it widens out to about 60 km near Palghat Gap.
Satodi falls, Karavali
A Coast of Maritime Legends
The maritime history of the West Coast of India predates the birth of Western Civilisation. The world’s first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2,300 BC during the Harappan civilisation near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast. Even before Alexander, there were references to India in Greek works and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantities of gold from Rome, in payment for much sought exports such as precious stones, skins, textiles, spices, sandal wood, perfumes, herbs and indigo. It was the lure of spices that attracted traders from the Middle East and Europe to the many trading ports in Sapt-Konkan.
Memorial to Vasco da Gama, Kappad
From the earliest times, the West Coast had developed a considerable shipbuilding industry, specialised in building large vessels. There are several accounts of such activities including that of Marco Polo who has described the Indian built ships. European interest in India has persisted since classical times and for very cogent reasons. Europe had much to derive from India such as spices, textiles and other Oriental products. When direct contact was lost with the fall of Rome and the rise of the Muslims, the trade was carried on through middlemen. In the late Middle Ages it increased with the prosperity of Europe. Spice trade was not solely a luxury trade - spices were needed to preserve meat through the winter (cattle had to be slaughtered in late autumn through lack of fodder in winter) and to combat the taste of decay. Wine, in the absence of ancient or modern methods of maturing, had to be ‘mulled’ with spices. This trade suffered two threats in the later Middle ages. There was the threat of Mongol and Turkish Invasion which interfered with the land route through Egypt, and there was the threat of monopoly shared between the Venetians and Egyptians. The Arabs controlled the spice trade with India since the end of the 12th century AD. During the 15th century Spain and Portugal, the then main maritime powers of Europe initiated a series of expeditions with Royal patronage. While one such voyage led to the discovery of West Indies by Columbus, another voyage brought the Portugese to India, the El Dorado.
Fisher women at Britona, Goa -pic by Mohan Pai
The Konkan division is an administrative sub-division of Maharashtra which comprises all the coastal districts of the state with a coastline of about 500 km. The region starts with Damanganga river in the north and extends to Terekhol river in the south.Area: 30,746 km² Population (2001 census): 24,807,357 Districts: Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Thane.
History of administrative districts in Konkan Division
There have been changes in the names of Districts and has seen also the addition of newer districts after India gained Independence in 1947 and also after the state of Maharashtra was formed.In 1961 the Konkan region became a part of the newly formed state of Maharashtra. Prior to this it was a part of Bombay province which was split to form Gujarat and Maharashtra. Creation of the Sindhudurg from the southern areas of the Ratnagiri district. The erstwhile Kolaba district was renamed as Raigad. A proposal to carve Jawhar district out of Thane District is being considered on account of its high tribal population.
Water sports - pic by Mohan Pai
Goa encompasses an area of 3,702 km² (1,430 sq mile). It lies between the latitudes 14°53'54" N and 15°40'00" N and longitudes 73°40'33" E and 74°20'13" E. Goa has a coastline of 101 km (63 miles).The Mormugao harbor on the mouth of the river Zuari is one of the best natural harbors Goa has more than forty estuarine, eight marine and about ninety riverine islands.
Idalcao Palace, Panaji
The total navigable length of Goa's rivers is 253 km (157 miles).Most of Goa's soil cover is made up of laterites which are rich in ferric aluminium oxides and reddish in color. Further inland and along the river banks, the soil is mostly alluvial and loamy. The soil is rich in minerals and humus, thus conducive to plantation. Some of the oldest rocks in the Indian subcontinent are found in Goa between Molem and Anmod on Goa's border with Karnataka. The rocks are classified as Trondjemeitic Gneiss estimated to be 3,600 million years old, dated by the Rubidium isotope dating method.
Karavali is the geographical area covered by sea-coast of Karnataka. This region is also called Canara. Karavali forms the sourthen part of the Konkan Coast and comprisesthree coastal districts of Karnataka, namely Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. The length of this region, from north to south is around 300 Kms and width varies from 30 Kms to 110 Kms.
Om Beach, Gokarna
The region is characterised by swaying palms and swift brooks running towards the Arabian sea.Even though many languages are spoken like Tulu, Konkani and to some extent Kannada there are many common factors in food, culture, rituals, traditions. Rice, fish and coconut oil are commonly used ingredients in the food of the people of Karavali region. Spirit worship (Bhuta Kola), Serpent worship (Nagaradhane), Buffalo race (Kambala), Yakshagana are some of common traditional rituals followed.Major ethnic groups are the Tuluvas and konkanis.The main languages spoken in this area are Tulu and Konkani. The northern half is predominantly Konkani and the southern half is predominantly Tulu. The majority of the people follow Hinduism. Other religions practiced include Christanity and Islam. While the Tulu speakers are exclusively Hindus, Christians are almost exclusively Konkani speakers. This region has many sites of Hindu pilgrimage including Kollur, Dharmasthala, Udupi Srikrishna Math (Temple), Kateel, Murdeshwara, and Gokarna. The main occupation of the natives is farming and fishing. Fish is the staple diet of the people living in this region. Coconut is used generously in all the dishes. The region has abundant rainfall, recording average annual rainfall among the highest in India.
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(Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa)