XIV. A KONKAN LEGEND.
Such are the legends, popular and Puranic, of the coming of the Chitpavans to Western India. That some historic truth lies below the garbled tale of shipwreck and resurrection is partly proved by the physical traits of their descendants, - of those men, in fact, whose immediate ancestors, employed at first as messengers or spies of Maratha chieftains, by innate cleverness, tact, and faculty for management gradually welded together the loose Maratha confederacy and became directors of the internal and external politics of the Peshwa's dominions. For to this day the true Chitpavan perserves the fair skin, the strange grey eyes, the aspect of refined strength and intelligence, which must have characterized the shipwrecked mariners of old fable and marked them out in later years as strangers in a strange land. But whence came they, these foreign immigrants, who after long sojourn in the country of their adoption moved upwards to the Deccan and stood within the shadow of the Peshwa's throne? Much has been written of their origin, much that is but empty theory: but, as 'Historicus' has remarked in the columns of a local journal, the lesson to be learned from their home dialect and from their strange surnames, - Gogte, Lele, Karve, Gadre, Hingne and so on, - is that the Chitpavan Brahmans of Western India came in legendary ages from Gedrosia, Kirman and the Makran coast, and that prior to their domicile in those latitudes they probably formed part of the population of ancient Egypt or Africa. That they were once a seafaring and fishing people is proved by the large number of words of oceanic origin which still characterize their home-speech, while according to the authority above mentioned the "Chandrakant" which they recognize is not the sweating crystal of Northern India and ancient Sanskrit lore, but a fossil coral found upon the Makran coast. Forty years ago Rao Saheb V. N. Mandlik remarked that "the ancestors of the tribe probably came by ships either from some other port in India or from the opposite coast of Africa;" and in these later days his theory is corroborated by General Haig, who traces them back to the great marts on the Indus and thence still further back to the Persian Gulf and Egypt. Why or at what date they left the famous country of the Pharaohs, none can say: but that these white-skinned Brahmans are descendants of such people as the Berbers, who belonged of right to the European races, seems the most plausible theory of their origin yet put forward, and serves as an additional proof of the enormous influence exercised upon posterity by the famous country of the Nile.
Thus perhaps the legend of storm and shipwreck is not false, but records in poetic diction the arrival on these shores of men who presumably had in some degree inherited the genius of the most famous and most civilized country of prehistoric ages, and who had by long trafficking in dangerous waters and by the hardships of long migration acquired that self-reliance and love of mastery which has been bequeathed almost unchanged to their Brahmanised descendants. The Chitpavans were indeed the children of the storm, and something of the spirit of the storm lives in them still. Some trace is theirs of the old obstinacy which taught those pale ancestors to fight against insuperable forces until they were cast naked and broken upon the seashore. And peradventure the secret lesson of the ancient folk-tale is this, that the God of the Axe, despite the curse, is still at hand to help them along the path to new birth, provided always that their cause is fair, that they invoke not his aid for trivial or unjust ends, and that they have been truly purified in the pyres of affliction.