Connecting Histories in Goa

“You know madam, my father is still alive.”

I was slightly taken aback by this turn of conversation intitated by driver Sandeep as we took a turn on the isolated roads of Ponda.

“Ummm… Okaaayyy!”

“Yes madam. And he has this thick scar on his back area. You know, he had received them when he was 16, by the chabook (whips) of the Portugese. He used to tell us that back then, even to do grocery shopping, they had to get permission from the Portuguese government. Now look at me, I have set up a grocery shop for my wife and I am carrying a sack of fresh tomatoes in the dicky (trunk of a car) for her because she’s my boss.”

At that time, I wasn’t sure whether I should react with an aww or be horrified with the story of a young boy being whipped. But a what an interaction to start my Goa travelogue!

The most popular description of India’s beach destination can be captured in the most sterotypical lines ever – “Oh Goa! You must be partying all day, all night, right?!! That’s life in Goa, dude!” Nothing is far from the truth! I am not denying the truth behind the stereotype, because it did come into existence because of certain elements of truth! And after having been to Goa ten times so far, I can definitely vouch for that indulgent statement. But my first exposure to the slow charm of Goa was in the year 1998 during a family trip. The memories are definitely much faint now, but I still remember the eerie charm of Donna Paula while my infant brother added his “charming wails”.

For the purpose of this travelogue, I have categorised the narrative in terms of ancient, medieval and modern. It is not completely chronological, since historical timelines often overlaps and I am no historian. But finding out these nuggets were extremely fun for sure!

Speculations of Ancient Goa

Goa is perhaps the only state in peninsular India to which the words of Vincent Smith-uttered fifty years ago that “the political history of the Deccan begins only in the middle of the 6th century” may still hold true. Truthfully speaking, the ancient history of Goa is shrouded in mystery due to paucity of sources for its reconstruction. The reference of Goa can be found in Puranas and other ancient scriptures under the names like Gove, Govapuri. Legend (and history to some extent) has it that a group of 96 Saraswat Brahmins, (one of the sub-sects of Brahmins who lived at the banks of the ancient River Saraswati, and ate fish) settled along the Konkan coast somewhere around 1000 BC. The group who settled in Goa area were called as “Sastikars” because they settled in the eight villages of Sasti taluka.

In AD 554, Sidi Ali Kodupon wrote the Turkish book “Mohit”, which referred to Goa as Guvah-Sindabur – an amalgamation of the names Guvah (Goa) and Sindabur (Chandrapur). The Arab voyager, Al-Masudi, too held the opinion that Sindabur was the leading coastal city in Malabar. A common theme that all the historical facets unearthed was that Goa was a much sought after region due to its geographical and strategic importance. The state has been reported to be a part of larger kingdoms such as the Bhoja, the Konkan Maurya, the Badami Chalukya and the Goa Shilahara.

Chandor Stone inscription was found at Malcornem of Ouepem taluka in South Goa. The inscription is in Kannada language and is considered as the earliest Kannada inscription of the early Chalukyan period from this region, approximately dating back to 7th-8th century AD. Early Chalukyan inscriptions prior to this period in Karnataka are in Sanskrit. The record is badly damaged however three lines can still be seen. The third line mentions the sculptor Deseloja who wrote the record.
Curse of Chandor

I wont say I went in search for ancient history, but the trails of it definitely led me to the small village of Chandor, located at the banks of river Kushavati. Chandor or Chandrapur as it was known back then, is the first documented ancient ‘Hindu’ capital city of Goa during the reign of Bhojas, the Shilaharas and the Kadambas. In fact, King Devaraja, was the first known ruler of the Bhoja dynasty as established from the recent discovery of artifacts from that era. Later on, the Kadambas shifted their capital from Chandrapura to Govapuri on the banks of the Zuari river, the site of today’s Goa Velha in about 1049 AD.

Beyond the lores, what is left behind in Chandor is the Temple site that houses the remains of an 11th century Shiva temple which is also known as ‘Isvorachem’. It was previously excavated in 1930’s by Rev.Fr. Heras and in 1974 by the ASI. The latter excavation brought to light a brick temple consists of Garbhagriha surrounded by Pradakshinapatha, a large sabhamandapa and a medium sized Mukhamandapa or Porch. To the east of the temple, a stone Nandi stands, now surrounded by modern stone wall. The Nandi structure is reputed to be from 11th century AD. Beyond the excavation ruins, what was more fascinating for me was the peculiar belief in Chandor that stems from a Queen’s curse and has an interesting justification with the current census of Chandor.

The lore that paints the town of Chandor is a strange tradition that is passed down through generations, when the Portuguese invaded Chandrapur, it had a Kadamba king, Harihar, as its ruler. The people of Chandrapur did not defend him in the battle and as a result, the kind was killed. As a sign of her grief she removed her jewels, crushed them and threw them all over the place, and cursed the women of Chandor, wishing them all to be like herself. She came out of the fortress and, stamping her feet four times in front of the Santiago Chapel on the Chandor Cotta Kadamba gate, said she would not take away any thing, not even the dust of her feet from the city.


Chandra ganv padd zanv

Vhoiloleank borem zanv

Haddlolim randd zanv

Translation – Kadambas!! Let Chandor village perish. Their outgoing women be blessed! Incoming women widows become!

The curse that was uttered on a holy ground has led many people to refuse marriages of their daughters if the boy was from Chador Cotta ward. Even today, some attribute the curse for the high rate of widows that is found in Chandor. This leads to another interesting tradition that is followed exclusively in Chandor. Since the Queen’s curse was a result of her disappointment with her own people who refused to help the king at the times of need, hence every year, the Mussoll dance is performed by the Kshatriya gaunkars of Chandors in order to celebrate the glory of Harihar.

10 Catholic males of the upper caste, decked in traditional attire – a dhoti, a jacket, a colourful turban, ghungroos (ankle bells) on the left foot- and carrying a musoll (pestle), gather at the mandda khuris. Before starting the dance at the chapel, the chapel bell is rung. After lighting candles and reciting a Christian prayer before the cross, the mussoll dance is performed by pounding pestles into the ground. The entourage then march in procession, holding lit torches to the San Tiago chapel, where the sequence is repeated. From here, they march to each and every house belonging only to the gaunkar families, performing the mussoll dance. The lyrics hail the king “Hari haracho khel khelaita. Khel durgabhair shivo dita” and the message about the destruction of the town of Chandrapur and its people.

New regime of Adil Shahi

From the Kadambas, Goa shifted in hands, first to the Bahmani sultans of Gulbarga in 1469. The Bahaminis created a new city called Ella, in order to facilitate trade on the northern banks of the river Mandovi. In 1492, the Kingdom split into five kingdoms, namely Bidar, Berar, Ahmadnagar, Golconda and Bijapur. One of the kingdoms, namely Bijapur (which was the capital of the territory) included Goa was under the rule of Bahmani governor Yusuf Adil Shah Khan. He later on went on to create a de facto independent Bijapur state, thus starting the Adil Shahi dynasty that ruled Bijapur for nearly two centuries. Referred to as Adil Khan or Hidalcão by the Portuguese, Yusuf Adil Shah, said to be the son of the Ottoman sultan Murad II, interestingly used the title Adil Khan. Apparently, ‘Khan’, meaning ‘Chief’ in various Central Asian cultures and adopted in Persian, conferred a lower status than ‘Shah’, a royal rank. Only with the rule of Yusuf’s grandson, Ibrahim Adil Shah I (1534–1558), did the title of Adil Shah come into common use. Continuing on the trails of shift of power, I ended up at the doorsteps of a hidden gem of Goa – The Safa masjid, something which confounded my driver also. I absolutely love such moments of shared discoveries!

Safa masjid, the oldest mosque of Goa, stands true to testament of time and a tumultous history. Built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II in 1560 at Ponda, the mosque is unique to say the least, truly justifying its name ‘safa’ which means pure in arabic. The single chambered mosque has a modest prayer room and an olden style terracotta roof. The overall structural framework is very atypical to normal mosque architecture, and gives a very distinct impression of a 16th century Portuguese home. Maybe that’s the reason why the mosque survived the Goa Inquisition? Who knows! However, the star attraction of Safa Masjid is the huge laterite stone masonry tank with turquoise waters that is located within the mosque complex. The tank has over 40 hammams built in Mihrab style of architecture.

The Adil Shahis of Bijapur established Velha Goa as their ancillary capital. During this era, Muslim pilgrims from all over India embarked on their journey to Mecca from here. A permanent settlement was established by the Portuguese on 25th November 1510, in Velha Goa or Old Goa as it more popularly known as, when the Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque defeated the ruling Bijapur king, Yusuf Ali Adil Shah, on behalf of a local sovereign, Timayya. As revenge for his earlier defeat (in May 2010), he massacred and decimated all of the city’s Muslim population over the next three days. That’s the reason why very few mosques are left standing in Goa. In fact, Reis Magos Fort was initially a military outpost built during the Adil Shah rule. After the defeat of Adil Shah, the Portuguese went on to lay the foundation of the fort in 1551 and fortified it further as a defensive hold.

Flavour of Spices

Goa’s rich history is further enriched when the spice route was established. People in the Renaissance found many uses for spices and the spice trade was basic to the Renaissance economy. Pepper was used to preserve and to flavor spoiled meat. Cloves and cinnamon were used as substitutes for cleanliness and ventilation. They were strewn across the floor to prevent foot odor from permeating the room. People carried around pieces of nutmeg fitted with a tiny grater, ready to season unsavory, unpalatable food. Around many a Renaissance throat, there hung spicy pomander to ward off suffocation, illness, and odor. The spice supplier for most of the countries in Europe was India. Vasco da Gama’s footsteps in Calicut is a topic that is taught to every Indian during middle school. This was not an attempt to retrace those footsteps, but Goa’s link to the spice route was something that was unknown to me personally. Ponda’s obscure pocket of greenery and winding roads opened a doorway that was a surpising package of serendipidity. And honestly, I must credit my driver for his insistence that “Madam you should also join the foreigners!”

There are many spice plantations in Goa especially in the region of Ponda. My driver decided to take me to the lushness of Sahakari Spice Farm especially after all the maneuvering that I made him do for one mosque while taking office calls in middle of conversations. Occupying an enormous area of 130 acres, 60 acres of this area is exclusively devoted to the cultivation of Spices, Tropical Fruits, Medicinal trees, and Herbs. This Organic Spice Farm is reputed for the varieties of Spices grown in a systematic and scientific manner. Some of these spices include: Vanilla/ Orchid Spice, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Pepper, Cloves, Chilli, Curry leaves, Turmeric, Ginger. In a 30-minutes guded walk, you are given a glimpse into the world of spices that are indegenous to Goa except for Saffron, along with information on their many medicinal properties. Stories of men climbing tall Betel Nut trees and how they maintain a balance whilst plucking betel nut fruits from those swaying trees keeps you enthralled as you learn how to determine the age of a betel nut tree and compare it with that of a coconut tree.

The Sahakari Spice Farm had a clear skillset of people who excel in the technical know-how of farming spices and who have comprehensive knowledge especially when it comes to Vanilla processing and Cashew nut processing. Did you know, after saffron (3000-14000 euros per kilo), the second most expensive spice in the world is Vanilla? One pod costs between three and five euros, although there are significant differences in quality. Incidentally, the ones that are commonly available in the market are actually the ones whose flavour has already been extracted. A ripe vanilla stick/pod is in reality, should be flexible to signify its freshness. The next on the price list is of course cardamom (60 euros per kilo), pepper and cinnamon.

Emergence and Establishment of The Estado da India – The State of India

Spice route leads to the greatest topic of world history – Portuguese monopoly over the spice route. You see, before the oceanic route, most of the land routes to India were under the monopoly of the Arabs who acted as intermediaries for all trade between India and Europe. Hence, under the impetus of the spice trade, Portugal expanded territorially and commercially. Undeterred by the immensity of the geographical area the Portuguese would have to patrol, King Manuel I of Portugal (r. 1495-1521) declared a royal monopoly on the spice trade. A viceroy of India was appointed in 1505, even though the Portuguese had no real territorial aims beyond controlling coastal trading centres. Portuguese Goa was established in 1510 on the west coast of India, and within 20 years it became the capital of Portuguese India. In 1511 Malacca in Malaysia was taken over. Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf followed in 1515, and a fort was established at Colombo in Sri Lanka in 1518. At Goa, the viceroy was effectively both the civil and military governor of the Estado da India, and he was, in theory, accountable only to the king. Religious affairs were led by a bishop based at Goa (from 1538, then an archbishop from 1560), with the first cathedral built in 1540.

The Portuguese crown’s possessions in maritime Asia and East Africa were collectively called as the Estado da Índia – the State of India, an expression that began to appear regularly in Portuguese documents from about the mid-sixteenth century. In a strict legal sense it meant all the cities, fortresses and territories listed in the deed of transfer given to each incoming viceroy or governor at his ceremonial induction. In addition, there were also many unofficial possessions, some of which did at some point become official Crown properties. The majority of these possessions were not territories as such, but single ports with small attached urban areas. This was because the reason for their existence was to control regional trade and provide a safe haven for shipping that criss-crossed the empire. According to the historical facts and wall placards, every new Viceroy of India would first pay homage at the The Reis Magos Church at Verem before moving towards the capital city. The Reis Magos Fort was an important strategic military monument of Velha Goa – the Portuguese capital of Goa.

The fort was used as a prison for short-term prisoners and a ground for freedom fighters in 1950s during the liberation movement. The fort was continued to be used as a prison until 1993 after which it was abandoned. The restoration in 2008 by the state government showcases jail rooms with some magnificent beach views, museum depicting work from the famous native cartoonist Mario Miranda and some native history, bastions with portuguese cannons, and more.

Aguada fort was built strategically at the mouth of Mandovi river in 1612 as a chief Portuguese defence against the Dutch. It was once the grandstand of 79 cannons, and had the capacity of storing 2,376,000 gallons of water, one of the biggest freshwater storage of the time in whole of Asia. Natural terrain and laterite stone resulted in this 400-year old impregnable structure that still stays strong in solitude. The Aguada lighthouse was built in 1864 on a hill located on the west to the fort, and is known as one of the oldest in Asia. Aguada Central Jail is also part of the fort and was the largest prison in Goa till 2015 when it was renovated to showcase Goa’s freedom struggle.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Velha or Old Goa is not a large area today. However, in the 16th Century it had a population of 200,000, was the center of Christendom in the east, and served as the capital of Portuguese India from 1510 to the 18th Century. In fact, the churches and convents of Old Goa, particularly the Church of Bom Jesus, which contains the tomb of St Francis-Xavier, illustrate the evangelization of Asia. These monuments are the only remnants of the yesteryear where they enabled spread of Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art in all the countries of Asia where missions were established. Once upon a time, it was home to 20 churches. Only 10 remain now. Old Goa itself takes almost an entire day to enjoy and reminiscent. I have vague memories of Bom Jesus, so the plan was to renew those fading memories. Unfortunately, Bom Jesus is undegoing massive reconstruction currently (as of Nov 2022). I was only able to cover two of them. So here’s to hope that on my next visit, I can update this to a more detailed coverage of Old Goa.

Viceroy’s Arch marks the historical entrance to Old Goa. Entering through the gate reminds you of walking in the footsteps of Alfonso de Albuquerque as he entered the island of Goa in 1510. Up Victory Hill is Our Lady of Rosary Church (1549), Goa’s oldest surviving church from where Albuquerque had watched his troops’ attack the then Muslim city and vowed to build a church as a mark of gratitude for his victory. It is also believed that St. Francis Xavier gave his first sermon upon his arrival in Old Goa at this site.

This is the story of heroes
Who leaving their native Portugal behind them
Opened a way to Ceylon and further
Across seas no man had ever sailed before.
They were men of no ordinary stature,
Equally at home in war and in dangers of every kind.
They founded among distant peoples
A new kingdom which they raised to such an exalted height.

Luis de Camoes, The Lusiads, 1572

The initial plan, as hypothesised by many scholar, was to monopolise the trade route exclusively. As it happens to all plans, this also went haywire. Historians have categorised the Portuguese rule in Goa in the form of phases. Honestly, the allocation of the word ‘phases’ to any colonial rule that strived to change history, feels more like a teenage tantrum. Nevertheless, as historians call it, the Portuguese rule in Goa went through various phases. Till 1820, Portugal was under Absolute Monarchy, during which Portugues brought Goa under their control. Following a series of papal bulls passed between 1452 and 1456, gave the Portugues king an overarching authority to conquer, subdue and convert all pagan territories. In short, the colonial policy of Portuguese lent state support in terms of money and laws, based on the conversion rate in the overseas terriory.

The policy of conversion was begun soon after the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in 1510, and gradually intensified throughout the sixteenth century. Interestingly, as quoted by Délio de Mendonça in Conversions and Citizenry: Goa Under Portugal, 1510-1610: “Conversions had to be marketed, just as spice had to be.” Due to scarcity of funds and population, the Portuguese soldiers under Alfonso de Albuquerque were asked to marry the Indian women particularly Muslim widows in order to enforce a connection to homeland. In 1512 there were 200 Portuguese married settlers in Goa, who formed the major chunk of the civil population of the Estado da India. The mercantile class thus created from a shift in profession led to change in the Goan native society with petty trade and manufacturing units such as shoe making, baking and tailoring coming to the forefront. The placement of a Portuguese civil society acted as a forefront to various other conversion steps that were adopted such as – adoption of orphan children within Christian families, destruction of idols and places of worship, prohibition of religious practices, and changing the existing law of inheritance favouring women who converted to Christianity.

The conversion of Goa to Catholicism was largely the work of various religious orders which came to Goa in the 16th century. The Franciscans arrived in 1517 and their work was limited mainly to Bardez. The Jesuits were the most influential order that came to Goa in 1542, who were responsible for the conversion of Tiswadi and Salcete and boosted all missionary activities. The two other orders of significance were the Dominicans, who came in 1548, and the Augustinians, who came a few years later. The Inquisition was a formal tribunal devoted to identifying heretics among the converts to Catholicism and was formally launched in 1561 and lasted until 1761, when it was effectively ended by the Marquis de Pombal, who abolished the exclusive rights of Christians. Interestingly, many Catholics in Goan villlages are acutely aware of their Hindu roots and identify their Hindu clan (vangad) on the basis of their Christian surnames.

During the times of famines and pestilences many Portuguese citizens turned to Indian colonies as better centres for safe living. As citizens found a safe haven in Panjim, the government officials set up administrative shops around the main promenade area, while remaining citizen chose Fontainhas as a residential area. The Carmelite nuns who owned the property area in Fontainhas during the mid-1800s decided to sell, keeping in tune with growing demand. Even today, compared to the planned area around the Panjim Tobacco square, the rest of Fontainhas looks like a maze of haphazard streets that seem to be in a mood of tricking you to loose your way as you stroll amongst its euripean history and charm. Panjim was elevated from a town to a city on 22 March 1843.

In Panjim’s Tobacco Square stands Casa da Moeda, literally meaning ‘house of coins’. The earliest known resident of Casa da Moeda was a gentleman called João Batista Goethalis. The building functioned as a Treasury and the Mint of Goa from 1834-1841. According to texts, the Viceroy of Goa, Dom Manuol de Portugal e Castro, was unhappy with the coins minted in Velha Goa. So he ordered that the mint be shifted to Panjim in Nova Goa. The house was then sold to one António Inácio da Silva of Santa Cruz in 1863. In fact, it may be one of the few buildings in India that were occupied by both the Portuguese and the British governments since it housed their telegraph offices. Eventually, it was purchased by General Dr. Miguel Caetano Dias (in 1904), whose descendants still live here. General Dr. Dias was the first and only Goan to be designated as General by the Portuguese. He held several portfolios in Portugal, Mozambique, and Goa, including the Director of Health Services and the Director of Escola Medica and Military Hospital in Panjim. The General Post Office, located at the square, originally started out as a depot for trading tobacco hence the name of the Square. The premises then went on to serve as the Police Headquarters for some time. Finally it became the centre of operations of the city’s postal services. Interesting fact, Central Panjim and Maitri, India’s permanent research station in Antarctica, share the very same pin code: 403001.

The next phase of the 451 years of Portuguese rule in Goa was influenced by the Liberal principles of the French revolution which resulted in Limited Monarchy with Parliamentary control in Portugal during 1820. However, the Parliament started functioning effectively as late as 1833 when the liberals gained the final victory. As such, during this period, Goa got represntation in the Portuguese Parliament. The establishment of the Republic in Portugal in 1910 broght a new era in the modern history of Goa. The church was separated from the state and hindus of Goa regained their religious and political freedom. With the coming to power of Dr. Antonio de Oliveria Salazar in Portugal in 1926, the former Republican rule in Goa came to an end. A number of curbs were imposed upon civil liberties, along with censorship of public gatherings, press, etc.

Liberation of Goa

Resistance to Portuguese rule in Goa in the 20th century was pioneered by Tristão de Bragança Cunha, a French-educated Goan engineer who founded the Goa Congress Committee in Portuguese India in 1928. Cunha released a booklet called ‘Four hundred years of Foreign Rule’, and a pamphlet, ‘Denationalisation of Goa’, intended to sensitise Goans to the oppression of Portuguese rule. Messages of solidarity were received by the Goa Congress Committee from leading figures in the Indian independence movement including Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. 

On 27 February 1950, a diplomatic discourse was initiated between Nehru and the Prime minister of Portugal Antonio Salazar over the political, cultural and national identity of Goa. According to Nehru, Goans were all Indians and the colony was ruthlessly under colonial regime. Portugal asserted that its territory on the Indian subcontinent was not a colony but part of metropolitan Portugal and hence its transfer was non-negotiable, Goans were represented in Portugal legislature, and that India had no rights to this territory because the Republic of India did not exist at the time when Goa came under Portuguese rule. All diplomatic missions were thereby withdrawn on 11 June 1953. By 1954, the Republic of India instituted visa restrictions on travel from Goa to India which paralysed transport between Goa and other exclaves like Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

On 17 December 1961, after 14 years of fruitless negotiations 30000 Indian troops, supported by the Indian air and naval forces, marched into Goa against a garrison of 900 Portuguese troops. Operation Vijay of 1961 was India’s first Tri-Service ‘Integrated’ operation where the Indian Navy was tested in battle. 40 hours later, a decisive victory was attained where 22 Indians and 30 Portuguese were killed. The Indian Naval Aviation Museum located at Bogmola is one of only two military museums in India. In fact, it is the only Naval aviation museum in all of Asia. The museum displays a number of aircraft that were used by the indian navy throughout its history. 

Goan culture is a product of centuries of intermixing of Europe and India, built upon a foundation of older ancient society. This melting pot of customs and traditions is reflected in the daily lives of the Goans, a fact that is often repeated by the locals during a random afternoon chat. The multi-faceted layers surpasses the existing stereotype of ‘beaches, booze and party’ image of Goa, an experience that is recommended once in your life as you take up the helms of adulting.  

Further readings and references

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