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GOA – In the Shadows of Its Colonial Legacy


Located on the west coast in the Konkan region, Goa is the smallest state of India. It is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its western coast. Goa was the first part of India that was colonized by Europeans and also the last to be liberated & is better known to the world as the former Portuguese enclave on Indian soil. In the past it was known as Govapuri, Gomant or Aprant. The Arab sailors knew it as Sindabur, or Sandabur, and the Portuguese as Goa. During the occupation of the Portuguese it acquired the epithets of the ‘Rome of Asia’ and ‘Pearl of the Orient’. About 77 miles (125 KM) of the Goan coast line is dotted with beaches. These beaches are divided into North Goa and South Goa Beaches. Little wonder, it was also called the ‘Goa Dourada’ or ‘Golden Goa’ sands.

Though renowned in the world for its clean & safe beaches and rave parties, it also has a historical pedigree marked by its world heritage monuments, ancient worship house like temples, churches etc. With many tourists both national and international visiting it, predominantly for beach& party-tourism, many do take time out to check out its cultural & historical attractions. It is this combination of fun & culture that gives Goa its unique identity.

Brief History:

Though perceptionally Goa’s glory has been associated with the Portuguese occupation, its grandeur predated the colonisers. Kings and other rulers from a host of Indian dynasties had made this little jewel glitter with royal pomp. In ancient literature, Goa was known by many names such as Gomanta, Gomanchala, Gopakapattam, Gopakapuri, Govapuri, Govem, and Gomantak. The Indian epic Mahabharata refers to the area now known as Goa, as Goparashtra or Govarashtra which means a nation of cowherds. Gopakapuri or Gopakapattanam were used in some ancient Sanskrit texts, and these names were also mentioned in other sacred Hindu texts such as the Harivansa and the Skanda Purana. In the latter, Goa is also known as Gomanchala. Parashurambhoomi is a name that the region is referred to in certain inscriptions and texts such as the Puranas. In the third century BCE, Goa was known as Aparantha, and is mentioned by the Greek geographer Ptolemy. The Greeks referred to Goa as Nelkinda or Nelcynda in the 13th century. Some other historical names for Goa are Sindapur, Sandabur, and Mahassapatam.

This earliest reclamation of land in the region was by the Saraswat Brahmins. This incident also provides the basis of a very popular theory of origin of Goa. This community was called the Saraswats because their origins have been associated to the banks of the River Saraswati, a mythical river that predominantly existed in the minds of the inhabitants of India from the Vedic times. According to legends, this river Saraswati subsequently dried up causing large scale migration of this group of Brahmins to all corners of India.

A group of ninety-six families, known today as Gaud Saraswats, settled along the Konkan coast in and around contemporary Goa somewhere around 1000 BC. According to Hindu legends strongly prevalent in the South Indian region, Parashurama (the warrior-sage and an incarnation of God Vishnu) flung his axe into the sea and commanded the Sea God to recede up to the point where his axe landed. The new piece of land thus recovered came to be known as “Konkan” meaning “piece of earth” or “corner of earth” (Kona (corner) + kana (piece)). This was done for settling these displaced people. The Saraswat Brahmins settled in three islands in the estuary of the Zuari and Mandovi rivers. The Mahabharata refers to Goa as Gomanta Kingdom or Goparashtra, “a nation of cowherds or of nomadic tribes”. Brahmanas were predominantly pastoral people and their prized possession was cows.

Goa’s recorded history stretches back to the third century BCE, when it formed part of the Mauryan Empire, ruled by the famous emperor Ashoka. He is famous for his eschewal of violence and conversion to Buddhism after witnessing bloodshed at the battle of Kalinga (now the modern state of Orissa) in 261 BC.

The region also ruled by ancient Hindu Dynasties of Satavahanas, Yadavas, Chalukyas of Badami, Rashtrakutas, and Kadambas etc. These rulers patronised Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism etc. The Kadambas are credited with constructing the first settlement on the site of Old Goa in the middle of the 11th century. The Kadambas ruled Goa for two and half centuries until its conquest by Mahmud Gavan on behalf of his Bahmani master.

In the thirteenth century, the region came under the influence of the Delhi Sultanate. The Delhi Sultanate had its locus in Delhi and the northern region of India and thus their political control over Goa wasn’t strong enough. It may be apt to state that the mandate was snatched by the rulers of Vijayanagara Empire & Hindu rule was restored in Goa. The Vijayanagara rulers held their sway over Goa for nearly 100 years, during which its harbors that were important landing places for Arabian horses were expanded. The mighty Vijayanagara Empire was brought to its heels after being attacked by a Muslim confederacy. Its defeat in the battle of Talikota resulted in its total destruction and division of its wealth between the victors. Goa passed into the hands of the Bahmani sultans of Gulbarga. In 1492, the Bahmani Kingdom itself split into five kingdoms, namely Bidar, Berar, Ahmednagar, Golconda and Bijapur. One of the kingdoms namely Bijapur (which was the capital of the territory) included Goa and was ruled by Sultan Yusuf Adil Shah Khan.

The Portuguese:

The territory of Goa passed from Muslim rulers into the hands of the Portuguese in 1510 led by Albuquerque. Constantly being fought for an occupied, Goa was always prized territory due to its ports and active trade. It seems that Portuguese had a longer hold on it compared to other colonisers. Ironically, it was the Portuguese who gave Goa its name. Before they arrived on the scene, Goa, or Gove or Gowapura, was the name only of the port town near the mouth of the Mandovi River. This was also the same site on which the Portuguese later built their capital, today’s Old Goa classically known as Velha Goa.

The beginnings of transformation of Goan politics began when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, in present day Kerala in 1498. This discovery and the establishment of a new sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope gave an impetus to the Portuguese who wanted very much to exploit it to their advantage and profit from it. As a result of the discovery of the maritime route to India by da Gama, communications between Goa and Europe and other cities of India began to grow.

The merchandise which Vasco da Gama took on his return journey fetched him sixty times the purchase price, after deducting the cost of the journey. This lucrative trade was captured from the Arabs by the Portuguese. Yet when trade compulsions won over political short-sightedness, exports from Goa had already widened to comprise black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, Gujarati and Bengali cloth, Chinese furniture, wax, ginger and cloves. These were imported into Goa from other sources in the country and re-exported. Imports from Portugal included woolen and linen cloth, edible items, liquor, and arms and ammunition. On the other hand, its control of the seas and above all the lucrative spice trade made it a much-coveted prize for rival colonial powers.

The prosperity of Portugal and its traders could be assured only by the establishment of a permanent trading post. The inability of the Portuguese to do that along the Malabar Coast (controlled by the powerful Zamorin of Calicut) of India prompted them to try their luck northwards along the coast. In 1510, Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque attacked Goa at the behest of the local chieftain Thimayya. In 1510 under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque they laid siege upon Goa, then under Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur.

On February 17th he entered the city of Goa for the first time and met little resistance as the Sultan was engaged with his forces elsewhere. Sultan Adil Shah soon came after him with a vengeance and on May 23rd 1510 Alfonso de Albuquerque had to flee the city of Goa. Determined to win it for good, Alfonso de Albuquerque made another attempt a few months later. This time his timing could not have been more than perfect. Sultan Adil Shah had just died and the heir to the throne was the infant Ismail Adil Shah. Thus Goa was won by Albuquerque because he was at the right place at the right time.

The Portuguese set up a permanent base in Goa in their quest to control the spice trade now known as Velha Goa or old Goa. The former Secretariat building in Panaji is a former Adil Shahi palace, later taken over by the Portuguese Viceroys as their official residence. This was symbolic of the transfer of power. The territories of Ilhas, Salcette, Mormugao and Bardez formed part of the Portugal’s “Velhas Conquestas” or Old Conquests, and formed only one fifth of the total area of modern Goa. By this time, Goa became the jewel of Portugal’s eastern empire. Merchandise from all parts of the East was displayed in its bazaar, and separate streets were set aside for the sale of different classes of goods-Bahrain pearls and coral, Chinese porcelain and silk, Portuguese velvet and piece-goods, drugs and spices from the Malay Archipelago.

Goa also became the base for Albuquerque’s conquest of Malacca (1511) and Hormuz (1515). Albuquerque intended it to be a colony and a naval base, as distinct from the fortified factories established in certain Indian seaports. Goa was made capital of the Portuguese Vice-Kingdom in Asia, and the other Portuguese possessions in India, Malacca and other bases in Indonesia, East Timor, the Persian Gulf, Macau in China and trade bases in Japan were under the suzerainty of its Viceroy. By mid-16th century, the area under occupation had expanded to most of present-day limits.

In 1843 the capital was moved to Panjim from Velha Goa. After India gained independence from the British in 1947, Portugal refused to negotiate with India on the transfer of sovereignty of their Indian enclaves. On 12 December 1961, the Indian army commenced with Operation Vijay resulting in the annexation of Goa, Daman and Diu into the Indian union. Goa, along with Daman and Diu was made into a centrally administered Union Territory of India. On 30 May 1987, the Union Territory was split, and Goa was made India’s twenty-fifth state, with Daman and Diu remaining Union Territories.

The architecture of Goa is a combination of Indian, Mughal and Portuguese styles. Since the Portuguese ruled for four centuries, many churches and houses bear a striking element of the Fantastic Italian architecture typically renaissance modeled on architectural details from the churches circled the city’s skyline. The Portuguese influence and local strains have also created a cultural mix which is different from the rest of India. Western and regional cultural mixing has resulted in a unique blend of different religions and cultures in the State. The festival of music and dance Shigmo Mel signifies unity in diversity. Besides Shigmo, festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi (Chavoth-Konkani), Diwali, Christmas, Easter, Samsar Padvo, and the Carnival are also celebrated in by the people of Goa. Goa is also known for its New Year’s celebrations.

The Goan Carnival is known to attract a large number of tourists. As a legacy of its unusual colonial history Goa has also inherited a mixture of languages. Portuguese is still spoken as a second language by a few Goans, although it is gradually dying out. Konkani is now accepted as the official language of the state and Marathi is also taught as a standard subject. To conclude, Goa is much more than its beaches. A true tourist should explore its history as well in order to enjoy-shaken but not stirred!

Source by Sanjai Velayudhan

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