By Alister Miranda
Blessed with a gorgeous beach, immense arboreal wealth in its hills, springs, sweet water lakes and a hardworking populace, Arambol could arguably be rated as Goa’s most magnificent village. It is a bountiful bundle of natural beauty enveloped in traditional Goan rusticity.
A 12-kilometre drive from Chopdem after crossing over from Siolim by ferry transports you into this haven of dazzling scenery. After passing Mandrem, as you climb the hill that dips into Arambol the picturesque panorama of the village enfolds. White sands decorated with coconut palms swaying to the gentle music of the azure sea extend a cool and balmy welcome to the visitor. It is a hospitable rural experience from then on.
Bounded on the North by Paliem, South by Mandrem, East by Korgao and on the West by the Arabian sea, Arambol, undoubtedly, is the pride of Pernem Taluka.
It were the Hippies who, in the early eighties, made known Arambol to the rest of Goa. Besides discovering the beautiful beach, then unknown to tourists and untouched by tourism, they also literally unveiled the stunning sweet water lake, strikingly sandwiched in a cove surrounded by hills, which interestingly lies at a hand shaking distance from the sea. The serene environs was sheer bliss for them, as they actually converted the place into a nudist colony. Hundreds of hippies, all without even a stitch to cover their bodies, could be seen sprawled across the beach sunbathing, others frolicking in the sea, while some swimming in the blue lagoon. Once news of the nude spectacle travelled across Goa and away, Goan picnickers and Indian tourists alike made a beeline to Arambol; and haven’t stopped coming ever since. As the oglers started coming, the nude Hippies began thinning. Today, just a sprinkling of topless white females adorn the sands even as members of the Goa Police patrol the beach. Just for the record, 75 per cent of the property along the beach belongs to the late Sukur Narayan Bhakia, the infamous history-sheeter who had dramatically escaped from the Aguada jail.
Although the tourism bug, which has made villages like Calangute and Candolim unrecognisable, seems to have caught on in Arambol, things are not that bad. But popular shaded picnic spots have disappeared, making way for restaurants and shacks – most of which are leased out by locals to non-Goans. The restaurants that cling to the cliff that leads to the lagoon, offer a variety of cuisine ranging from Goan, Indian and Continental to Japanese and Tibetian. The Lamanis and Tibetians with their ware have also descended upon Arambol. Widely advertised Tai Chi, Chi Kung and Chakra healing centers, a Himalayan Yoga Centre, and “Sat-sang”s conducted by ‘Gopalji’, ‘Neeru’ and ‘Aziz’ complete the touristic scene.
While just a miniscule part of the village has been sacrificed to tourism, the remainder is a slice of old. Amidst lakes, hills and fields belonging mostly to the Viscount de Pernem, Harmalkars, some kashti-clad, can be seen toiling. The carpet-like greenery more than suggests that this is the season for planting a variety of vegetables and pulses and caring for the second rice crop. During the monsoons, cultivation is also carried out on hill slopes. The other occupations that the village folk indulge in are, caju feni distillation, masonry, toddy-tapping and distillation and fishing with rampons in their canoes. Toddy tapping has been the forte of the Catholics – a profession they carried on even in British Bombay after they settled along the coconut tree-lined Shivaji Park-Dadar chowpathy. They freely distilled coconut Feni in Bombay until after independence, when liquor manufacture was banned by the Maharashtra government. A sizeable number of Harmalkars have since settled in Mumbai.
Arambol is blessed with skilled masons. Experts at building temples, churches and schools, two of Siolim famed schools, Holy Cross High School and St Francis Xavier’s High School showcase their expertise.
The hospitable Harmalkars, who account for a population of about 7500 live in Quepem, Gircar vaddo, Modlo Vaddo, Sokoilo Vaddo, Bamon Bhatti, New Vaddo, Bhat Wadi, Santan Vaddo and Voilo Vaddo or Deull Vaddo. The welfare of these wards is looked after by seven Panchayat members headed by Sarpanch Savitri Dadu Gadekar. Popular Panchayat members presently having a non-stop five and three terms respectively are Sebastian Fernandes and Ramchandra Krishna Kerkar. Already having a post office, a health center, private doctors, an imposing Panchayat building from whose precincts the State Bank of India operates, several provision stores, automobile spare-part shops, a petrol pump, a saw mill, a fabrication unit, a bakery, credit societies, a fair price shop, restaurants, cyber cafes, all that Arambol now requires is an LPG gas dealer. The three-road junction is where most of all these are located and where all the village buzz is. With fish and meat also available at this tinto, the locals need not go long distances to make purchases; more so since the retail rates offered in Arambol are surprisingly cheaper than, say, Mapusa.
On the education front too the village does not lag behind. The Harmal Panchakroshi High School, which was started in 1967, and the Higher Secondary section, having Science and Vocational streams, have a strength of nearly 1000 students. Church owned and Diocesan-run Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School educates 545 students. Besides, two out of five Marathi government primary schools are still alive and kicking.
Religionwise, (65 per cent Hindus and 35 per cent Christians) Harmalkars are devout. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, elevated to be the first church in the whole of Pernem, has kept the flame of Christianity burning bright. “Religion is not a burden to them. They are very receptive and co-operative. They have their popular devotions, and at the same time encourage new trends. I love to work for them,” says the dynamic parish priest Ligorinho da Costa, when speaking about his parishioners. Fr Ligorinho, who is also the principal of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, recently created a miracle of sorts, when he completed a mega project of extending and renovating the Church and Parochial house in one year flat. This, he says, was due to the enthusiastic support and co-operation he received from his parishioners and his assistant Fr Miguel Pereira. Besides the Confraria de Nossa Senhora de Mounte Carmel, the parish also has a vibrant parish council, besides the Canossian Sisters, to help in the Church affairs. The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated with great pomp and festivity on the second Sunday of January.
The Hindu religiosity has been kept alive by the temples of Ravalnath, Bhoomika, Mahadev, Narayan and Ghiroba. Zatras held from November to January. Shigmo, Gudi Padva and Shivratri are celebrated with gay abandon. A number of nataks are also held on these occasions.
Music, that has helped Harmalkars attain great heights, seems to run in their veins. Interestingly, Arambol is packed with musicians – thanks to the now defunct Parochial music school and the dedicated mistirs. Most of the musicians are the products of Late Eric D’Souza and Late Caetano D’Souza. Babush Fernandes and his son Benedict have all along created waves in Mumbai, while, in Arambol, in recent times, the musicians mostly perform under the baton of Alex Fernandes. The Arambol band is very popular in Pernem, Bardez and even Sawantwadi in neighbouring Maharashtra, and is in great demand to perform at weddings, tiatrs, feasts, funeral and school gatherings.
What one now sees is the new face of Arambol. Its name was always Harmal and not Arambol, as it is now known. How it got its name is interesting. According to septuagenarians Shogun Shambha Haldankar, and his brother Babaji Shambha Haldankar, Lord Parshurama, along with the Pandavas chose a hillock facing the sea to perform a yagna, and a fire was lit. But suddenly Draupadi began menstruating and so the yagna was abandoned by Lord Parshuram and the Pandavas left the place shouting “Hari…Hari…Harmal.”, and thus Harmal got its name. The site is now known as Parshuramachi Tekdi. “Pandarpur was to be established here”, say the Haldankar brothers in unison.
The Harmal of yore was driven by bullock carts on dusty roads. Travel was on foot. Bro Pascoal Coutinho, the first Indian to join the Australian society of Blessed Sacrament Fathers, remembers: “I used to accompany my grandmother on foot, from Arambol to Saligao. We would walk along the Arambol, Mandrem and Morjim beaches and cross into Siolim via canoe. Then continue walking till we reached our destination.” The only vehicle that was heard and seen was Bhatkar Pascoal Joao Gomes’ roaring motorcycle whenever he visited Bhatwadi which he owned. In the late forties, Gomes, who hailed from Siolim and was popularly known as Doriyantlo Bhatkar, sold the land to his mundkars, the Harmal elders inform. Food and money was scarce. Qualified medical aid unheard of, except in later pre-liberation years when those who could afford would bring the late Dr Pinto Rosario all the way from Porvorim to attend to a complicated pregnancy. Otherwise it was the popular voigin (midwife), the late Maria Zuana D’Souza from Santanvaddo, near Bhat Wadi, who delivered all newborns. Another medico, one Dr Dangui from Aronda, was rarely seen being carried to Arambol in a palanquin.
Dhirio (Bull-fights) and football were the two vintage sports. Dhirio, have subsequently been stopped following the High Court ban, but football has still not lost its popularity with the youth. The Holy Cross Sports Club today kicks the ball in Goa’s second division football league. Ravalnath Sports Club is the other one.
The Arambol bulls were considered formidable and the late Socru Fernandes has carved a niche for himself as one on the best bull trainers ever seen in Goa. So deep was his attachment to the gory sport, that once he even mortgaged his house to buy a champion bull.
The winds of change and development are all set to blow across Arambol, nay Harmal, soon after the Siolim-Chopdem bridge is completed. But come what may, wild Boars, porcupines and rabbits won’t stop roaming the arboreal woods of this balmy village.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Late Eric D’Souza Musician
Late Caetano D’Souza Musician
Late Anthony Mascarenhas Musician
Late Krishna Ramchandra Kerkar ………Freedom Fighter
Late Dattaram A Kambli Builder
Alex Fernandes Musician
Thomas Rodrigues Musician
Laxmikant Yeshwant Parsekar Educationist & BJP State President
Shyam Sanzgiri Architect
Babush Fernandes Musician
Benedict Fernandes Musican
S Lemos Tiatrist
Peter V Fernandes Tiatrist
Sudhakar Naik Musician
Dominick Rodrigues Musician & Tiatrist
Anthony de Arambol Tiatrist
Surya Shambhu Vast Theatre artiste
Sebastian D Fernandes Musician
Minguel Rodrigues Musician
Dr Pradeep Shetkar Allopathic doctor
Dr Pandurang Vishnu Naik Homeopathic doctor
Dr Avinash Sridhar Nagwekar Homeopathic doctor.
Bro Pascoal Coutinho SSS Religious
Fr Pascoal Fernandes Diocesan Priest
Fr. Damaciano Fernandes …….Diocesan Priest
Fr Santosh Fernandes Diocesan Priest
Vasant Dattaram Kambli Builder
Laxman Bhicaji Kerkar Builder
Bhikaji Laxman Kerkar Zilla Parishad Member