The Holy Cross has put this otherwise somnolent village on the international map.
By Alister Miranda
Bambolim is Tiswadi or Ilhas Taluka’s cute little village. Since long it has been made known by the Miraculous Cross, and more recently by the sprawling Goa Medical Complex, the AIR Super Power Transmitter and the Military camp. Hence passersby traversing via the NH 17 highway may be compelled to believe that whatever meets the eye is all that comprises Bambolim. Actually what one sees once one climbs up the asphalted highway slopes from Santa Cruz on the North and Siridao on the South is the ‘synthentic’ side of Bambolim, which a blue-blooded Bambolkar is hardly proud of. And nothing you fleetingly glance at on its now concretized plateau prepares you for the profound scenic interlude that its rustically beating heart emits.
Nature has beautifully hidden the actual village among verdant hills in a valley that seemingly runs down and bathes in the sea on the Western frontier. A road that starts from GMC’s western end and runs along the compound wall, dives headlong into the scenic precincts of the village.
A typical village scene appears to be naturally enacted. Farmers in the field, children playing with gay abandon, women doing the daily chores in true Goan style and music and mouth-watering aromas filtering from big and small houses and filling the cool air.
Fofai Vaddo and Igorje Vaddo that house 52 Catholic families form the integral part of the village, being near the Church. Nauxim and Oddgaim are closer to the beach and the sea. The Bambolim Panchayat, comprising these four wards, is clubbed with the Bambolim-Curca-Talaulim Panchayat.
Since Fofai and Igorje Vaddo are predominantly inhabited by Catholics who supposedly are the first settlers, everything revolves around the Church of Our Lady of Belem (Bethlehem). Villagers inform that not too long ago just 30 houses stood around the Church, so much so, that when the image of the Virgin Mary would be taken house to house for veneration, the entire round would take exactly one month. Parish Priest Fr Arlino De Mello, who is assisted by two retired priests, Fathers Herculano Pereira and Sebastian D’Souza, describes his parishioners as vibrant and devout. The feast of Our Lady of Bethlehem is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Feast of the Three Kings in January.
Fofai and Igorje vaddo are serene and verdant, with paddy, sweet potatoes and vegetable grown in its fertile soil.
Formerly, Bambolim was part of the Siridao parish, with the Church being on the site where today Siridao’s cemetery stands. Around 1610, Agustinian Archbishop Dom Frei Aleixo de Menezes declared Bambolim as a separate parish, and in 1616 a new Church was built on a hill with the monetary support of Gonsalo Pinto da Fonseca. In 1619, Archbishop Dom Frei Cristovao de Sa e Lisboa elevated it to a Parochial Church. But the Church structure which had an underground tunnel lasted for two and a half centuries. The hill on which the old Church lay is today known as Orth de Vigar or Padigaracho Dongor. The Comunidade de Bambolim then built a chapel in 1851. This chapel was raised to a Church in 1825 and consecrated to Our Lady of Belem. Confraria Nossa Senhora De Belem is its confraternity.
Bambolkars in the past, especially the Catholics, married within the bowl-like village. Whether a marriage or a feast, they would wholeheartedly participate and celebrate. Even for a village Cross feast they used to be staged a Konkani Tiatr, mostly written by the ageing Luis Joaquim Monteiro.
On the balmy side of Bambolim are Nauxim and Odd-gaim; both dominated by the Hindu Gawda community. Considering their proximity to the sea and the large number of coconut trees among which they dwell, it is no surprise that quite a number of these residents have taken up fishing and toddy tapping as a means of livelihood. Formerly all were Christian Gawdas, but somewhere early in the last century they opted for mass reconversions. But many Hindus in Nauxim retained their Catholic first names, so even today one finds a Lawrence, Gabriel or a Constancio among them. Only four families in Nauxim chose to remain Catholic. Oddgaim is popular for its spring and the beach, to which the Bambolkars religiously flock to every summer for their annual salt bath. In bygone days, people from neighbouring Santa Cruz and Merces would come and camp there for seven days in thatched huts. The placid waters make the beach extremely safe for fun and frolic. The Bambolim Beach Resort lies on its threshold.
Bambolim’s most famous son is Goa and Daman’s Archbishop Dom Raul Nicolau Gonsalves, who is also the Patriarch of the East Indies. In 1992, on his episcopal silver jubilee, the entire village proudly felicitated the Archbishop.
Some may opine that the GMC complex is its crowning glory. But at what cost? The’crown’ appears to be ill gotten. The once-flourishing Comun-idade de Bambolim was virtually raped for this purpose, and with that vanished the thick virgin foliage and the bountiful cashew trees. Seven lakh square metres of Comunidade land was acquired by the government of Goa for a pittance, only 65 paise per square metre, to give birth to the medical college complex. In 1966, the Comunidade filed a suit against the government for enhancement of the amount. After the District, Lower and High Courts ruled in favour of the Communidade, the government moved the case to the Supreme Court in 1979.
According to the incumbent President of the Comunidade de Bambolim, Reinar Luz de Sousa, it stayed there for 19 long years and only in 1998 did it direct the High Court to dispose off the matter within six months. In mid 1999 the High Court ruled that Rs 2.50 be paid by the government of Goa to the Comunidade for every square metre of acquired land. But sadly, till date, the government has not paid the amount. As if to add insult to injury, even thirty years after the land was acquired, the government has been able to utilize a mere thirty per cent of it.
In addition, a sizeable chunk of Comunidade terrain was also acquired by the Central Public Works Department and other Central agencies. “Our Comunidade is made toothless,” says Luz de Souza. Notwithstanding the sour taste in the Comunidade’s mouth, it holds the unique distinction of having two categories of Gaunkars – the Vodle Gaunkars comprising the Gonsalves, Monteiro and Luz de Souza families and the Dhakte Gaunkars. The Dhakte Gaunkars are paid one-third of the zonn paid to Vodle Gaunkars.
The jewel in Bambolim’s crown is undisputedly the Shrine of the Holy Cross. An unassuming cross it was that shot Bambolim to fame. Revered by people of all faiths, hardly anyone passes by without acknowledging its presence and seeking its blessings with a bow of the head, a flying kiss, a sharp loud honk or the sign of the cross. Most stop and pay obeisance to the Holy Cross by offering garlands of flowers, candles or cash. A shining illustration of Goa’s celebrated communal harmony it is. From being known as Bambolecho Khuris, Milagrincho Khuris and later being Christened as Fulancho Khuris, the Holy Cross stands in all simplicity as a beacon of hope and faith.
Public memory of the existence of the Cross goes back to atleast half a century, although many say that it is much older. Who built it is still a mystery, like the numerous miracles that are attributed to the Holy Cross. Some say that it was built by quarry workers at the time when there was hectic quarrying (now abandoned) around the site of the cross. Many state that it was one Albuquerque, a civil engineer from Ponda, who built it while creating the Panjim-Agasaim mud road. Numerous robberies along that stretch is also believed to be the reason for erecting the Cross. Debatably, whosoever might have built it, the cazkars, who harvested cashew apples in the long disappeared thick forest, were the ones who began worshiping the Cross. Villagers from neighbouring Siridao would at times trudge up the hillock and recite the Rosary.
Perhaps the first recorded miracle was that of Santana Afonso of Siridao. Santana was in the terminal stage of cancer and all medical hope was lost. In desperation, when she and her husband Cassiano visited the Cross, she suddenly began writhing in pain. While in pain she vowed to provide a canopy for the Cross if she was cured. And cured she was, miraculously. Santana kept her promise and the Cross got its first temporary canopy. The covering kept changing over the years. Beautification of the Cross came in 1969 through the officers and jawans of the military camp set up in the vicinity. The marble tiles plastered to the Cross by the military are still intact. For the military camp, the Cross was their place of worship.
Fr Raul Inacio was the first parish priest of Bambolim to start offering Masses at the Cross; followed by Fr Filipino Rebello who cleaned up the near by area in order to accommodate more faithful during Mass, and Fr Ariston Dias who began the practice of celebrating a regular Mass every Sunday. Fr Napolean Silveira then built a shamiana costing rupees three lakh. Thanks to the untiring efforts and missionary zeal of the former parish priest and president of Cofre do Fundo da Cruz do Alto Bambolim Fr Freddy J Da Costa, a stately Shrine was erected at the cost of Rs 70 lakh. Mention must be made of the noted architect, Ralino de Souza, who designed the Shrine for free. The foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Raul Gonsalves on May 21, 1995, and the Shrine was completed, blessed and inaugurated by the Archbishop on October 13, 1996.
The Shrine in fact is a Church, as a Decree from the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, and Patriarch of East Indies dated October 3, 1996, states that “We do hereby formally and canonically constitute the said building at the Holy Cross of Bambolim, Alto de Bambolim into a Church, dedicated to the Holy Cross.” The Decree further state that “the new Church will be under the jurisdiction of the Parish of Our Lady of Bethlehem, and under direct responsibility of its Parish Priest.” Though the temporal administration is carried out by the Cofre do Funda da Cruz do Alto Bambolim, it is 85-year-old Fr Sebastian R De Sousa and the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth that look after the Shrine. Daily after Fr Sebastian celebrates the Mass the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration. The exposition which goes on non-stop till 8 pm ends with a blessing.
On Sundays Masses are held at 6.30 am, 8.30 am and 5 pm. The tall clay image of Jesus Christ behind the altar is specially crafted by Verodina Ferrao. Devotees come in hordes from all over Goa, and even from the neighbouring States of Mahara-shtra and Karnataka, and sing the litany, backed by the violin. More and more couples from all ends of Goa choose the Shrine to exchange their marital vows. The feast of the Holy Cross is celebrated with great pomp and solemnity every third Sunday of May and the feast of Our Lady of Fatima is held on October 13.
For no fault of its own, the fruits of Goa’s developmental strides have technically not reached Bambolim. It lies hardly a stone’s throw from the corridors of power in Panjim, but still has no public transport, no post office, no high school and no market. In size it is too small one may argue; but is ‘small’ or ‘big’ any yardstick to deprive a village of its basic requirements? Even the mud roads take took Bambolkars in and out of dwelling from times immemorial were tarred only in 1982.
The plateau which some 60 years ago hosted a thick forest, is no more. A new township has taken birth having pushed the Bamboo hallis – from which Bambolim is believed to have derived its name, into oblivion.
Bambolim owes its fame to the humble Holy Cross, but may blame its ruin on the sophisticated overhead satellite township. The forested plateau may have vanished, but the balmy side of Bambolim will hopefully survive.