BENAULIM – The Flight of Parashuram’s Arrow …
Where does one begin while describing a village as vast and as blissful as Benaulim, which enjoys a pride of place in the coastal, beach-belt of Salcete? Tiny Goa’s villages are birthplaces of men with lofty ideals, of distinguished clerics and several bishops, with India’s first Cardinal thrown in for good measure. But Benaulim surely stands apart because on its sacred soil was born on April 21, 1651, Goa’s only Saint – Blessed Jose Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka.
Benaulim is indeed an enchanting place, sandwiched between the golden sands that lace the Arabian azure in the West and the meandering Sal river, which sprays its East with green grace and grandeur. The balmy coastal air interacts with the riverine charm and tranquillity, to work up a totally exotic ambience, which has added Benaulim to Goa’s burgeoning tourist map.
Seraulim and Colva closeup on Benaulim in the West and North respectively, while Varca keeps watch on its southern extremity. Urbanised Margao and Navelim too share borders with Benaulim. Fortunately, the extensive stretch of soggy fields halts the march of Margao’s building brigade. Hence the handsomely large population of nearly 17,000 is well removed from the din and dust of urbanity, content to bask in its sunny, rural lifestyle beneath the benign shade of the swaying palms.
Geologically, the uphill portion is made up of red laterite while basalt rocks exist near Bhirond. Overall, the diverse elements merge into a magical concoction, which inspired maestros like Conego Antonio Joao Dias (1914), Mestre Joao Antonio (Jantu), Mestre Manuelinho, Dr Roque Correia Afonso, Antonio Francisco Sardinha, Sebastiao Barreto and others to compose passionate and highly lyrical manddos. Manddo-dulpod combinations like Bannaleantu muzo gaum-um, Danddea Caetan Butiqueiru and dulpods like Aitra’ Sonta’ Missa’ Otam, Monti Sokolo Ghor Bannale and others are sung with gusto by Bannalekars till today.
Bannalekars, of course, are a rare breed. Render (toddy- tappers), who produce coconut feni, and ramponnkars (fishermen), who live by fishing, make up the bulk of the coastal population. In the good ole days when cold storages were unheard of, the excessive catch had to be dumped at the coconut groves. The grateful palms responded with a bountiful yield to make Benaulim the prime nursery of excellent coconuts. The Bannaulecho narl naturally rocks and rules the State’s coconut index with some of Goa’s major wholesalers like Hegde, Vithal Shet and Menino Bakar buffering the Benaulim subyard in Margao. They collect coconut not only from Benaulim but places right out to Canacona and export lakhs of nuts.
The rustic coastal rhythm is attuned to the full-throathed sounds of Hei-re-hei, Hei-re-hei as the ramponnkars (group of traditional fishermen) haul up their fish-filled boats and nets ashore. The ramponn groups of yesteryears had typical names like Paulistanchi, Manageli, Xapaigeli, Chonekarageli, Funteageli, Pozzdeangeli and Baranvgeli.
The harmonious lilt of Hei-re-hei flows in their bloodstream and thus Bannalekars emerge into entertaining dramatists. Incidentally, Benaulim, they say, is the Moira of Salcete. They don’t mind being laughed at while having others in splits. And who could be the best laugh-getter of the Konkani khelltiatr than Rosario Rodrigues, the pioneering writer-director and lovable comedian?
Rosario helped popularise the once lowly Konkani khelltiatr (folk-theatre). He shifted it from the street corners of Salcete to the conventional stage and the rest of Goa. The khelltiatr, however, was introduced to the Goan masses in Bombay by ace trumpeter A. Moraes from Benaulim. The late Christopher Leitao was the toast of the tiatr audiences as he emoted magnificently in feminine roles, honed his talents here. Christopher’s wife Meena still carries on with the Konkani stage. The drama forge has been fired by the imagination of the celebrated “century kings” like writer-actor-directors Roseferns and Menino de Bandar. Popular playwrights like Patrick Dourado, Ligorio Fernandes and Peter de Benaulim helped mould the khelltiatr into a viable profession. Benaulim is the sole village in entire Goa where there is at least one show every week. These people have made a rewarding career out of khelltiatr, which, ironically, has spelt the doom of mainstream tiatr in Goa.
Many good tailors hail from the coastal areas of Goa, probably because they wield the needle to mend their nets in the foul season. So, by stretching the analogy a bit, why Margao’s best tailors and outfitters come from Benaulim, could probably be answered. Of course, I won’t stretch it so far as to claim that Bannalekars turn out to be excellent carpenters because they are also preoccupied with making or mending fishing boats.
Several ornamental altars and artistic images of saints, which adorn not only affluent houses but churches, endorse their craftsmanship. Carved furniture has been their forte. Sebastiao Rato, who started the All Goa Carpenters’ Association, talks of famed carpenters like Joao Sebastiao Fernandes (Makddam mest), who had wrought the main altar of the Patrocinio Chapel. Domingos Fernandes (Akra Doming) did the altar of the Holy Trinity Church and Pedro Rodrigues (Divller) turned out the main altar of the Majorda Church. Agostinho Fernandes (Benddo) was popular for making altars particularly in Bardez. Ambea Rozari, Sonxea Pedru, Janot Pidadi, Mingao, Mirao, Mui and others are not merely funny names but master carvers from Benaulim.
Joaquim Sebastiao Rato (Jaksantan Rato) specialised into making violins and also developed the very difficult art of carving altars and statues out of the coconut tree. However, there has been a turnaround since the last couple of decades with the advent of tourism and with local boys seeking fortunes abroad. With prosperity lurking round the corner, Benaulim carpenters won’t probably remain faithful to their ancestral occupations, except for young coconut wood specialist Franco Fernandes, who has shifted to Camurlim in Bardez. Franco designs exquisite utility items, feni bottles encased in coconut cask and jewellery, all from the the sheel and wood of coconut. Some of the nutty jewellery was worn by Wendell Rodrigues’ models at the IGEDO fashion fair in Germany.
Otherwise, every fisherman, toddy-tapper, carpenter and almost everyone else seems to firmly feel that tourism alone will butter and jam their bread today, tomorrow and year after year. Many of them rent rooms in their homes to European tourists or convert their homes into bars and restaurants, and beachside huts into the famous (even controversial) shacks. Earnings come from scooters and motorcycles hired to tourists or from taxi business. The burgeoning movement has ripened sufficiently to attract the Ansal Beach Resort (occupying nearly 165,175 sq metres of land), the L’Amour Beach Resort and others.
Of course, Benaulim possesses a near-imcomparable past bequeathed by the Jesuit legacy. Turning the pages of history to the earliest chapters, acquaints us with the famous legend of the arrow shot by Parashuram from the Sahyadri mountains. The mythological arrow fell in the sea at Banavli, and that’s how beautiful Konkan came into being. The place is marked by a lake of lotuses called komllam tollem in Benaulim.
“The main temple in the village was dedicated to Banespor, the Lord of the Arrow. In oral history of the people of South Goa, Banavli is known as Bamangaon or Brahmingaon, the village of brahmins. There is also a vague consciousness that our village is related to Parashuram and the myth of the reclaiming of the beautiful land,” writes Rosario Rocha, sj, in the well researched Souvenir of the “Fourth Centenary of Saint John the Baptist Church.”
According to Konkanakhya (history of Konkan published in 1721), the images of deities Katyayani and Baneshwar of Benaulim were transferred to Aversa in Ankola, to escape religious persecution. Ankola also has other temples dedicated to Benaulim deities like Narayan, Santeri, Bhairav, Katyanyani, Baneshwar, Aryadurga, Kundodari and Kadambeshwar. Several fishermen living in and around Aversa and in North Kanara bear the surname Banavlikar. Their ancestors helped transport the stone statue of Kalyayari and the Naneshwar linga to Aversa by boat. There is a statue of Kshetrapal in the temple of Aryadurga in Ankola. Some significant strains of their culture and rites too reached Ankola along with the deities. The zagronn (vigil) observed in the temples of Ankola has its origins in the zagor (primitive dance-drama) of Benaulim.
According to the Foral de Salcete, when the temples of Banespor, Sanquespor, Narayna, Bairao, Cantaroza devi, Santeri, Canitel, Aojagar and Deuna were destroyed, the administrative control of the namassi (temple properties meant for the worship expenses) was transferred from the Comunidades to the Christian missionaries. Consequently, the flow of the funds was diverted from the Hindu temples to Christian religious worship. All that remains of the Hindu past are the three giant pimpoll trees near the Church of St John the Baptist, build on land leased by the Comuninades.
The old gaunkars of the Comunidade, around 1567, included Perez, Poy, Barbu, Pai, Danguy, Naique and Sinai. The village does not seem to have any Hindu gaunkar now. The advent of Christianity in the mid-sixteenth century saw that no one remained Hindu or any temple and statue was left behind to remind one of his ethnic religion.
The stately Church of St. John the Baptist with a 16th century Mannerist frontage was built in 1581. Says Percival Noronha, of the Goa Chapter of INTACH, “The twin balustrated towers in four distinct tiers siding the facade, shield the imposing central pedimental gable topped by trifoliated finials and spires – a deep influence of Hindu art, while richly ornamented mouldings run horizontally over the tiers. On stepping into the temple, one is overcome by the artistic arched vault of the portico and the imposing nave with its white unstained Italian marble.”
At the exquisitely decorated baptismal font wrought in basalt stone in the vaulted chapel, was baptised Blessed Padre Jose Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka. This church along with the altars, statues and tabernacle, was turned to ashes by a devastating fire on May 2, 1784, after the feast mass of O.L. of Salvacao. The fabrica, however, with the contribution of the Comunidades of Adsurlim, Benaulim and Cana, and the villagers, renovated and returned it to its former glory. Benaulim was raised to a Deanery on 17-11-1994 and covers Benaulim, Colva, Seraulim, Betalbatim, Varca, Orlim, Carmona and Cavelossim. The Holy Trinity Chapel which was raised to a church on 4-3-1992, is its youngest parish.
Benaulim is dotted with important institutions. The pioneering gentlemen responsible for them, were inspired by the zeal of the Jesuits who had christianised Salcete. The first parish priest of Benaulim was the renowned Jesuit Pero Berno, an Italian from Ascona. Fr Pero died a martyr alongwith Fr Rodolfo Aquaviva and other priests, in the Cuncolim massacre on July 15, 1583. They were beatified on February 4, 1893, by Pope Leo XIII.
Another distinguished parish priest Dom Custodio Pinho, understood to have run away from his home in Verna in childhood, was the second Goan Bishop, after Dom Matheus de Castro. Pinho came to Bijapur and finally settled in Bicholim, which then was a part of the Bijapur kingdom, which the Marathas had captured. In 1683, the Maratha warrior Sambhaji welcomed Dom Pinho in his durbar and confided in him a strategy to invade Goa. The news somehow reached the Portuguese ears in Goa. Fearing reprisal from the Marathas despite his innocence, Dom Pinho sought sanctuary in Goa. He served Christ well and breathed his last on April 14, 1697, and lies buried in the Church of St John the Baptist.
Jesuit Thomas Stevens (1549-1619), the writer of the revered work Christ Purana, was a parish priest here from 1599. In an article “The Apostle of Salcete: Fr Thomas Stephens, S.J. (1549- 1619)”, writes Bannalekar John Correia-Afonso, sj, “There are some who think that – through his letter to his father published in Haklyut’s Principal Navigations (1599) – he may have inspired the foundation of the East India Company.”
“Fr Stephens was probably the first European to master an Indian language so as to be able to write it correctly and with style. He is reputed to have learnt the lingua canarim (Konkani) to perfection, and also to have written elegant Marathi,” Fr Correia-Afonso adds.
The copious list compiled by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas from Saligao, who is a virtual directory of all Goan priests, has 259 priests of Benaulim, the birthplace of Blessed Jose Vaz. Vaz was born at Pulvaddo and was ordained deacon by Bishop Custodio de Pinho, and finally declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II at Colombo, Sri Lanka, on January 21, 1995.
Among the pioneers, Msgr Herculano Goncalves from Cana-Benaulim is the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters, Handmaids of Christ, and the Congregation of St Alex, Calangute. The Little Flower of Jesus Schools at Sonapur (Mumbai) and Calangute are the fruits of his pioneering efforts. Oratorians Fr Vicente Pereira (Rector of Rachol Seminary), Fr Jeronimo Michael, Fr Floriano Mascarenhas and Fr Joao Salvador Moniz were missionaries in Sri Lanka towards the second decade of the 19th century. Among the notable Jesuits in recent years figure Fr Mario de Meireles (Rector of Loyala High School in Margao and St Britto’s High School in Mapusa) and Fr Parmananda Roque Correia Afonso Divarkar, Director of the Newman Institute of Religion and Culture, Principal of Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, Vice- Chancellor of Jesuit Ecclesiastical Faculties in India, Assistant to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus in Rome, the Consultor to the Secreteriate for Christian Unity in Rome and a reputed writer.
Fr John Correia Afonso was the Principal of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, Director of Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture in Mumbai, Provincial of the Bombay Province of the Society of Jesus, Secretary General of the Society of Jesus in Rome and has several publications to his credit.
Among others, Msgr Alfredo dos Augustias Mesquita was the Rector of Saligao Seminary, Chantre Antonio Jose Caetano da Cruz Fernandes was the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman (1972-1994). Under his care, the Novo Korar (New Testament) was available in Konkani in 1974 and the work of translating the Old Testmant is underway. Fr Manuel Pascoal Gomes is the rector of Saligao-Pilerne Minor Seminary.
Having persons of the calibre of Dr Jorge Barreto, the President of the Camara Municipal of Salcete in 1910 and a local philathropist, did help to usher in social institutions. Dr Froilano de Mello, a scientist of international fame, founded the Macasana Leprosarium. Francisco Correia-Afonso who had graduated at the Oxford University was one of the few Asian members of the Oxford Society. Victor Froilano Buchman D’Mello is a consulting engineer in Brazil and Maj Gen (Retd) Benjamin Rodrigues participated in the Bangladesh war.
The Divine Providence Convent at Cana-Benaulim was set up in 1968 in the house of Dr Lourenco de Almeida, by the Franciscan Hospitaler Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. The benevolent, social institution caters to aged men and women. In 1987, the Salesians started the “Blessed Jose Vaz Animation Centre”, in a house donated by Julio Furtado. The Centre serves Goa in the spheres of catechetical animation, youth pastoral work, vocational guidance and recruitment. The Salesian Sisters appeared in Benaulim and started the St Francis Xavier Convent in 1990 for girls, and in 1994 started the Auxilium Convent School.
However, the Holy Trinity Educational Society founded by Fr Saturnino Antao in 1953, is a premier institution which runs a school, junior college and a RDA sponsored training centre. It is privileged to be the second Goan school to be recognised by the then Maharashtra SSCE Board and has the rare distinction of being one of the first boarding schools for boys as well as girls.
Besides the flourishing coconuts trade and fishing, Benaulim has a prawn hatchery since 1992. The 12 million seeds the hatchery produced were supplied to 34 pisciculture farms in Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It is a rare government undertaking to show profits to the tune of Rs.35 lakh in 1995-96. However, the hatchery faces a closure following the Supreme Court ruling last year over pisciculture and the subsequent ban on prawn farms. The government cannot even afford to disburse the wages of the 30-odd work force.
Politically, the people of this village seem to have a mind of their own and despite being predominantly Christian have kept the Congress party at arms length and elected candidates like Churchill Alemao and Joaquim Alemao for the Goa State Assembly. The reason perhaps is the football excites them like nothing else and the Churchill brothers have been the patrons of South Goa soccer.
Henceforth, tourism brochures will proudly boast of the significant fact that Benaulim, where mythical Parashuram’s arrow fell, was indeed a blessed land because a saint was born there. As PP Shirodkar says in Etymology of Village and Place, Names of Goa, “The word Banali is derived from Banvalli or Banhalli, i.e. a village covered by forest. The name has nothing to do with the arrow of the mythological Parashurama which is the belief prevailing in Goa.” Or will the government always lurk behind smokesreens and myths, unable to harness the bounties of the tourist surge?
JOEL D’SOUZA Lyrics & Music of Mando: Inocenti Mujem Vido
By: Mestre Joao Antonio (Jantu)
Inocenti mujem vido/Inocenti amchem vido
Sacrificar kortam tuka,
Mujem kallizo re ugottam
Poilem entrad tuka ditam.
Papan, maman tuka vinchilolo
Mhaka Devanum nirmilolo,
To Devan nirmilolo,
Aji amim Sakramentu zoddilo,
Ekott sagrd amcho zalo!
Aji dissu re sucacho
Sorgari uzvadd noketrancho,
Beijo tuka ditam re mogacho,
Ulas ghalun sontosacho.
Sol do sol do,
Mim re mim,
Mogan bounya amim.
Bibliography: Souvenir of the 4th Centenary of St John the Baptist Church, Benaulim (1596-1996).