Croats Return to Gandaulim nostalgically, by Joel D’souza

Croats Return to Gandaulim Nostalgically

Zoravka Matisic, a Croatian scholar studying Sanskrit in India, chanced upon historical records that Croatians once lived in Gandaulim, a village set amidst sylvan surroundings just about 3 kms from Old Goa. Matisic came down to widen her knowledge. At the Rua de Ourem archives, she came upon an artistic sketch of the entrance of the Gaudelupchar fort and from the Bishops Palace she came to know the location of the site of her search.

Moments of ecstasy awaited her at Gandaulim when she saw that the church of Sao Braz , a small chapel built in June 1541 and elevated to a parish church in 1563 by Archbishop D Frei Alexio de Menezes (1595-1607). The petite church resembled so much the church of Svete Vlaho (Sao Braz) in Dubrovnic in her country.

Her painstaking research motivated the visit of a 15-member Parliamentary delegation from the Republic of Croatia, accompanied by Ambassador Zoran Andric, to the quaint little Gandaulim village on April 1. Braz Silveira, a dynamic member of the parish council told me,The Croatians might have come to this village as merchants or brought to Goa by the Portuguese to build ships. They have been brought here this time, centuries later, by emotional ties with their past.

Gandaulim was quite prosperous then. About 772 Hindus from Banastarim and Gandaulim are said to have been baptised by 1559. The Gaudelupchar hardly exists. There was even a palace designed by the Croatians. The plague that destroyed Old Goa also had the people of Gandaulim fleeing for their life across the river to the islands of St Estevam and Cumbarjua.

Says Zoran Andric, the Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia, who accompanied the delegation, We are proud of this visit keeping in mind that the church was built by our ancestors from Dubrovnic. Prof Mastics information prompted this visit led by the vice president of the Croatian parliament Vladimir Seks and the members of the television and press. The church is a replica of the thrice larger church in Dubrovnik and even the altar is similar.

Silvija Luks-Kaloggera, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, told GoaNOW, More important is the palace down there, also said to be built by Croatians 400 years ago. I am very proud that a high-power delegation has visited the place.

What is worth noting is that scientific work is not completed because there are two theories: one says that it was built by Dubrovnic, and the other that the people from Dubrovnic who arrived here in 1630, when Goa was occupied by the Portuguese, built or rebuilt the church. The design on the left side of the wall of the church proves that such architecture does not exist here. This is more or less a replica of the church of Svete Vlaho in Dubrovnik. The people of Gandaulim and Kumbarjua celebrate the feast of St Braz exactly on the 3rd of February like the people in Dubrovnic.

Silvija added,People here believe that there was a town, which disappeared after the plague except for a 400-year-old palace. We dont know whether the people of Dubrovnic left at the time of the plague in the 18th century. There was a very great man known as Vice Bune, whose grave is in Croatia near Dubrovnic. He was a merchant and a shipbuilder. At that time, the people from Dubrovnic were the best shipbuilders in the world as they are till today.

She also said, The question is why the church of Sao Braz is not a part of the UNESCO heritage sites. However, with the joint action of the Indian and the Croatian government we will try to create awareness that our history was linked even 400 years back. The aesthetic entrance to the town, through the Gandaulim fort wall, was demolished a few years ago to widen the approach road to the Gandaulim-Kumbarjua ferry.

There is every possibility that the friendly Croats will consider to adopt the church and perhaps some of the heritage elements there for the purpose of conservation in course of time, according to Silvija Luks-Kalogjera.

“Pray for us, and we pray for you too,” remarked one lovely delegate to the enthusiastic, young boys and girls who played host to the Europeans at the ramshackle parish house. The ambassador and quite a few of the delegates were sitting on the parish priest’s bed, posing for a photograph. Hardly had the camera shutter closed, the bed collapsed with a large groan and they had to get up hurriedly. Fortunately, the parish priest doesn’t live there anymore. He comes from Old Goa.

Speaker Tomazinho Cardozo, who welcomed the delegation to Goa and accompanied them to Gandaulim and Old Goa, says, The very fact that they flew across such a vast distance to have a look at the tiny church and the village, shows the emotional attachment of the Croatians to Goa.

The members of the delegation wanted to know from Speaker Tomazinho as to what sort relations exist between Hindus and Catholics and whether people from the two communities intermarry, about spread of education in the village, etc. He explained everything to their satisfaction. They were also fascinated by the tropical trees like the jackfruit, mango, coconut and banana.

While conversing, they arrived at the largest house, about 400 years old, in which once lived Francis de Sa, Captain of the Fort of Gandaulim. Jose de Sa and his family live there now. His lovely daughter Sonali showed us the interior of the palatial mansion, which lies just about a hundred metres from the ferry, or at the beginning of the Rua das Flores.

Here Branimir Farkas of the Croatian Television interviewed Silvija Luks-Kalogjera, followed by Braz Silveira, in the foreground of the 400-year-old rustic house. The sleepy village was agog with excitement with so many foreigners arriving there since the departure of the Portuguese. Things are looking up now for the close-knit, largely Catholic village of about 500 people after the Croat visit. There is so much history buried amidst the ruins, and ruins do draw curious visitors to odd places.

gnJoel D’Souza