A Glorious Past
Goa Velha – literally meaning Old Goa, being already old when the present named Old Goa or Velha Goa was still young and flourishing, is a historically rich village. It was once the capital and the seat of government in Goa. This capital city was built by Sanapulla, the founder of the South Konkan Silahara dynasty, who reigned from 765 AD. The Shilaharas ruled from 765 AD to 1020 AD. Their overthrow was followed by the rule of the Kadambas. According to the famous historian Dr A S Altekar, this city was called Gopakapattana in the epic Mahabarata. It was known as Govapuri or Gove in the epic Ramayana, which goes on to say that whoever casts a glance over the holy city of Govapuri gets his sins cleansed.
On the north bank of the Zuari River, lies the ancient Govapuri or Gopakkapttana later Gova, founded in 1054 by the Kadamba ruler Jayakeshi I. He moved his capital here from Chandrapura – now Chandor in Salcete – to exercise more control over the movement of maritime traffic through the busy harbour. Import duties and taxes creamed off this lucrative trade (in Arabian horses, Chinese shells and South-East Asian epics) financed the construction of sumptuous palaces, temples and a well planned city with its own charitable institutions. Today there are no vestiges of these once glorious constructions.
The city of Govapuri was connected to the sea, through a five kilometre long, laterite stone built port, accessible to ships for trade. The outer wall of this port is still visible even today at low tide from Karossai in Goa Velha through Mascarenhas Vaddo, Danddo, and leading to Agassaim along the Zuari River. Through various commercial contacts this kingdom grew rich and prospered. The period of prosperity survived till the city fell prey to the Muslim invasions from 1313 AD onwards. First it was Malik Kapur, Allaudin Khilji’s general from Delhi who looted it, then the soldiers of Muhammad Bin-Tughlag, the mad Sultan in 1342 and finally, according to an account left by Ibn Batuta an Arab traveller, Jamal-ud-din of Honawar under the command of Ibn Batuta himself, in 1345, attacked it and razed its palaces and temples to the ground,. However due to silting of the river this port was found too shallow for the steadily increasing volume of traffic. It was then that Old Goa, near the mouth of the river Mandovi, got the status of a major port. The capital had already been shifted there in 1380.
The Bahamani Muslims conquered Goa in 1469. However their conquest was short lived. Ten years later it broke up when three of its noblemen by common assent decided to divide the kingdom among themselves. One of them was Yusuf Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur and Goa came under his jurisdiction.
The Adilshahi’s were not to hold Goa for long and were driven out by the Portuguese in 1510. Meanwhile, the glory of Govapuri faded away into the pages of history. Today Vhoddlem Goem or (Goa Velha) is just another roadside village which lies approximately 10 kms south east of Panjim in Tiswadi Taluka, spread over an area of 1012.96 hectares. Travelling along National Highway 17, one knows one has reached Goa Velha, when the vehicle is forced to slow down to negotiate a bottleneck created by the village market on one side and the trademark cross on the other side of the highway.
Past its heyday, Goa Velha went from a capital city to a fishing and farming village, known particularly for its sweet potatoes. Today, however, most of its inhabitants are engaged in the service sector, with the traditional occupations becoming secondary. Lured by the petrodollar, many of the village youth have migrated to the gulf. With a population of around 5,800, the village appears to have all the amenities of a small town. In recent years several constructions have come up in the village. Commenting on the increasing modernisation, an elderly man of the village reminisces, “Our village was once a beautiful span of lush greens,” and laments that, “nowadays it appears to be coming closer to being a mass of bricks and stones rather than a luxurious expanse of rice fields and palm groves.” Nevertheless, for the city dweller, this statement may appear far from the truth, for in spite of the recent developments, Goa Velha continues to be a welcome sight of verdant farmlands along the highway. The view from the Pilar hill is particularly fascinating.
Established by the Capuchins in 1613, the Pilar Monastery still flourishes as an important religious and educational centre for Christian missionaries. Apparently, the seminary occupies the site of an ancient Shiva temple, the Goveshwar Mandir, from which, it is believed, the name Goa has been derived. Within the seminary orchards are the remains of a water tank, which probably served the temple.
Fragments of pottery and temple sculpture unearthed on the site are informatively displayed in the seminary museum, along with a couple of palm leaf manuscripts, a copy of the first Marathi translations of Gospels and ancient coins, among other valuable exhibits. The church of Our Lady of Pilar is a fine example of 17th century architecture and contains relics of Ven Agnelo D’Souza. Apart from the well preserved church, museum and seminary, the Pilar society, which belongs to the Mission Society of St Francis Xavier, runs an industrial training centre and a Niketan for orphan boys.
At the foot of the Pilar hill stands PAP (Provedoria de Assitencia Publica), the Provedoria’s home for poor and destitute girls. Near PAP lies the bathing pond of the Kadamba queens called Kuzmoraychen Tollem. Besides orphanages, Goa Velha also has a home for the old and aged – Ishaprema.
A predominantly Catholic village, Goa Velha is marked by many crosses and chapels besides the striking church of St Andrew, which hosts a unique procession of saints. Borne on the shoulders of local devotees, the 28 or so life size statues of saints are paraded around the church, which is also the village parish church, on the fifth Monday in lent. The only other place in the world where such a procession takes place is Rome. In the 19th century, the procession at Goa Velha featured 65 statues. As the procession moves through the streets people line up to run under the palanquins on which the saint is carried as a manner of seeking the saint’s favour. The parade is essentially a solemn affair. Hundreds of villagers and visitors gather around to take part in the parade.
A little ahead of the church is the Community Hall (Casa de Povo) which doubles up as venue for various functions and wedding celebrations.
Yet another important place of worship is the St Anthony’s Chapel, located in the ward of the same name. According to a legend, during the reign of King Luis of Portugal, a Portuguese nobleman. Dom Antonio de Melo was travelling along the old road which extended from Goa Velha to Old Goa in his carriage when he came across an image of St Anthony lying hidden in a coconut tree log. The nobleman was blind and he is said to have prayed to the saint to restore his sight, promising to build a chapel in return for this favour. His prayers were answered and soon a chapel was erected at the same spot where it stands, now. Since then a number of miracles have been experienced by the faithful who come here, to honour the saint and seek his blessings.
History, sanctity and music.. Goa Velha has it and more. Football is one of them. Goa Velha is the home of the likes of Elvis Mendes, Miguel Miranda, Lucian Camila and Vishant Pednekar Some of Goa’s best footballers. “Football is a popular sport among us,” says a village youth and an aspiring footballer.
Walking through the historical village lanes, on a hot summer day, I observed many groups of men and boys playing cards almost everywhere in the village. ‘Could a game of cards be a common pastime for the village folk or was there more to it than met the eye? I wondered! Anyway, vice or lies, the men looked so content and engrossed with their play that I didn’t have the heart to disturb them.
The numerous bars and upcoming restaurants in the village is only one of the characteristics which lend it that typical Goan touch. Not forgetting the susegad attitude of the villagers which is all to obvious in the village bazaar. Situated just in front of a local bus stop, the bazaar, is for most part, a lively fish market. Early in the morning the garrulous, buxom fish wives gather here with their baskets laden with fish. Calling out shrilly to passers by. These women present a perfect picture of Goan life. By noon, the market is deserted as the women retire to their homes for a little bit of suseg until late evening when they are back.
Like a mosaic, Goa Velha is not just play and song. Apart from a few fabrication units and garages there is also a small soda and soft drink factory of Smith Drinks and an Ice Factory – Ice Kings – in the village.
Besides having schools – a hospital, pharmacies, gas station, police station, post office and banking facilities, the village also has goldsmith and jewellery stores, beauty parlour, clothes boutique and more. There is even a small plant nursery of indoor and ornamental plants that is run by two brothers -Djanjo and Danny Pires in the village. The Pereira brothers, owners of Paulo Travels, who are famous in transport business in Goa, come from here. In the past, Goa Velha was famous for Ayurveda. In fact one of the village wards – Zuari – comprised mostly of experts in ayurvedic medicines and the treatment of broken bones and hence they were known as Zuarioilo dotor. However there is not much left of this trade, today.
A piece on Goa Velha is not complete without a mention of Chamunda Devi. The deity is worshipped as the Gramdevi or village goddess. A small idol of the goddess was installed in the house of the Zuarkar family, almost 75 years ago, for daily dharshan as the main temple of the goddess is in Bicholim.
Lately a small temple dedicated to the goddess has been built in the village. But on auspicious occasions, the worshippers continue to go to the temple in Bicholim, for adoration.
On Akshaytritiya, the deity kept in the Zuarkar household is put in an assembled palki (palanquin) and taken in a procession to the building of the Marathi School of the Chemunda Samaj in Goa Velha. It is followed by a three day cultural programme. Akshaytritiya was the day when the Marathi primary school results were declared in olden times.
Among the prominent families of the village are the Kenis, Zuarkars and Menezes. The few large and old houses scattered about in the village are mostly owned by these families. The beautiful colonial-style architecture of the houses that belong to the Menezes clan, specifically Solar Menezes or Menezes Mansion, the main ancestral house of the family is very impressive. Late Dr Maximo de Menezes, who held various important posts under the Portuguese regime including – vice president of Panjim Municipality and Administrator of the Communidades of Goa and his cousin late Justice Tito Menezes, the first Goan to be appointed as judicial commissioner, are among the well known sons of the soil.
Although a place greatly connected to history, Goa Velha now looks entirely dissected from its fascinating past, and yet if you should search beneath the soil, you may just unearth another aspect of its glorious history.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Late Narsimha Naik – Renowned Ayurvedic Doctor
Late Justice Tito Menezes – First Goan Judicial Commissioner
Late Dr Maximo Menezes – Former Administrator of the Communidades of Goa
Late Jamardhan Pai Kane – Well Known social worker
Vishwanath Lawande – Founder of Azad Gomantak Dal, Freedom fighter
Narayan Palekar – Freedom Fighter
Shivram Salgaoncar – Freedom Fighter
Dr Carmo Pegado – Minister
Somnath Zuarkar – Minister for Corporation
Teotonio Pereira – Former MLA, St Andre
Dr Fernando de Menezes – Retd Medical Superintendent chief Medical Officer of Chicalim Cottage Hospital,Vasco.
Gurudas Zuarkar – Retd Dy. SP
Prakash Gaunekar – Director of Provedoria
Ramkrishna Zuarkar – Renowned Konkani writer & Poet
– A Goa Today Article