To the North of Bardez, sprawls the village of Nerul caressed by the warm waters of the Mandovi river on one side and bottle-green hillocks on the other. Nerul belongs to Goa’s age-old resort belt, where Portuguese fidalgos holidayed in sweet seclusion amidst the rustling of the tall coconut trees and the splashing surf, long before modern tourism took shape.
The vast belt, where the affluent would retire for summer mudança then, extended right from Pomburpa to Verem-Reis Magos and Nerul. Close to Nerul’s waterfront stood holiday homes like the palatial residence of the Bishop of Halicarnasso, D. Antonio José de Noronha, who was born in June 1763, in Goa Velha, of Portuguese settlers. The Mosmikar House at Darnarim and Joe D’Souza’s mansion at Fortavaddo also reflected old glory.
In course of time, locals too came under the spell of sea-side picnics and salt-water baths in summer. At the lovely Quegdevelim beach, which runs all the way from Sinquerim to Reis Magos, we met sprightly Felix Morreira. Felix says, “Hundreds of people used to flock here once, particularly in summer. At that time, there were no roads to reach here and people used to come walking with bags loaded with drinks and eats. But the place is transforming with all these hotels coming to spoil the serene surroundings abounding in these palm groves. Most of these large properties here belong to the Panvelkars of Ribandar.”
Until the riverine road came up, all that we heard about the village was Nil’lichem nistem and Nil’licheo xinnaneo at the Mapusa bazaar. People fall for the fish and mussels when they hear Nil’lichem nistem, rarely aware where exactly the special village called Nil’la i.e. Nerul lies. Few have visited enthralling, beach-blessed Nerul proper. There’s probably no more ideal setting than this village, lazing comfortably at the confluence where Mandovi river and the sea merge, giving a velvety perspective to a picnic beneath tall palms, whose fronds open up to the sky like giant, swaying umbrellas. You just can’t depart from here at sunset.
There’s no dearth of tasty seafood at the restaurants and shacks lining the seductive riverside of panoramic Nerul, popularly called Nil’la or Nirla . The river is laced with the fishing community. Hindus live at the far west at Firgueam bhatt, where the tiny docking place has nearly 50 boats, many with outboard motors. Travelling West, at the famed Coco beach and into Quegdevelim, the settlement is more Christian.
Before the Portuguese renamed it Nerul, the idyllic village was known as Nellur. The late Ricardo Micael Teles defines the etymology as nell (rice) and ur (village) in his booklet Freguesia de Nerul (1925). Nuzzling at the mouth of the Mandovi river, Nerul shares borders with the historic village of Verem-Reis Magos in the East. The Sinquerim river separates Nerul from Candolim and adds riverine charm as it curves gently inland to halt at the Verem manos (dyke).
Modern Nerul accommodates a population of over 6000, living along the banks, fringing the Mandovi bay. The villagers grow rice, groundnuts and vegetables but the village is famous for Nirlacheo xevtalleo, tisreo , groundnuts and water-melons. Moved by its charming environs, Konkani novelist Reginald Fernandes set one of his several novels on this dated village, which possesses some timeworn mansions and the Church of Our Lady of Remedies, which is as old as Goa’s Christianity. Founded in 1569, the church with an antique architectural style figures among the last works in Bardez by the Franciscan Order before their expulsion by the Portuguese. It treasures some old paintings on wooden panels and on walls.
According to Telles, Nerul was one of the most thickly populated villages of Bardez once. Around the 16th century, following conversions, the entire population was virtually Catholic. Many Hindus, however, deserted their homes to evade Christianity. They took along the Shantadurga deity and installed it in a shrine at Mandrem in Pernem. With the return of religious tolerance and after a lot of appeals to the Portuguese government, Nerulkars succeeded in bringing Shantadurga home in 1921. They reinstated the idol at a spacious temple situated where Nerul and Verem meet. The original Shantadurga temple was near the church.
According to the hearsay, when Veremkars wanted to lift the idol it mysteriously gained weight and refused to budge. It was only when a Nerulkar lent a hand that they managed to move it. From that day onwards the goddess is being invoked as Shantadurga Nirlikarin. Temples of Santeri, Kshetrapall, Ravalnath and Vetall also existed here once upon a time. Now new temples have been built for Sakleshwar at Moddlovaddo, Owaleshwar at Firngibatt and Dadeshwar at Fortavado. There is a resurgence of the Hindu community whereas Catholic strength has dwindled to merely about 1000 residents.
Education in Nerul was pioneered by a parochial school funded by the Communidade. The early syllabus included music and even Latin was taught in this school for some time in 1850. The school turned out alumni of the brilliant calibre of the late Fr. Caetano do Rosario Vales, founder of the vicarage of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) and later Canon and Mestre-Escola See of Goa. Latin must have been a pet subject then because even Fr Manoel Salvador de Sousa, from Anjuna, taught it at the Fortavaddo Chapel from 1891-95.
The first official primary school emerged in 1912 at the Communidade hall. Hypolito Vales too was running an English primary school at his residence upto 1932. The present Our Lady of Remedies High School is housed in the parish building and is run by the Mission Sisters of Ajmer since 1963.
Advocate and salt merchant Govinda S. Orty alongwith Vaman B.S. Bhobe had also established a Marathi school. However, almost a century earlier, Ramachandra Kamat Chandragadkar and his brother Apa taught Sanskrit for the children of Nerul and Verem at Dharwadkar and Chimmulkar residences. According to Upendra P. Dharwadkar, former media planner of Hindustan Thomson Associates, this fact is contained in a manuscript written by one Mrs Chimulkar of Verem.
Of the 39 village communities of early Bardez, Nerul once belonged to the group of villages whose gaunkarias or communidade were composed entirely of non-Brahmin vangods or clans. There were many Dessais in the village, who on conversion became Fernandes. As Nerul was sparsely populated people from neighboring Pilerne migrated to Nerul. Among them were masons and Carambolkars who were experts at building dykes to reclaim khazan land for agriculture. Probably the Pilerne migrants introduced the display of Almam (the wooden skeletons representing the dead) for requiem services and on All Souls Day. Fr. Moreno de Souza, SJ, who refers to this in Nel’luchim Xirputtam , says that the church stopped this queer practice sometime in 1886-1890.
It must have been quite a multi-cultural society during that time. Around 1688, Nerul had Africans, who served the local Portuguese aristocracy. The first inhabitant of Nerul, however, is said to be a person called Mor (peacock). A Mor family still lives here. “Among the Hindus, there are Dharwadkars in Nerul but they do not hail from Dharwar in Karnataka. They were originally Dharvontkars — people at the darvontto (gate),” says Upendra P. Dharwadkar.
The Marathas, who would invade Bardez time and again, had set their eyes on this idyllic village and its agricultural wealth. But Nerulkars and their parish priest fooled them. They felled two big coconut trees and placed the solid, round trunks atop the church portico, well within the enemy’s sight. When the Maratha soldiers drew close, the Nerulkars burst khozne, which are traditionally fired during the village feast. This spread utter confusion in the invading ranks, who thought that they were being fired at by giant canons, and turned tail.
“When the time came to drive away the Portuguese, I participated with PP Shirodkar and Gajanan Gantkar in the prabhat feri in 1950 from Nerul to Verem. About 150 of us participated, all wearing white caps. I played the violin and the participants sang patriotic songs to its accompaniment,” says 79-year-old Dharwadkar, a multi-faceted personality.
Nerul, being tucked in a corner of Bardez, had remained obscure until the bridge connecting it to Candolim across the Sinquerim river, arrived about four years ago. The bridge has curtailed the travelling distance between Paynim and Candolim, and Nerul is now a tourist highway to North Goa.
Nerul is connected by a good road network. Aventine Nellur begins at the crowded Verem Bazar passes through Tinttovaddo with its small tea-shops and tavernas . The road winds its way to Candolim across the scenic bridge, from where one can see the Candolim church across the water-logged mangroves to the North. A slight, but worthwhile, detour is along the beautiful beach front on the Nerul-Reis Magos road.
The feast of the patroness Our Lady of Remedies is celebrated in November with great pomp. Young girls and boys busy themselves at the fancy fete in the extensive church compound and a tiatr is a must in the evening. In a quaint tradition for the feast of the cross at Bhattier among green fields and salt pans, in May, they hold a ladainha after which they serve mango, jackfruit and tisreo xakuti to the gathering.
Depending upon which community they belong to and where they live, the villagers call themselves Nerulkars, Nirlikars, Nerulnenses or Nerulites. They cherish their folklore and one music-minded man has even composed a mando on his beloved village. Enterprising Stanley D’Silva, who is in and out of several community-related activities in the village, sings mandos soulfully along with wife Julie.
The village has an impressive roll of honour, led by the late Pedro Luis Gonzaga, who was courtmartialled and shot in the Conspiracy of the Pintos. The late Fr. Caetano do Rosario Valles had founded of the vicarage of Lourenço Marques and was Mestre-Escola See of Goa. The late Dr. Sergio Antonio do Rosario Valles was a renowned Chief Civil Surgeon in Burma, the late Purshottam Dharwadkar a former Chief of Survey Department, the late Gopal Krishna Bhobe a Marathi litterateur and the late John Santos the first Asian Accountant General of Bombay Province under the British rule
They excelled in sports. The late Joe D’Mello was a Hockey Olympian, F.X. D’Souza was a reputed boxer and a football referee and Fenelon D’Souza earned fame as a football. Manuel Souza was an industrialist in Lorenzo Marques, Vaman B.S. Bhobe a prominent businessman, and P.P. Dharwadkar an architectural consultant and writer and holder of National Unity Award 1995. Today many know Dr. Digamber Naik, MD and triple gold medallist at GMC, Bombay, who has set up the Vrindavan Hospital in Mapusa. We can’t forget Isaac Pinto, the violinist and film musician. Journalist Pamela D’Mello’s father, the late Victor D’Mello was a prominent musician and member of the Bombay Madrigal Singers.
The young and old seem to be a talented lot, particularly portly Ms Vimal Dhabolkar (58) of Tinttovaddo, an exponent of dhalo, fugddi and bhajans. The mellifluous singer of Marathi hit Gadi Chal’lali Ghungarachi, Hi Vatt Bai Dongarachi , has performed in several places all over the country along with her troupe and quite often appeared on the local television.
Realizing the immense tourism potential of the bewitching sands fringed by lush palm groves, and the glorious window-view it offers of Panjim’s Campal on the opposite bank, builders and hoteliers have already begun laying the lines for a concrete jungle.
The tide is flowing in Nerul, as it wakes up to a new horizon or turning towards the waters. The Indian Navy has set up a sailor training establishment by acquiring 92 hectares of Communidade land for Rs.70.5 lakh and the naval presence has lent an all-India colour to the local demography. Moreover, the government plans to privatize the neighboring Reis Magos Fort to cash in on the tourism boom. The historic fortress could be a star-resort with a panoramic view of Panjim. There are plans for a Rs.10 crore-ropeway. This development augurs well for the picnic ambience of the hitherto ignored village, whose latest attraction is the Coco Beach. Of course, with foreigners stalking the beach it may be rather difficult to say “coco as in coconut because it quite possible it may end up into the “coco” as in cocaine.
At the Firgueam bhatt, there are nearly 50 fishing boats readying for take off as soon as the monsoon drives away. Amidst the fishing environment, of small houses crowding together with virtually every house having a cattle-shed, there is a swanky residence of a Parsi from Delhi. Many outsiders are seeking land for residences in the idyllic surroundings. “You see even these hills are now cut to build houses and rich villas without a care for nature or surroundings. Even these palm-groves will be devoured by constructions very soon, I am sure,” said an elderly woman pointing at the hill with pain and displeasure reflecting in her aging eyes.
Goan villages are losing their original identity fast. Nerul too is likely to shed the natural charm it has been endowed with by providence. The simple agricultural or fishing folk still has the calf and the piggling darting across the narrow roads, children playing in the sand inocently and men mending fishing nets and women busy at household chores. But the ideal setting and the riverine quiet, soothed by the sound of the breakers, is now getting disturbed by the incoming tide of urbanisation, which may usher in prosperity but at a price.