A village steeped in ethnicity, which inspired the Goan mando…Siole dongra sokolu…Siolim abounds with talent and exhuberance. The fascinating village treasures age-old traditions, to which they keep adding more and more.

Does Bardez begin in Siolim, one of Goa’s most bewitching northern villages, snugly ensconced in the verdant, palm-bedecked bank of the Chapora river, whose tributary sails right up to the Church of St Anthony? Even the image of the village patron, St Anthony of Padua, had been washed ashore via this picturesque waterway, they say. So also silt and civilization sailed up the river and settled along its banks, burgeoning their fertility in more ways than one.

To Siolim’s North lies sleepy Oxel; green hillocks hedge it towards Assagao in the South and the East; Camurlim too lies to its East, and in the West flows serenely the Chapora river with Morjim and its pine-wooded beach on the northern bank in Pernem.

The early settlers rowed up the river with their material possessions as well as the valuable nuggets of their ethnic culture. They farmed the bountiful waters for fish–xetkeo, tope and kallanduram in the ponds, and burantte, sangttam and mullets in the water-logged fields from Bankarvaddo till the end of Gaunsavaddo (along the Fonde Poim rivulet). They could farm the extensive fields for paddy cultivation only during the dry season.

Though the quest of greener pasture moved them deeper inland, quite a bit of the ethnicity lay strewn around in Siuli, the ancient nomenclature of Siolim, a village blest. Its natural bounty comprises mineral water springs like Ozor at Marna-Gholant, Rumbddachi Zhor at Sodiem, Poneachi Zhor and Agua do Ferro, besides those at Marna, Sonarkhett and Vaddi.

The old and the new, rich and the poor, co-exist very congenially in the extensive village, which accommodates two panchayats–the Siolim-Marna panchayat with a population of about 13,000 spread over an area of 1403.8 hectares, and Siolim-Sodiem panchayat with a population of about 9,000 spread over 1119.7 hectares. It has two Comunidades as well–Siolim and Marna–and two parishes–Siolim and Tropa.

Luxuriant villas sprawl in the languid countryside, particularly at Bamonvaddo and Portavaddo. Houses of Gopal Yeshwant Thally, Vithu Naik, Dr Ramnath Naik and Burye in Bamonvaddo, Pandurang Moye at Tarchi Bhatt, Pandurang Agarvaddekar in Modhlo Vaddo, Devraj Shirodkar in Guddem, Devras Naik in Soddiem and the 100-year-old house of Trivikrama Thally at Xell, rank among the major Hindu mansions in the vast village.

The decor of the Catholic section differs a bit when one views the houses of Philip Oliveira, Mosmikar, Pascoal Joao Gomes (Doriavont Bhattkar) and Antonio D’Sa at Vaddi, of Antonio Athaide Lobo at Sonarkhett, and of Cipriano Barreto, Remo Fernandes, Wolfango, Justiano, Bento Jose Fernandes at Fornavaddo or Fernandes Vaddo.

render (toddy-tapper), in the bhatkar’s coconut groves, in tiny palm-thatched houses if not in tile-roofed ones. The cool sea breeze fans a fantastic communal rapport between the Hindu and the Christian, who not only join in each others festivity but also join together to celebrate the traditional Guddem Zagor, on the third day of the Siolim’s feast of Nossa Senhora de Guia, on the first Sunday after Christmas. The feast of the patron–St Anthony of Padua–is celebrated in June. June 24 is a memorable day in Siolim when the entire village is agog with the feast of St John the Baptist.

Siolim’s unique Guddem Zagor used to be pregnant with terrific ethnic colour and spice once, when rustic singers sang the zupatteo, songs criticising wrongs quite openly, publicly, fearlessly. Hindus and Catholics still join in the zagor performance, which has sobered down a lot now. It culminates with a Konkani tiatr. In the course of time came the famed rockstar, Remo Fernandes, to ancestral Siolim. Remo lent his own peculiar charm to the noctural event, singing traditional Konkani songs in a cultured voice like the one they had rarely heard, and playing the flute to regale audiences, which his presence swelled further.

Fishing is the mainstay of a sizable section of the riverine population. The fishing belt extends from the mouth of the Chapora river upto Oxel, a glistening expanse on which fishing trawlers chug continuously in quest of a catch.

The fishing community laces the Chapora river banks, particularly at Guddem in the West, where one spots toddy-tappers clambering up the coconut trees with the dudkem hanging by the waist-string and sharp, shining kati in hand. The whole palm-fringed area from the small beach inland once belonged to Lube Tavora, the only Portuguese still living in Goa. Lube (Don Augusto de Noronha e Tavora)…of the once famous ‘Kitem Fine’ football team of Siolim, and Life-time President of the Football Club of Siolim–founded in 1952. Another great benefactor FC Siolim saw in recent year was Edward Carvalho, who unexpectedly expired last year.

Siolim is famous for fish, shell-fish, feni and phenomenal talent for soccer and hockey. Hockey internationals Gregory, Olimpio, Edgar and Egbert Fernandes and international hockey referee Domnick J Fernandes have done India proud. Marie (Simoes) Mendonca captained the Indian hockey team, represented India at the first and 2nd Asian Games in Delhi and Manila respectively in athletics and in 1956 wore Indian colours at the Melbourne Olympics. At the national level, Peter Fernandes (Vasco Club), and star player Franco and goalkeeper Caetano Fernandes (both of Dempo) earned honours for Siolim.

The natural waterways etch bewitching patterns across the undulating area. They add their own quaint charm, character and perspective, throwing up picturesque river crossings like the one at Tarchi-Bhatt-Chopdem, where the ferry operates. The waterfront is called Tar and is the busiest place, with ferries bringing in loads of people from Chopdem, Morjim, Mandrem, Arambol and Tiracol in Pernem, not only with their rural produce like vegetables and country liquor but a large traffic headed to the rest of Goa. The beachbelt of Goa’s extreme North, particularly Arambol, draws a continuous stream of tourist traffic.

The Siolim-Chopdem bridge, coming up on the Chapora river since several years, never seems to get completed despite continued government assurances. Of course, when it does, the busy taxi-bus-stand and the fish bazaar at the Tar, where fresh fish is available and wholesalers of feni bring their brew for the early morning sale, may end up into a thing of the past. Says Rajan Fulari, an artist, “The bridge will be another landmark in the village, offering a birds-eye-view of the scenic countryside. It will change the face of the urban setting further.“

One really feels that the silt-grown, lush coconut groves, which harbour the render (toddy-tappers) shouldn’t change. The render community of Siolim is famed for producing Goa’s best maddel (coconut feni). Toddy, to drink or to prepare san’nam for the feast or for vinegar, is found in Siolim. The same folk may double up as part-time cultivators of paddy in the rabi and khariff season, in the slightly interior.

Religious ethos
One passes by so many chapels and shrines, which eventually lead to the magnificent Church of St Anthony, built by the Franciscans in 1568. The Corinthian style church possesses two steeples on the frontispiece and a statue of St Anthony holding a serpent on a leash. Today, one misses the once predominant whiteness of the edifice, which has been painted with a slight yellowish colour, which, however, complements the fiery red of the Mayflowers which bloom in summer.

While browsing the book “Siolim”, written by former Siolim sacristan Sebastian D’Cruz, one reads that the earliest church–Church of Mae de Deus–was at the Sonarkhett hill, wedged between Siolim and Assagao. It was located centrally to serve the spiritual needs of the new converts in the villages of Anjuna, Assagao, Siolim and Oxel. But being situated on the rising hill and probably being a kutcha structure, it survived for merely 32 years, leaving behind the black stone cross at Sonarkhett.

The Gaunsavaddo Chapel of Mae de Deus was constructed in 1847. Earlier the local Christians would attend religious services at the Military chapel at Tropa or Palchovaddo, which was raised to a Church in 1971. This place was well fortified by the Portuguese with police to ward off the Bhosle attacks. Hence the place was nicknamed Tropa.

Gaunsavaddo is quite an important vaddo from the point of culture and demographic composition too. In the predominantly Christian vaddo, three brothers–Ganexa, Zagre and Fonde Gauns–were the first Christian converts, their descendants are Fr Cyriaco, Victor Santana, Dr Cosme and Fr Damiao Fernandes. The most prominent house here is the one of Lobos, where resides the retired Bishop of Belgaum, the Rt Rev Ignatius Lobo. Haven’t we heard of his famed brother, John Lobo, from the first batch of Indian Police Service in 1948, who was the Director, Central Bureau of Intelligence?

In front of the chapel stands the premier educational institution Holy Cross High School, which was a very popular girls convent in Goa, founded by the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross in 1933. However since 1977 it has been converted into a co-ed, with only the boarding restricted for girls. Before this school, the only inter-denomination school was the Desai’s High Schools for boys and girls, started in 1930 by Sadhashiv Desai of Mandrem in the house of Caitanincho Bhattkar (Caetano Gomes) in Bamondvaddo. However, in 1949, Desai shifted the school to Mapusa. The long line of educational institutions begin with the parochial school established in 1907 to teach Konkani, Portuguese, Latin and music. It was followed by the Portuguese government primary school founded in 1852.

The famous St Joseph’s High School in Arpora was initially founded by a minorist William Robert Lyons in 1883 in Siolim and it was shifted to Arpora three years later in 1886. Siolim’s major educational institution–St Francis Xavier’s High School and Higher Secondary School was established at Bamonvaddo by Minguel Antonio D’Souza in 1937. Since it is being run by the Fransalians. Shri Vasant Vidhyalaya at Portavaddo, Keerti Vidyalaya at Raim and Shri Shanta Vidyalaya in Sodiem are the other schools.

Gaunsavaddo possesses a lot of energetic youngsters like popular photo-journalist Alister Miranda. They come up with unique cultural events, Konkani concerts and purely ethnic sports where tonddke-bal, atto, lobio and other competitions are held annually. One traditional event is of a prospective bride, in all her finery and attended by two little angels dressed in pure white, is chosen to crown the imposing statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the chapel compound on May 1, since 1942.

A short distance from the Mae de Deus chapel and the famous Holy Cross Convent, is the new Sateri temple, designed by popular Goan architect Ralino de Souza. It is a venue of the rare event called Divzam, held sometime in May. Come nightfall and the village women come out in all their finery and the traditional lamp to worship the goddess. The afternoon too radiates with crowds and shimmering colours for the grand common meal for the entire village, cooked in seven, large cauldrons.

Siolcars are probably, and rightly too, careful about their health. Even today it’s probably one of Goa’s few villages with more than a dozen doctors. Once upon a time, every one rushed to “Gauddo dotor” and Dr Zeferino de Souza. Patients from the surrounding villages still rush, particularly the elders, to the consulting room of Dr Datta Ramnath Naik, despite the long queue waiting to be healed by him. Dr Frank Pereira, Dr Vinaik Chodankar, Dr Bidhan C Das, Dr Edna Pereira, Dr Ramchandra Naik Bandorkar, Dr Donald D’Souza, Dr Sachin Yeshwant Govekar, Dr Belarmino Ribeiro, Dr Geeta S Govekar, Dr Xavier Fernandes Dr Lalita Fernandes…you can go on listing Siolim’s popular physicians.

The Primary Health Centre Complex of Siolim was inaugurated in October 1988 and it caters to Siolim, Oxel, Camurlim, Badem, Chapora, Vagator, Anjuna, Assagao, Parra, Verla, Canca and even Guirim. Its Paediatric Ward was inaugurated in August 1974.

They also look after their aged well at St Joseph’s Convent and Home, set up by the Sisters of St Joseph of Chambery–Pachmarhi in 1965, in the house donated by Glorianne Fernandes at Portavaddo. At Vaddy there here is the St Mary’s Home for the Aged, run by the Sisters of the Society of St Ursula in a house donated by E Francis in 1965. Orphans and less fortunate girls are cared for by the Holy Cross nuns in Marna who also run a piggery and poultry.

Wednesday Bazaar
It’s in the vicinity of St Anthony’s church that shops, tavernas and original baji-pao cafetarias clutter closely like wasps to a flame. Here all potholed roads too confer and on Wednesdays the Siolim bazaar bustles with home-grown vegetables, squealing pigglings, chicken for sale, home-made brooms, laddles, coir ropes, bamboo baskets, bhirnichim solam, tamarind balls…dried fish, bhoje, kapam, khotkhotem, beef, mutton and pork.

Religious Perspective
Seeing so many religious symbols all over the village–upon the bottle-green hills, beside the excruciatingly sloping and curving, narrow roads–a stranger feels that Siolim is a very Catholic village. Che…(the colloquial Konkani equivalent of hardly)…Hear the rustic Siolkar say it so sharply, up the rising scale. The nomenclature Siuli is said to be derived from Shiv-Ling, the ling of Shiva and Marna from maha-ran or vast jungle. The ancient Siuli had temples devoted to Sateri, Sati, Ganesha, Ravalnatha, Kalbadevi, Vetall and Mahadeva. To escape destruction in the wake of conversion, the Hindus ran away with their deities to Pale in Sanquelim and goddess Sateri to Morjim in Pernem.

Try getting a Congress candidate elected from the Siolim constituency and all efforts will come to nought. Sodiem, Tar ani beach-blessed Guddem are sufficient to drown the Catholic electorate. With several elections old, June 4 witnessed Siolim shifting from the down-to-earth, regional MGP to the BJP, which they hope will take the riverine village to the political mainstream.

Talk of priests and one is bound to be told about Bishop Leonard Monteiro, former Archbishop of Nagpur. Of course, Fr Moreno D’Souza, the popular Jesuit who edits the Konkani monthly “Roti” too hails from Siolim as do Mgr Aires Fernandes, Fr Walter Mathias, Fr Antonio Paulo Cyriaco, Fr Francis Fernandes etc.

Siolcars like Jaganath Dhargalkar, fought fiercely as freedom fighters to liberate Goa from the Portuguese.

Liberation brought in electric power in 1972 and tap water flowed in 1975. By 1980 Siolim had a telephone exchange, which has since shifted to a large building. But for the hundreds of telephone subscribers, communications haven’t really improved in a big way. Anyway, the first KTC bus travelled to Siolim on July 14, 1981 and Tuklo’s caminhao gave way to the more luxurious, airconditioned buses taking you to Bombay. Siolim is said to have a high concentration of buses…somewhat above 50. Two former bus-owning MLAs/ministers–Ashok Naik Salgaokar and Chandrakant Chodankar–hail from the village.

So, is the 2523.5-hectare territory really reaping the fruits of freedom? May be, may be not. Hundreds of Siolkars serve in the Gulf countries and repatriate Dinars and Dirhams to fill the home coffers. The newfound wealth manifest into plush bungalows, sleek cars, motorcycles, scooters and grand wedding celebrations. The government has managed to provide a few jobs but working honestly in Goa hardly allows you to put aside enough savings to purchase a plot and put up a decent house nowadays.

Siolim develops briskly and may soon claim for municipal status. Several buildings have come up in recent years. There are restaurants galore. The O Papagaio at Bankar Vaddo, is popular throughout Goa and is a rendezvous for lovers of good food and written about in national newspapers. There is trendy Supriya Deluxe opposite the place where once stood the Victory Talkies. Candlelight bar and restaurant in vaddi serves authentic Goan cuisine. But what takes the cake is Camilo Raimundo’s “Hotel de Jakin” in front of the church, where everyone rushes for the morning newspaper. While browsing the news, one sits in the crowded place for bhaji-pau and delicious snacks. On Sundays, the rare eatout serves san’nas, sorpotel, samareachi koddi and Goan delicacies. Well Camilo is really a rare and industrious soul, distributing daily newspapers, doubling up as a frame maker and even fitting coffins.

From general stores like the one of Pangam brothers in the Siolim bazaar, four sawmills, pharmacies, cold storages, soft drink bottlers, choir industry, nearly a dozen bakeries, two banks, photographers, communication centres, DTP facilities and other professionals.

There is Remo Fernandes producing terrific, meaningful music for his videos and Hindi movies at his Guddem studio. Yeah…Saviojon, India’s youngest fashion designer from Fernandes Vaddo sports his own label at Melange and Shoppers Stop in Bombay/Bangalore, Ogaan in Delhi and Sosa’s in Panjim.

“Siolim has developed very fast after the Liberation and there is nothing of the old village left now,” says 75-year-old Ramakant T Thalli from Xell, where we stopped to gawk at his palatial house. Ramakant, wearing his typical felt hat, still rides his old cycle…In fact, the average Siolcar is steeped in tradition despite the development all around.

“Siolim can’t be called a village anymore with all the modern amenities available to the villagers and the development which is going on. One would not crib over the pace of growth but the haphazard way it goes about cluttering the village with hardly any care for proper planning or environmental concern,” observes Rajan Fulari, a young painter who also teaches at Goa’s Fine Art College. Besides cartoonist Alexyz and Rajan, Siolim abounds with fine artists.

There is a cluster of Muslim families at Sonarkhett, though one expected more of them since once upon a time Muslims ruled here. Then came the Portuguese and the subsequent conversion stirred a major displacement once upon a time, sending the Hindus scurrying across the river to Pernem, with their goddess Sateri. But as soon as Liberation came, they brought it back and installed it in a brand new temple at Gaunsavaddo.

There’s even a fire-walking zatra near the Tar. It’s very much in the tradition of the Sirgao zatra but little known, even in the rest of Siolim, and virtually everyone walks over burning coals, even cartoonist Alexyz did it, but a little faster than the rest…for fun as usual. In fact, Alexyz has been doing a variety of things, some for kicks, others born out a quest to revive ethnic local traditions like the revival of the traditional Sao Joao on the river…also things on the environmental front like the founding of the Green Heritage organisation, which set into motion annual plant festivals in Siolim. He even got us into rigging up an arts and crafts exhibition for two years on the trot under our own banner–Coconut Brush.

Music is an essential ingredient of Goa, and more so in Siolim. Would one otherwise put up the statue of Beethoven in his courtyard as Pinta Xapai’s (the grand old patriarch who died at the age of 114), grandson did in Gaunsavaddo? The rare landmark symbolises the love for the magical arts and music Siolcars are famed for. The inimitable Johnson (Carvalho) of the Johnson & Jolly Boys ain’t no more to regale ballroom dancers with his tuneful violin and mellifluous vocals. Johnson incidently was also a renowned footballer. Neither lives now Rosario “Tequila” Basil, the great saxophonist, who played for avid diners at class hotels in Bombay and the Hindi film ensembles…or the writer-trumpeter Reginald Fernandes, who played for Hal Green, Nelly and her Orchestra and entertained Maharajas. Of course, Cruz Jazzwala Noronha, the man of the ethnic mando died long back. So did Antoninho de Souza, music director and music recordist for the All India Radio. Noel Flores from Siolim, a music teacher, conducted orchestras in Vienna.

It reminds us that there is a family band from Terreiro Vaddo called “Rainstorm” doing the hotel circuit. It’s made up of Diana (sister) and Gerald and Teles Monteiro (brothers). Of course, the late Johnson’s son, Juvencio Carvalho, is still carrying on the musical tradition, at least training budding musicians.

Hey, you can go on writing about Siolim unendingly. But they have dozens of traditions to which they keep adding more. They even have a day for the Blessing of Pets, a tradition set in motion by the parish priest Fr Joseph Rowland Salema. The still more industrious, previous parish priest, Fr Adolfo Viegas, had put up the massive St Anthony’s Complex and renovated the church.

Domnick Fernandes from Bamonvaddo, who returns to native Siolim on and off after retiring as a librarian of St Xavier’s College, Bombay, is virtually a walking encyclopaedia. In the same area lives, writer Dominic Mathews who has authored at least four inspirational books. Chevalier Bruno Fernandes, MBE & Knight of St Silvester, still lives here. Architect Ralino J de Souza lives elsewhere and one would like to know more about Herman Raymond, who was a judge in Karachi once.

But there’s hardly anyone who could have created the sensation a couple of years ago like Fr Salvador Gomes Coutinho, of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, did at the Gaunsavaddo Chapel with his healing services. He drew crowds like no one else ever did in Goa. Every Wednesday thousands of sick came to be healed.

Of course, in the field of Konkani culture that Siolcars have few parallels. One of Goa’s most prominent tiatrist Kid Boxer came from Siolim as did the pigmyish Mini Diogo. Take just the late Reginald Fernandes–”Romansincho Patxai”–who has written a record number of Konkani novels…nearly 100. A musician of high repute, he has left behind several Goan Konkani compositions, which are played still on All India Radio. Need we mention, Reginald’s melancholic “Adeus Korchea Vellar” sung by Allan Costa?

Joel D’Souza