Following the footprints of the Portuguese in Goa

Goa Velha sounds like a name from a fado, the famous Portuguese songs of sadness and melancholy. And indeed the state of Old Goa’s precious heritage today only adds to the melancholy. Little remains of the golden era of Portuguese colonial history when Goa as referred to as ‘Ilha Illustrissima ” because of its immense riches.

In 1510, Portuguese soldiers under the leadership of Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered the city on the banks of the Mandovi River. The Portuguese army was supported fervently by the local Hindu citizens who had suffered under the then Muslim ruler Adil Shah and who were hoping for a better life under the Portuguese.

After conquering Old Goa, the Portuguese proceeded to build what would become their most important commercial and trading center outside of Portugal. And with the Portuguese soldiers came the Portuguese missionaries, who proceeded to convert as many natives to Christianity as possible. From 1540 onwards, almost all Hindu temples were destroyed and replaced by churches. In addition, Goa was also the scene of one of the most brutal Inquisitions in the Portuguese empire. 

When in 1565, the seat of the Portuguese viceroy was transferred from Fort Cochin (Kerala) to Goa, Old Goa reached its zenith. Old Goa had upto 300 000 residents and it was even said that “Whosoever has seen Goa, need not see Lissabon”. 

Fast forward to today and most witnesses to the great power of the Portuguese rulers is all but gone. All that remains are some very impressive churches and Basilica. Thanks to some careful restoration of these houses of worship, the ‘Churches and Convents of Old Goa’ is now an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the mingling of the sari and the dress, the mingling of modern Indian reality and the old Baroque and Renaissance buildings that forms such a stark contrast and attracts thousands and thousands of tourists, either in bus loads as part of a half day tour or those with backpacks and Lonely Planet’s in their hands. The women in their bright saris contrast against the dark panelled wooden doors of the Basilica and make for a great photograph. 

Old Goa has a number of Portuguese churches including the Sé Cathedral, reportedly the largest in Asia, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of St Cajetan. Most famous of all though is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, also known as the Church of St Francis Xavier and home to the sarcophagus of St. Francisco Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit order. He arrived in 1542 from Portugal and having spent a large portion of his life in Goa, finally died in China. But his body was discovered in such perfect condition that it was possible to bring his body back to Goa where it now lies. 

 Despite all its wealth, Old Goa ultimately had to surrender to its downfall. After several severe cholera epidemics (1534, 1543, 1635) had decimated the population massively (sanitary conditions were not as advanced as they are today), the seat of the Viceroy was moved to New Goa or Panaji in 1835. Most of the Portuguese families moved to the neighbourhood or Bairros de Fontainhas (home to the only fresh water fountain in Panaji) and built impressive bungalows in Portuguese style.  The last religious orders were asked to leave Old Goa and many impoverished locals tore down their houses and sold the building stones to feed their families, thereby further accelerating the decline of Old Goa. 

Although 450 years had passed from the first conquest of Goa until Goa’s independence, the withdrawal of the Portuguese from India in 1961 took a mere 48 hours. Such was the resistance of the local populace that all the Portuguese statutes were demounted and brought to safety. Today, the statue of Alfonso de Albuquerque stands at the entrance of the archaeological museum in Goa Velha, an hommage to the glorious yet turbulent history of this region. 


Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” to open IFFI Goa Film Festival 2012

Photo Credit:

The International Film Festival of Goa (more commonly known as IFFI Goa) is one of the most famous film festivals in the whole of India. Film buffs from all over the country head to Goa for a taste of the best of alternative cinema. So that means while blockbuster films like James Bond’s latest Skyfall will not be on offer, critically acclaimed films will definitely be making the headlines in Goa. 

In a recent announcement, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is set to open the 43rd Intl. Film Festival of India, Goa on Nov. 20 2012. Life of Pi is film about a 16 year old boy who survives a shipwreck and finds himself on a lifeboat with an orangutang, a hyena, a wounded zebra and a Bengal Tiger. The film is directed by Ang Lee and based on a 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel. Ang Lee and Pi stars Irrfan Khan and Suraj Sharma were present during the announcement. 

Director Jahnu Barua’s Assamese-language “Baandhon” will open the festival’s Indian Panorama while Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s English, Hindi, Bengali and Kannada language “Celluloid Man” will open the docu section. Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” will close the fest on Nov. 30, 2012.

The International Film Festival Goa will also celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema as well as the lifetime achievement of  Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi. 

The impressive Inox complex that will form the backdrop for the IFFI Goa is only a 5 minute drive from my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay in Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa. In the past, we have had many film buffs staying with us and this usually led to some very interesting discussions in the evening over a glass of hand pressed Goan wine on our balcao. 

If you are planning to come down to Goa for the International Film Festival, do get in touch with me for Special IFFI Goa Hotel Packages

Guzaarish and the Goan Scenery

Today I watched Guzaarish, a Bollywood film by Sanjay Leela Bhansali starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachhan and set in Goa. Although the film was released in 2010, it took a while for the DVD to find its way to my Austrian library. 

Guzaarish is a movie about a famous magician named Ethan Mascarenhas who has an accident during one of his magic shows and is left a cripple. After living for 14 years as a cripple, only able to move his head and neck, he now wants to end his life and appeals to the court for permission to kill himself i.e. euthanasia or “Ethanasia” as he calls it. 

What follows is some wonderful acting by Hrithik as the cripple looking for freedom, Aiswarya Rai Bachhan as the nurse who is in love with her patient and the rest of the star cast that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has put together. 

But what I really enjoyed the most were Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s amazing visuals and sets. 

Set in an old house in Goa (called Villa Mascarenhas in the film) that resembles a church, Bhansali goes to great lengths to depict Ethan Mascarenhas as one of the old guard, the old landed gentry with their Portuguese lifestyle, old Portugese styled mansions, servants and spacious grounds. 

Each of the characters, especially Sofia, also wear period type dresses with Sofia’s typical headscarf and flowing gowns, and the servants typical Goan/ Portuguese dresses. 

The old Portuguese bungalow itself forms the backdrop of the film. Large, with high ceilings, winding staircases and a leaking roof, it could be anywhere in Goa. During the film, we learn that Ethan has many debts and is unable to financially maintain the old house. We also get glimpses of the fierce Goan monsoon when the roof leaks down onto his bed and it is mentioned that the roof can collapse any time. Unfortunately, most old Goan bungalows across Goa find themselves in this state and it is important that the Government and the NGOs come together to act before it is too late. Tourism presents a great opportunity for these old houses to be converted into Heritage Guest Houses or Heritage Homestays (as is the case with Fontainhas, the neighbourhood where my own Heritage Homestay is located – The Mitaroy, Goa). Here the tourism department and Mr Manohar Parrikar, CM of Goa must make it easier for home owners to convert their old houses into Heritage Homestays without having to run around or pay bribes to the corrupt Government officials. 

When Ethan Mascarenhas does leave the house, we are treated to some beautiful shots of Goa’s natural beauty with its green verdant fields, swaying palm trees and of course the famous Goan beaches when Hrithik is placed on a wheelchair and the waves sweep over his crippled feet. 

If you can get your hands on a DVD of Guzaarish (or Die Magie des Lebens as it is known in German), do watch it. 

Watch it for its wonderful acting and its thought provoking theme. But also watch it for its depiction of a Goa that many of us rarely get to see.