A place full of green pastures, a place filled with hills, a place with rich monumental and cultural heritage, is what comes to our minds when we speak about our mother, Goa.
The culture of Goa has been influenced by several rulers, the last of which were the Portuguese who conquered a part of Goa in 1510 and kept adding to it. Influenced by the Portuguese rule and Latin culture, Goa presents a somewhat different representation of the country to foreign visitors.
Looking around, one may notice some amazing houses, which many may wrongly refer to as Portuguese houses. Are these really Portuguese? Not at all. These are truly Goan and may be also referred to as Indo-Portuguese. These were built by Goan artisans using indigenous raw material to suit local climatic conditions. Architecturally they are a blend of European and Indian elements.
Have you ever spotted a rooster on the roof of a Goan house? It was a bird of national importance to Portugal. What about the policeman adorning Goan roof tops? This figure was meant to symbolize solidarity to the Portuguese and was put there only by the Kshatriya community.
Window pane glass was introduced in Goa as late as 1890. Prior to that oyster shells (Placuna placenta) were used as a substitute for glass. These being translucent, they allowed the passage of filtered light yet didn’t disturb one’s privacy.
The central courtyard, part of pre-Portuguese house architecture, was carried into Catholic homes built during the Portuguese regime. This central court may be referred to as the Raz-angann.
Outside almost every Goan home one may see a seating arrangement generally bright red in color. These seats are referred to as soppe or assento. These seats today may be used as a place to chit-chat with a friend, but traditionally may have been used for reasons to sit the so-called ‘lower caste’ as they were denied entry into the houses of the so-called ‘higher castes’.
Secondly sit-outs like these would have been used to gather information from strangers who visited the house. The visitor would be asked to sit there while the owner of the house questioned him or her. It was if the owner of the house was satisfied with the answers, that the stranger would gain entry into the sálita (living room) of the house.
The wooden borders across the roof edges of Goan houses could have been a stylized version of the welcoming paan-patti seen in traditional Goan Hindu houses. The basalt rock floor, which one may see in some houses and staircases, was brought by Portuguese ships which sailed from Vasai to Goa and carried this rock as ballast counterweights, which was repurposed in Goan constructions.
The tall, elegant windows one may admire in Goan Indo-Portuguese houses are European. Cornices in Goan homes defined the social status of its owner.
Did you ever know that houses in Goa could not exceed a first floor? That was due to a rule that the church had to be the tallest building and hence no matter how rich one was, one could expand one’s home horizontally but never vertically. Also, you could paint your house white only if you owned a private chapel.
Heritage conservation not only helps us understand our culture but helps find similarities and differences between modern and medieval cultures. It also helps people across the globe learn about cultures other than their own. Hence, we truly need to protect our rich cultural, monumental religious and natural diversity to guide us all towards a bright future.
Let us all start loving our homes, if we have failed to do so, and carry them ahead with pride for the generations yet to come.