A place is only a place until it’s people give it character. And the same has happened with the city of Panjim and its lovers.
Reminiscing about the good old days, the evening of November 16, 2023, Azad Maidan, in Panjim, was brimming with beautiful memories of the city of Panjim, as heritage lovers came together to inaugurate the 3rd edition of the Goa Heritage Action Group Walk Fest that will be held from November 17, 2023, to December 2, 2023.
The event kicked off with an inaugural address by writer and photographer, Vivek Menezes, who mentioned that Panjim city was built in a way to be explored on foot. He added how a place’s history is also better understood when you walk around it and discover the spaces in an intimate manner.
He gave the example of the famous Mhamai Kamat house and the Old Secretariat (Adil Shah Palace). He said, “There is a relation between the Mhamai Kamat House and the Old Secretariat.”
“There is uncomfortable proximity between the so-called ruler and the so-called ruled. Who is the ruler and who is ruled, and that is something you get when you explore the building that way. In Goa, there is a great fluidity which I understood when I looked at these structures,” he explained.
Menezes further gave the example of how the main structure at Azad Maidan was built by compiling material from Old Goa, including the pillars and the dome.
“We are told that Old Goa was abandoned due to plague which is not actually true. There was a consequent rise of natives. It was the defeat of Old Goa and the rise of Panjim.”
Historian, Prajal Sakhardande, gave a historic account of Azad Maidan and also why it was named so. He said that initially it was a marshy land, but when Panjim city was developed and declared as the capital of Goa on March 22, 1843, the structure was built to commemorate the conquest of Goa (mainly Tiswadi) by Afonso de Albuquerque on November 25, 1510.
Thus, every year, on November 25, there would be a function on this ground.
However, on November 25, 1954, when the Portuguese governor was unfurling the flag, they were caught unawares when a lady named Sindhu Deshpande, rushed to the site (with the Indian flag in her hand) along with Laxman Govekar. They were members of the National Congress Goa. She even raised the slogan ‘Jai Hind.’
“From that incident onwards, people started associating this place with azaadi or freedom,” said Prajal. He further informed that another satyagraha led by a group of women on August 15, 1955, was held here.
And then, after Liberation, the ground was formally named Azad Maidan. The ashes of freedom fighter, TB Cunha have also been placed in the main structure of the maidan.
Prajal added that this place has seen many agitations as many protests like ‘Half-ticket andolan’ on January 4, 1979 and, also, one can't forget the anti-Regional Plan agitation of 'Goa Bachao Abhiyan'.
“This is a sacred place for freedom fighters and the people of Goa,” said Prajal.
Architect Pritha Sardessai recollected old childhood memories associated with Panjim city. She said that any place to which one belongs is like a mother as it nurtures and cares for us just like a mother.
She said that Panjim city is made up of many unknown, nameless people like local women selling vegetables in the market, shoeshine boys, the small kiosk owners, the small eateries.
She added that her first walk was held at Azad Maidan itself and the area around it is full of heritage – right from the Panjim Police headquarters to the Printing Press, Casa Dempo residence, etc.
Businessman and President of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Shrinivas V Dempo, also shared his own memories of the city in the company of past president of GCCI, Ralph de Sousa. They added that along with all the development, the city should retain its heritage.
Dempo said, “It’s a great city and it has still retained its character, and I hope it does. It is good that a city develops, but we must not destroy the fabric of the city.”
Ralph de Sousa described Panjim as a “dream city.” He added, “We need to respect certain buildings which need to be conserved. We are the custodians of our heritage. Let’s hope it remains pretty and a dream city to all of us all the way.”
Vaman Bhate, of the popular Varsha Book Store, Panjim, shared interesting anecdotes about the place as he has seen the area around Azad Maidan right from 1965.
He was 14-years-old back then, and was managing the book store which was started by his uncle, Mahadev Narayan in 1963. He added that Azad Maidan was a hub of the city as many taxis bound for other parts of the state would depart from that area.
The Maidan was also a temporary bus stand till the KTC bus stand was built. It was also a playground for many nearby schools, and also a temporary space for the Marathi theatre company. He added that as the city developed, the place also changed.
Bhate also mentioned being a witness to many agitations which happened at Azad Maidan.
Speaking of the book store, he mentioned that initially it sold only newspapers, and at that time, Navhind Times was the only English daily of Goa, which was started in 1963. At that time, the daily newspaper cost 4 paise and the Sunday edition was 6 paise.
He recollected that Goa’s first Chief Minister, Bhausaheb Bandodkar, used to personally visit his shop to buy newspapers. Also, former Panjim MLA and Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, was a regular at his shop. Once the editor of The Hindu daily, N Ram came to the bookstore searching for some books.
Heta Pandit, of the Goa Heritage Action Group, stated that all these anecdotes, shared about Panjim city are not just stories or nostalgia, but evidence of history – not just of a place, but interweaving of people’s lives and personalities of the city.
This comprehensive festival will feature 30 guided walks across various locations in Anjuna, Assagao, Bicholim, Bondvall Lake, Curca, Marcel, Mandodari Lake, Mapusa, Netravali, Old Goa, Panjim, Saligao, Salvador do Mundo, St Estevam and Vasco da Gama.
In addition to the guided walks, the highlight of the festival is the India Walk Slam on November 19, 2023 that’s being held for the first time.
This is a GHAG initiative to bring together like-minded people from all over India to curate walks in their own villages, towns and cities in solidarity with the GHAG celebration of India Heritage Week.