If you’re in Goa these days, Panjim to be more precise, you’ll know that the buzzword is ‘Samba Square.’ And, while this is a moniker that the garden has acquired in recent years, one thing has remained a constant — it was always a popular hangout, especially for the residents of Panjim.
Over fifty years ago, when leisure activities in Panjim were few and far between, it was the Panjim Municipal Garden, which was the hub of entertainment for the city's residents.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, during the rule of the Portuguese King D Luis I (1861-1889), Panjim Square was converted into a garden and was called Jardim D Luis. It was later renamed Garcia da Orta the famous Portuguese physician and naturalist, in honour of his contributions to botany, tropical medicine and medicinal values. (Garcia da Orta wrote a treatise on plants and their medicinal values, called Coloquios dos Simples e Drogas de India, published in the sixteenth century in Goa).
This garden is located opposite Panjim Square, where the majestic building of the Primeiro Senado de Goa (Panjim Municipal Council) once stood. Today, the square serves as a children's park. Back then, this square was known as Praça de Flores (Flowers Square), and, the palatial homes of wealthy residents surrounded the garden. All these houses had one storey — while the owners occupied the first floor, business establishments dominated the ground floor.
The garden was accessible from all sides of the square, via tarred open spaces and paths. Neatly-organized flower beds stood on a higher level compared to the open spaces, and bordered the garden.
In the centre of the garden, there was a charming bandstand, which had cement rims on the top, on which creepers grew. The bandstand was enclosed by cement blocks in the shape of harps. Two flights of steps led to the bandstand.
Apart from the beautiful plants, there were mango and palm trees, too. The garden was also provided with green, wooden benches, where Panjimites would spend leisurely evenings, in the greenery and cool breeze.
Two small houses stood on either side of the entrance of the garden. The AIWC branch and the Centro de Cultura Latina de Goa, which was founded by farmaceutico Renat de Sa, functioned in one of them. Another room was used by the 'record jockey' to play music LPs in the garden.
Guna's salon for men and women functioned in the other house. Back in the day, Guna was probably the only barber who had a separate section for women.
In between both houses, and facing one of the entrances, stands a monument — a cement pillar bearing the Ashoka symbol. This structure was originally built to commemorate the 400-year jubilee of the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama. It was built in 1898, and consisted of a pillar resting on a huge masonry block. A bust of Vasco da Gama was atop the pillar.
The administration had arranged for brass bands to play cheerful music at the bandstand, so as to provide entertainment for the general public. In those day, the popular bands were Caiado's band, the Police band and Cotta's band, and they performed regularly, with a repertoire that included Western, light and classical music.
When Vasco Alvares was the Chief Officer of the Panjim Municipality, he arranged to have music played in the garden everyday from 6 pm to 8 pm.
The garden was also a popular location for other activities including singing competitions, caroling, fancy dress contests, plays etc. Even King Momo proclaimed his Carnival decree from the bandstand.
This year, the Garcia de Orta Garden will morph into Goa Carnival’s Samba Square from Saturday, February 26, 2022 till Tuesday, March 1, 2022