Beyond Colva beach, beyond Cabo de Rama, the most southerly of the forts of Goa, there is finally the beach of Palolem for those people who are really wanting to get away from it all. Almost a secret beach, it is usually practically completely deserted and has a backdrop of the lower ranges of the Western Ghats leading down to the sea.
From Teracol in the north to Palolem in the south Goa has fantastic beaches to suit all tastes with similar varying styles of accommodation on them. Over the past twenty-five years they have attracted a wide variety of travellers, all of whom have fallen beneath their spell and have continued to return time and again. As the tourist infrastructure grows, so they have become available to an even wider range of travellers who will also, hopefully, want to explore beyond the beaches and to find out more about the rest of Goa. Because however beautiful the beach and the hotel, this is only a fraction of what Goa has to offer and the traveller should certainly see the Goan life in the villages.
The vast majority of people still live in the villages which dot the landscape, usually clustered protectively around a white-painted church. Here can be seen the bustling markets, all noise, scents and smells; a strange mixture of fish and flowers peculiarly Goan. The buxom, garrulous fish wives, who were up at dawn haggling shrilly with fishermen on the beach as they pulled in their nets, are now smilingly enticing people to buy their fish, using quite different tones from the earlier raucous cries. Wonderful fresh fruits are displayed in a riot of colour and the bargaining is loud and vociferous. Fortunately there is always a bar next door where which everyone can have a beer or a feni and relax.
In Goa there is always a bar next door, and there is always time to stop for a drink and a chat Conversation is one of the living arts of Goa, all house porches have seats built into them so that people can sit and watch the world go by and discuss it all in great detail, preferably while it is all still happening. The uncharitable would call this gossiping, but to the Goan it is the very breath of life, and nothing helps the conversation flow as much as a glass of feni, or possibly two!
The villages also contain really beautiful examples of the Goan house style, most of them painted white with colourful doors and windows, and flowers everywhere. Many of them are also grouped around some big house, which, while not perhaps in the same class as some of the mansions already discussed, is still of considerable architectural value. Some of these have been deserted because the families have either emigrated or can no longer maintain them, but even in decay, they have a timeless quality which comes from original good breeding and fine lines. Some of course are still the homes of the local landlord, who is very likely to receive guests wearing elegant striped pyjamas. This is to make sure that everyone realises that he doesn’t have to work and is a member of the leisured classes.
Goa still enjoys a considerable class differential, although this is rapidly changing under the exigencies of modern living. The church is still however the centre point of Goan life in the Old Conquests, particularly in the villages, and the local priest exercises an important and much
respected role in the community. He is the local counsellor and is called in to advise on all occasions, even those which may have little to do with his spiritual calling but of course, he comes into his own on the great occasions such as weddings and the numerous festivals which enliven the calendar. Weddings can be either simple village affairs at the church, but also enormous festivities afterwards where the bride and groom soon fade into the background as the festival spirit quickly envelops everyone else.
Such receptions either take place in one or other of the big houses, or, if the ceremony is being conducted in Panjim, it might he held in one of the gracious clubs, such as the Club Nacional, which also play such an important role in organising the greatest event of the Goan social calendar, the annual Carnival or much grander occasions which call for, not merely a great display.
Festivals, either Christian or Hindu, occupy an important place in the Goan year, and they are all celebrated with considerable gusto. Every parish has the feast of its local saint, but certain saints seem to be venerated all over Coa, or else in special places which equally attract all Goans. The Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated on 6 january in Cuelim in South Goa and also with a great fair at Reis Magos near Fort Aguada. The fort at Reis Magos is one of the oldest, and the church was the first to be erected in North Goa and has many viceregal associations.
In Goa Velha, St Andrew’s church is the proud possessor of twenty-six statues of saints which are brought out in procession on the Monday following the fifth Sunday in Lent. Rome is the only other place in the world which has a similar procession, and when the Goan one was started in the seventeenth century it featured sixty-five statues. As the procession moves through the streets, people line to run under the palanquins on which each statue is carried as a way of winning the saint’s blessing. This feast is also accompanied by the inevitable fair at which hand fans are sold as a regional speciality.
One of the biggest fairs is held at Mapuca on the nearest Sunday sixteen days after Easter on the occasion of a feast which is jointly celebrated by Hindus and Christians. This is that of Our Lady of Miracles, who is also venerated by Hindus as Lairaya, the goddess of the Sirigaum Temple. Mapuca is the centre for the Friday market to which all Goans come, and this feast is simply an enormous extension of the usual market, but one which has also been given religious overtones.
The feast of St Anthony on 13th June is associated with the coming of the rains which have always been crucial for the life of the farmers, and the songs which are sung on this occasion are all along the theme of asking St Anthony to send rain. If for some reason the rains don’t come on the 13th there is still another feast on the 4th of June, a traditional second resort for a late monsoon. The Feast of St John the Baptist is usually a thanksgiving for the rains, and mainly consists of groups of young men singing their way around the village requesting contributions of feni.
Naturally things tend to get slightly out of hand, and as the evening wears on the Feast gets celebrated by the young men jumping into the wells. These are situated in almost every courtyard, so no one has very far to go, and the water level is usually fairly high so that there is little danger. The custom is fairly widespread, but it can be seen very successfully at Calangute.
The monsoon is obviously one of the high points of the year, and there are a number of water associated festivals at this time, apart from which there is not much else to do when it’s raining. One of these is naturally that of St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, which falls on 29 June. The festival takes place near Fort Aguada where three local fishing villages lash a number of boats together to form a stage, and then re-enact a sort of pageant on this stage as it floats majestically down the river.
The custom is fairly widespread, but it can The monsoon is obviously one of the high points of the year, and there are a number of water associated festivals at this time, apart from which much else to do when it’s raining. One of these is naturally that of patron saint of fishermen, which falls on 29th June. The festival takes place at Aguada where three local fishing villages lash a number of boats together to form a stage, and then re-enact a sort of pageant on this stage as it floats majestically down the river.
Another of these monsoon festivals is the Feast of St Lawrence on 10th August, at the end of the rainy season. The church of St Lawrence was built in 1630 and is a superb white edifice on the north bank of the Mandovi near its mouth. In Goa St Lawrence is the patron saint of sailors, and the feast signals the opening of the sandbars which have built up in the Mandovi during the monsoon and obstructed shipping. For some inexplicable reason they usually do break up on this day and the boats are able to sail out the next day.
St Peter Novidade is the great Harvest Festival of Goa and is celebrated on 21 August each year. The first paddy is cut, and offerings are made to the priests, and on 24th of August some more rice is carried to the Cathedral at Old Goa, and then to the Governor and Archbishop. There is also a dramatic re-enactment of the battle between Albuquerque and the Adil Shah’s soldiers which used to take place in front of the Governor’s palace, but now takes place more privately on to the Lieutenant Governor’s palace.
The Hindus of Goa, as all over India, celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna in late August with bathing in the river Mandovi off Diwadi island, a spectacle which the Inquisition frowned on considerably in former times, and also have a maion procession and firecrackers to celebrate Divali, the New year, which occurs around the end of October. Both religions however seem to celebrate Easter and Christmas in one way or another, and everyone possible goes mad at Carnival.
For weeks beforehand people are preparing costumes, and having endless meetings trying to decide on themes and float designs for the great day, all of which is greatly helped along by copious draughts of beer and feni. As the day draws near rehearsals begin, and the various groups begin to practise dance steps to an appropriate record, although the record player seems to have a mind of its own and keeps breaking down. Tension mounts, and last minute costumes are quickly made and fitted, in furtive backstage rooms. The atmosphere is full of secrets, and the rivalry between certain groups is obviously well-established, although everything is done in the spirit of Carnival.
The great day dawns, and people begin to gather at the rendezvous points, that by late afternoon the various processions are ready to move and gather near the Secretariat where the main procession route begins. The crowds are thick, the music boisterous from twenty different groups, some of which are a hundred strong and all dressed in wild colours. The parade begins and dances and twists its way through the streets of Panjim, until finally it is over for another year. Somebody has won the prize, but nobody really minds who, as the dancers reel back to their homes off to prepare for the dance in the evening.
For four days Goa sleeps during the day so that it can dance all night. Each of the big clubs arranges a dance for one of the nights, and traffic and everything else must make way for this. The Vasco da Gama Club has a dance in the central gardens, while the Club Nacional manages to get the entire road closed in front of their clubhouse and traffic is quite simply diverted, along with the rest of Goa. After four days of this Goans reel back to work, and the austerities of Lent begin, but by then nobody really minds, and there is always next year to start planning for.
The sense of drama which is naturally inherent in Carnival finds its expression in other ways during the rest of the year. Well known for a rich tradition of theatrical performances, over a thousand shows are reportedly staged in Goa annually, vast majority of which are produced by amateurs during festival occasions. These have received considerable support from Goa’s Kala Academy, now housed in splendid modern quarters along the Miramar road, which has arranged a series of annual drama contests.
The sense of drama which is naturally inherent in Carnival finds its expression in other ways during the rest of the year. Well known for a rich tradition of theatrical performances, over a thousand shows are reportedly staged in Goa annually, the vast majority of which are produced by amateurs during festival occasions. These have received considerable support from Goa’s Kala Academy, now housed in splendid modern quarters along the Miramar road, which has arranged a series of annual drama contests.
These contests have been divided into three classes, one in Marathi and two in Konkani and, not only have the number of contestants steadily increased each year, but also the quality has risen. The vast majority of the plays performed in Goa are Marathi, generally written by playwrights from Maharashtra, but an increasing number of Konkani plays are being produced, written by Goans.
With all of these festivals Goa has also managed to develop an excellent cuisines which owes something to India, something to Portugal, and a great deal to the excellent raw materials which are so abundantly provided by nature. Chicken pork, duck, mutton, and of course suckling pig, are ingredients which abound and complement the rich variety of fish of all kinds which fill the rivers and the nearby sea, so that the Goan menu is anything but restricted. Shellfish in particular is a
Goan speciality, and crabs of all sizes, lobsters, and magnificent tiger prawns, big enough to form a meal in themselves, are practically staple fare. Rice is the most general accompaniment, but other vegetables are available, and indeed anything will grow in the rich soil.
Like all Indians, Goans have a sweet tooth, and from a very limited range of ingredients have managed to produce an incredible variety of desserts and special sweet concoctions which are the highlights of all festivals, and especially Christmas. Using coconuts, rice, semolina, eggs and flour, all mixed with various spices and essences, they create a list of sweet delicacies, all the more astounding in that each is so different. The names themselves are redolent of hidden delights. Bibinca, Kulkuls, Teias de Aranha, Bolinhas, Bolo Gostoso and Sans Rival and are worthy of the hours, sometimes days spent preparing them.
Most of these delicacies are made at home and are the pride of the family kitchen, with a certain amount of friendly rivalry existing between families. At all of these feasts parcels of a particular speciality will be sent to different houses each of which reciprocates with the pride of their own kitchens. The children are the natural messengers for this exchange and the equally happy recipients of samples at every destination although the serious moment is only reached when each cook tastes her rival’s specialities. A number of hotels and restaurants also serve a wide variety of the seemingly inexhaustible Goan cuisine in addition to the more usual international menu, but when it comes to preparing one of the special sweets as a dessert offering, there is usually a nearby Goan lady, whose Bibinca is locally famous, who provides a fresh supply each day.
Thus, in so many ways, the older Goan customs and skills are being assimilated e present and this is an assimilation which can only be advantageous to both sides. Change is inevitable and natural but should always proceed out of the past rather than attempting to reject it. At the moment, with very few exceptions, this amalgam of old and new is working very successfully in Goa and should be both continued and developed. Despite attempts to industrialise, modernise and generally standardise, Goa remains maddeningly, delightfully different as are so many of the other states in India.
A number of hotels and restaurants also serve a wide variety of the seemingly inexhaustible Goan cuisine in addition to the more usual international menu, but when it comes to preparing one of the special sweets as a dessert offering, there is usually a nearby Goan lady, whose Bibinca is locally famous, who provides a fresh supply each day.
Thus, in so many ways, the older Goan customs and skills are being assimilated into the present and this is an assimilation which can only be advantageous to both sides. Change is inevitable and natural but should always proceed out of the past rather than attempting to reject it. At the moment, with very few exceptions, this amalgam of old and new is working very successfully in Goa and should be both continued and developed. Despite attempts to industrialise, modernise and generally standardise, Goa remains maddeningly, delightfully different as are so many of the other states in India. India herself is a total world, containing all possible varieties of people and places, so that the jewel which is Goa, simply adds yet another facet to the whole which in turn benefits by such an addition.