Understanding the Soul of Goa

The soul of a land is always manifested in its traditional arts and crafts including music, dance and folklore. The meeting of soil and soul begets the traditions and culture of the people.

Goa is a beautiful creation of nature where its rich tropical natural resources have supported a vibrant and dynamic culture. The natural elements (panchamahabhutas) have blessed this land with a kaleidoscopic landscape, the very fountainhead of diverse folklore and cultural heritage. Endowed with scenic and breathtaking natural beauty, the tropical tourist paradise of Goa presents a fine sensitive blend of oriental and occidental, Indian and Western, especially Iberian, Latin, Luso Spanish culture in some respects.

Goa simply dazzles with glorious vistas of rivers, lakes, mountain springs, forest streams and wooded hills, white washed temples and majestic Indian Baroque churches which amplify the State’s natural beauty. The legend of master archer and battle axe wielding Lord Parashuram, the sixth reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, associated with the genesis of this land and popular in Konkan, Goa and Malabar may point to us the immense feat of coastal engineering for systematic reclamation of low lying coastal and estuarine lands from the Arabian Sea to settle the farming class.

The findings of prehistoric stone tools such as Acheulian hand axes have shown the entry of primitive nomadic humans about 50-60000 years ago. The rock art and the petroglyphs indicate the evolution of the Mesolithic primitive culture in the Mandovi-Zuari river basins. An anthropological survey has revealed four races and 41kinship groups in Goa pointing to vast human genetic heritage in a small population. The 400 plus Goan villages had a self-governing institution called the ‘Gaunkaris’ or the communidades originally designed around the spatial concept and social matrix of the division of labour and artisanal skills or vocations and comprised separate wards for members of each occupation group, such as fisherfolk, washermen, goldsmiths, coppersmiths, potters, toddy tappers, scheduled castes, etc. These communities mostly depended on the local natural resources such as land, water, fishery, forest and labour.

Adivasis-the Tribals of Goa, the Earliest Settlers

Goa’s tribal population, collectively known as Adivasis, falls into three main groups: the Gaude, Kunbis, and Goulys (also known as Dhangars). The first arrivals of Negritos, Australoids or Austric speakers, Dravidians or Mediterranean, and their descendants are all represented in the present population. There is a tiny Sino-Tibetan segment as well in the population.

Folk dances are an integral part of local culture in Goa

The Gaude, the most important section of Goan aborigines, brought rice, coconut, black pepper, and other crops and diverse skillsets with them. They later turned to agriculture and subsistence fisheries and were later also engaged in manufacturing salt in salt pans. They are nature worshippers, believing in spirits, trees, brooks, boulders, and precipices. The food habits of Hindu Gavade, dress, feasts, and festivals are mostly similar to those of the Kunbis. The staple diet of these tribal communities is rice and a pungent curry made of ground coconut, chillies, dried slices of a citrus fruits and salt. Originally, they were aniconic and nature worshippers but now their main deities include Mallikarjun, Mahadev, Ravalnath, Santeri or Shantadurga, Kamakshi, Nagesh, and Chamunda. The Gaude have a sacred ritualistic courtyard called the mand, where each year they sing and dance to perform the folk drama called Zagor. They represent characters from family and village life. Kunbi women celebrate the Dhillo or Dhalo festival for about a fortnight in the month of Ashwin (September-October).

Both festivals incorporate vigorous dancing. Women of all working classes assemble on the mand on moonlit nights during the month of Paushya (January) and perform their community dances, dhalo, fugdi and mock scenes for five to nine consecutive nights without any musical instruments.

In Shigmo however, local percussion instruments ghumat, shamel, dhol, taso, kansalem, and zanj are used. During the Shigmo festival, Kunbis shift at their original settlements atop a mountain or high hill. Males celebrate the festival with gusto for five consecutive days in the month of Phalgun (February-March), and then return to the foothills. The festival, an important cultural event, thus helps maintain family and community bonds, and fosters a feeling of solidarity among them.

The Dhangar dance is a traditional dance form of Goa performed by the Dhangar community

Goulys or Dhangars are strictly agropastoral tribals of Dravidian lineage; they follow a religion that lays emphasis on eco-spirituality. Goulys wandered for centuries in the valleys of the Zuari and Mandovi Rivers and their tributaries in search of a permanent home, surviving wars and persecution at the hands of various rulers.

Cultural History in Transition

Goa had once occupied territory south of the Kundalika river in Konkan to the Gangavali river in south in Uttara Kannada. With the geopolitical boundaries constantly in flux Goa at different times in whole or in parts was ruled since the Imperial Mauryan era, by more than 50 major and minor dynasties and small feudatories in Western and Southern India such as the Imperial Mauryas, Satavahanas, Western Kshatrapas, Chutus, Kuras, Mudanandas, Konkan Mauryas, Bhojas, Badami and Kalyani Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Northern and Southern Shilaharas, Banavasi and Goa Kadambas, Devagiri Yadavas, Hoysalas, Bahamanis, Vijayanagara, Adilshahi, Sunda kings, Bhosles of Sawantwadi and finally the Portuguese. During the 2000 years of fairly known history Goa became well known to navigators in the Indian Ocean. Goa’s rich history of maritime trade and commerce is well documented.

The languages of early administration at different times were Sanskrit, Brahmi, Halekannada, Prakrit, Persian, Arabic, Marathi, Konkani, Portuguese and English. The scripts used were Brahmi, Devanagari and Modi, Arabic, Persian, Halekannada and Roman. Melodious Konkani language is the mother tongue of Goans with its own place as a sister language to Marathi. The influence of Konkani is found and is retained by original Goan tribals like Kukna or Konkana, Gamit and Mavchis in Maharashtra and Gujarat and the Siddhi negrito tribals in Karnataka and Navayati Muslims in Bhatkal. This cultural footprint of Goa points to several important historical developments.

Periodic Heritage Festivals honour the State’s diverse cultural traditions

Establishment of Gaonkaris possibly originated at the end of the Neolithic period. The Gaonkaris possessed vast agricultural and horticultural lands. The period from 300 B.C.-1000 A.D. could be marked for the entry of Jainism and Buddhism in Goa. The Vedic deities were popularized during the regime of the Bhojas and the Vijayanagara period. The expression of this cultural unity is symbolically found in most of the folk performances. The specialty of this land could be seen in the worship of ant-hill, revered as Goddess Sateri (Mother Earth) linked to the Neolithic cults. It is interesting to note that the cultural traditions of all these settlers have fused homogeneously. This very character could be seen in the ecofeminist festival Dhalo and the male dominated spring festival called Shigmo. An exhaustive list shows that there are more than 50 folk performing art forms depicting various cultural aspects of Goa. There are typical forms of folk theatre like Perni Zagor, Gauda Zagor, Khell, Ranmalem and Dashavatari Kalo. Shigmo and Dhalo are the most popular folk festivals. These are associated with spring festival and fertility cult respectively. Varieties of folk music and dances like Chowrang-Talo, Talgadi, Tonayam Mel, Morulo, Goph, Ghodemodni, Gajanritya, Romat are the vigorous dance forms of Shigmo whereas different types of Fugdi and mock scene performances is the integral part of Dhalo. The beautiful forms of Mando Dulpod, Tiatr, Cantaras and the recently revived Carnival are examples of Portuguese and Mediterranean influence and interesting cross-cultural fusion from the 18th century onwards. The Government of Goa established Kala Academy Goa and the Department of Art and Culture to generously support, preserve and promote Goa’s artistic traditions.

Due to the religious persecution by the Portuguese, the natives had to face great hardships. There was an absence of the social and political freedom and people had to face cultural stagnation. However, a few positive aspects emerged and can be seen in art, architecture, music, dance, literature, culinary traditions as well as in agro-horticulture.

A traditional Ghoff dance performance in progress

With the spread of Christianity Western music became an integral part of the life of the local converts. In art and architecture Goa was benefited with advanced European artistic techniques. In music and dance, we could find a rich blend of Indian and Western music. Tiatr is the most vibrant and commercially successful theatrical entertainment of Goan Catholics in which other communities also take keen interest now. Its distinct ingredients are drama, music, comedy, tragedy and improvisation. The State government is supporting this art form through a special Tiatr Akademi.

Goa’s culinary heritage includes many dishes influenced by the Portuguese including Bebinca, Dodol, Sorpotel, Batak and Pinagre.

And Goa turned into a tropical botanical garden by introduction of various introduced crops like breadfruit, chikoos, guava, custard apples, cashew, pineapples, chilies, etc. Goa became a centre to teach plant grafting and the missionaries produced more than 100 different varieties of mangoes by grafting, recognised by popular heirloom names like Malcorado, Bemcurado, Fernandin, Malges, Musarad, Bishop etc.

Goa Trance is a remarkable style in Indian and Asian music, the birth of a novel psychedelic musical form with global potential. The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) has been firmly established as an annual and much anticipated event, drawing a host of creative people to the State.

Drawn by the peaceful and cultured quality of life in this tropical tourist paradise many people have moved to live in Goa. Respect and recognition of Goan identity, Goan cultural and natural heritage and Konkani cultural ethos and willingness to contribute to the welfare and happiness of all is the aspiration of everyone who loves, wishes to live and aims to visit and experience Goa. Beyond Sea, Sun and Sand there is this rich Soul of Goa. Let it remain as pure as possible for posterity.

Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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