Monday, May 14, 2012

The House for the Houses

A night stroll on the almost deserted 18th June Road was quite a revelation. What we had missed out during the hustle-bustle filled mornings, popped up in our consciousness, beckoning a closer inspection on the dimly-lit road.
No, it wasn't an apparition, nor was it a road block, but a house. A typical Goan house with red roofs, large windows and since the curtains were parted, we could also spot the altar. It quite fitted the description of what we had seen earlier in the day – a museum dedicated to houses of Goa.

House Watch
Having decided to skip beaches, temples and other touristy sights of Goa on this trip, we headed to Tordo, Salvador -do- Mundo in Bardez taluka. A red structure shaped like a ship was our destination.
The Houses of Goa Museum isn't your typical museum; in fact it's warm, welcoming and cozy like your own home. The polite and warm receptionist, on learning that we were not architects, offered us discounts on the entry tickets (Rs 50 for one instead of Rs 100).
The museum, built by architect, Gerard Da Cunha, is a haven for academicians – practising, architects, students of architecture, heritage activists and planners – and not laypersons. The explanation sounded daunting because we were a couple enamoured of houses with tiled roofs, balconies (balcaos as they are called in Portuguese), and old grannies sitting in their swaying armchair with their knitting paraphernalia.

Around the House
But, we needn't have worried. After slipping off our shoes, we climbed up the cylindrical stairs to enter the first level. Lights were switched on and the pictures, most of them sketches and illustrations by the late Goan social cartoonist, Mario Miranda, stood out. One section of the first floor described the chronology of the world architecture, while the second section described the USP of the museum – a quest to find out what the houses were like before the advent of the Portuguese and if they were the result of Indo-Western fusion.
We also got to see the finest examples of this fusion in the personality profile section. Seven families, including Miranda's, have been interviewed, the structure of their heritage Casa (house in Portuguese) described in detail in the pencil plan by the cartoonist. Thus we could count the number of windows in Miranda's ancestral house in Loutolim, and express wonder that the infantry of the Deshprabhu family stayed in Deshprabhu House in Kudal.
The next level described the material used in constructing the houses, the columns and the furniture. The shape of most of the furniture, has its origin in Europe, but the motifs were often Indian. We had fun spotting the motif of the coastal fruit, cashewnut, in the designs of the furniture, loaned to the museum.
Since both Hindus and Christians lived under the Portuguese rule, we got a glimpse of their religious practices. The museum has an altar, which is found in the homes of Christian families, while there is also a Hindu Devghar.

The Museum

The third level, also the attic, told us that while the importance of Tulsi plant diminished in the rest of the country, it actually flourished under the Portuguese rule. Many Hindu families in Goa have gaily painted Tulsi vrindavans in their gardens, perhaps that was their way of holding on fiercely to their Hindu identity when they were ruled by the Portuguese. The practise exists even today – Tulsi vrindavans outside the house tell us that a Hindu family stays there, while Christian families erect Cross before their house.


That night in Panjim, we tried to test our knowledge of old houses by identifying columns from raj angans, cabides and window pelmets. As the game progressed, we realised that the old style is now giving way to crowded apartments. Will any museum tell us what the future of the old houses is going to be?

The cabide was used as a peg to hang coats, jackets and hats
 The hands hold pictures and mirrors

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