Wed, 16 Oct, 2019

Harnessing the Heritage

Passionately dedicating their lives to the identification, preservation and conservation of all that comes under the title ‘heritage’, Prof Prajal Sakhardande and his committed team is striving to save what is left of Goa that was once recognised as the land of gold

07th July 2019, 02:27 Hrs


History and heritage connects us with our ancestors and to the roots of our rich cultural past. Heritage doesn’t mean only dilapidated structures that were built by our ancestors in the ancient past, but all that which defines us and connects us with our rich culture by all means - art and craft, folk lore, sacred forests, medicinal streams, natural caves, manmade artefacts, traditional recipes and, of course, historical sites, believes Prof Prajal Sakhardande, associate professor and head of the department of History at Dhemp College of Arts and Science, Miramar. Also, co-founder of Goa Heritage Action Group (GHAG), Prajal has been in organised action since 2000 when the group came into existence.    

Conceptualised by Heta Pandit in September 2000, GHAG, a registered non-government organisation dedicated to the preservation of Goa’s priceless heritage along with its annual, life and patron members as well as the supporters in society, are actively pursuing issues of historical sites, monuments and their dilapidated remains that lay scattered across the state.

“Through heritage walks across the cities and trails along the rivers in Goa, with enthusiastic history lovers, GHAG team is creating awareness in the society and making the people respect and restore the remnants of our past,” shares Prajal. GHAG has the Goa Heritage Festival, Fontainhas Festival of the Arts, listing of heritage properties and sites in Goa and the restoration of Betim Cross, the Tonca Pillar and markers in Old Goa to its credit. 

“We try to create an awareness regarding the identification, recognition, notification of heritage sites and properties and then take appropriate steps for the restoration, preservation and conservation of them by requesting the concerned authorities. We adopt all means, from conducting awareness through heritage walks and tours, to writing letters to the concerned authorities in administration and government bodies as well as departments and directorates, to going to media and people, in general, we leave no stone unturned. Many of our battles are won too, giving due recognition to the heritage sites, while many more are yet to taste success,” states Prajal. 

People are ignorant about what could be considered as heritage. What is actually protected is maps, pictures, write-ups, books etc. But even if not protected, there are many things that come under heritage - man-made heritage like crafts, natural heritage like sacred groves or khajan, immovable heritage like marine ship-wrack or battlefields, tangible cultural heritage like culinary, music, dance etc and movable heritage like ancient coins as well as museums preserved as heritage. According to heritage protection framework, there are certain laws, rules, notifications to be followed while declaring something as heritage. 

Prajal who has combed the state’s regions, has identified many forgotten pieces of history that can be put together in the jigsaw puzzle of our history and mentioned them in his recently published book Goa Gold Goa Silver - Her History Her Heritage - From earliest times to 2019. “There are umpteen sites of heritage and historical importance which lie un-notified and they need immediate attention of the concerned authorities. For example, the Chandor fort wall, Gopakapattanam port wall at Goa Velha, Saundekar’s underground palace at Ponda, Chikhali caves etc. Goa has a history of human caves, used for worship, as residences or as havens of safety. In particular, the vertical caves of Hollant/Isorcim beach are extremely unusual structures. These and many other sites need to be brought under the Archaeological Survey of India and/or Directorate of Archives and Archaeology so that they can be protected and preserved for posterity,” suggests Prajal.

He cites an example of one of their wins - the restoration of a heritage structure that was neglected for years - the clock tower located on a municipal building in the heart of Vasco which was built in 1938 in Art Deco style. “The restoration work was taken up at the initiation of GHAG which kept the issue on the burner until it was resolved. Similar efforts are being put in for other neglected monuments and sites too,” quips Prajal. It pains him to see a similar structure lying in a dilapidated state at Old Market area in Margao - of the Camra or the municipality. “In fact, Savio Coutinho had taken up the matter some time ago, but no one knows why it is being dragged for so long. I am worried that this delicate structure may come down anytime in torrential rains. We must save and restore it before it falls apart as it is an important landmark of the city of Margao,” Prajal maintains.

The remnants of Goa’s historical past are scattered throughout the state, in the cities and villages, in the forests and hills, on the river banks and plateaus. Prajal mentions of the Khandepar Masjid as a reminder of the Adilshah era, the Uskai group of caves, the Curti fort ruins at Pirwada Ponda, the Quitla fort site at Aldona, the Kodar caves in Ponda, the Jacqui caves at Sanguem, the caves at Karaswada in Thivi, the panels of the Brahmani Maya temple at Talde in Tambdi Surla, the house of Francis Luis Gomes at Naveli in Margao or the house of Pai Tiatrist in Margao, the frescos on the walls at the Moolveer temple in Malpe in Pernem where depictions of Ramayan, Mahabharat and Vishnu Avatar lie unattended. 

Many of the old temples in Goa have Cavi art on the walls which are seen to fade away under the layers of oil paint. There are stone and wood carvings that hide behind cement and plaster during the renovations. The Gorakshamath on the Kadamba Plateau, the Kolamb temple ruins and the site of the Mahalakshmi temple at Colva must be preserved. At Colva, there still is the tali thought the temple was demolished by the Portuguese. At Curdi where the temple went underwater and at Vajri-Pernem where the temple complex still lies in ruins - are some of the pages in our forgotten history. “We should not be ashamed of our history, instead learn lessons from it and forward them to our GenNext too. For this to happen, we must recognise what was our history and what is our heritage, and then conserve it for posterity,” concludes Prajal.