Although it is the smallest state in India, with an area of 3,700 square kilometres, Goa encompasses a world of contrasts within itself; from sweeping beaches to lush forests, dazzling nightlife to tranquil village living. The state boasts a culture found nowhere else in India. Located on the southwestern Konkan coast of the country, Goa’s proximity to the Arabian Sea, warm climate and world heritage architecture makes it a prime destination for international and domestic tourists. Goan culture, moreover, remains irrevocably influenced by the 450 years of Portuguese rule, when it served as the capital of their empire in India and an epicentre of evangelisation from the sixteenth century onwards. Goa existed as a Portuguese overseas territory until it was acceded to the Indian Union in 1961; it was conferred statehood in 1987 with Panaji as its capital.
The state is topographically diverse: the Western Ghats in the east provide a dense inland forest cover, the Arabian Sea in the west allows an uninterrupted coastline of beaches. A web of rivers criss-crosses the state, including the Mandovi (housing the island of Chorao), Tiracol, Zuari, Sal and Talpona, as well as deltas, waterfalls, and more. Additionally, Goa is home to a wide range of biodiversity and contains seven biodiversity hotspots and several sanctuaries within itself, including the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and the Carambolim Wetlands. Although the state’s ecological balance finds itself in precarious times considering the onslaught of industrial activity and mining, active resistance by civil society has begun to attempt to minimise the adverse effects of these commercial changes.
The history of the region finds its roots in prehistoric times, with evidence of ancient settlement patterns dating back to the Upper Paleolithic Age. Goa was first mentioned in some writings of the Later Vedic Period as a fertile land known as Gomantak. The region witnessed a series of dynasties rise and fall, including the Mauryan Empire, the Satavahanas, Chalukyas,, and the Vijayanagar Empire, and was subsequently taken over by the Islamic Bahmani Sultanate, coming under the rule of Bijapur upon the latter splitting into five. In 1497, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Kozhikode 584 kilometres away, linking Europe to India by sea. Soon after, Portuguese statesman Afonso de Albuquerque attacked Goa in 1510, marking the country’s first territorial acquisition in India; it soon became the capital of their empire in the subcontinent. After Indian Independence, Goa was annexed by India after much tension with Portugal, and now serves as a popular holiday destination, being known for its quality of life. The cultural diversity in Goa, seen in its large Catholic, Hindu and Muslim communities and multi-religious places of worship, attracts a large amount of tourists, as does the newer and more famous party culture that the state is often associated with.
Goa is divided into the northern and the southern districts and is dotted with built and natural heritage sites all over. Old Goa is situated in the northern district; having served as the capital of Portuguese territory, it is home to a variety of religious monuments, including the churches and convents of Old Goa which have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, and a number of defensive forts. The neighbourhood of Fontainhas, in particular, exemplifies the influence of Portuguese architecture on Goa. Traces of Islamic architecture are visible too, with a prime example being the Namazgah in Bicholim. The north is home to a variety of natural sights as well; the baobab graves in Sulabhat, the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Chorao and the Rua de Ourem creek in Panaji offer unique viewing experiences to tourists and locals.
South Goa houses prime examples of the Indian Baroque style, including the Holy Spirit Church and the Old Municipal building in Margao. India’s biggest naval base, the INS Hansa, is located near the village Dabolim. The south is also home to a wealth of natural history, including sea turtle nesting at Galgibaga Beach and the wetlands of Navelim. Ponda in Eastern Goa offers an interesting pocket of Hindu culture in a predominantly Catholic area; once a safe forested space for the local population to transfer Hindu idols away from the Portuguese, it has now emerged as a home to some of Goa’s most important surviving temples.
Moreover, the state has inherited a rich variety of traditions that are still practised today. While the Mussol Khel folk dance pays homage to the Kshatriyas of Chandor, the Potekar and Bonderam festivals at Divar Island, the Sao Joao festival in June and the Goa Carnival in February are celebrated regularly with huge turnouts.
Goan cuisine is rich and varied, heavily influenced by European methods and ingredients that were introduced to India on arrival of the Portuguese; leavened bread, tomatoes, green chillies, corn and cashews have been incorporated into Goan and Indian food at large. The Goa Inquisition, initiated as an extension of the Portuguese Inquisition, especially changed the culinary scene; pork, beef and alcohol were introduced to the local abstaining Hindu and Muslim populations as a mode of religious conversion and was made the norm thereafter. However, indigenous culinary habits hold their own against foreign influences; traditional Konkani cuisine incorporates freshly caught fish, shrimp, prawns and crab, into heartily spiced dishes.
A number of museums, libraries and bookstores dedicate themselves to documenting the history and culture of the state. The Museum of Goa near Calangute popularises local art, whereas the Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa provides an insight into the emergence and development of Christianity in the state. Well-established, large public libraries such as the Central Library at Panaji exist alongside independently owned bookstores such as the Other India Bookstore, catering to a niche crowd and providing an abundance of information on Goa. Although Goa makes up a tiny part of the Indian subcontinent, its contribution to the country’s cultural diversity is immense. Having amassed fame for this reason, it seems that no part of Goa has been left unexplored; however, there exist pockets of lesser known curiosities that make Goa enduringly special to this day.
As a part of the My City, My Heritage launch, Goa is celebrated through a social media campaign showcasing heritage mapping done therein as a part of the project. This includes sharing interesting facts and anecdotes about the city, quizzes, competitions and a digital walk.