Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa

An article by Mohan Pai

The Lost Spaces

Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa

“It takes centuries of life to make a little history
and it takes centuries of history to make a little tradition”
- Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan

'Central courtyard' -Courtesy Dempo family, Panaji. Pic by Mohan Pai

Traditional Hindu Homes of Goa
The Hindu traditional houses of Goa reflect several millennia old Indian Architectural heritage. Structures created after the devastation during the Muslim and Portugese regime still reveal some of the rich features of the heritage that has survived in Goa, even though they have disappeared in other parts of India.

In spite of the destruction, the local Hindus showed a remarkable instinct for survival and stuck to their beliefs and tradition like a leach. The Goan Hindu is more conservative and more deep rooted in traditions. To quote Romesh Bhandari:
“Goa has a special role in the practice of Hinduism. It was the Aryans who first brought Hinduism as we know it today to Goa. The Hindus in Portugese Goa however remained insulated from what was happening to their co-religionists in other parts of India. The Goan Hindu is therefore of relatively greater purity than Hindus elsewhere. This relates to religious rites, practices and of the observance of customs, rituals and festivals.”

Goa has had a very long and tradition of Vedic and Sanskritic learning. Goa has the ancient site of Konkan-Kashi (at Diwar Island) considered by the Puranas holier than Kashi itself. The institutions of Agrahara, Brahmapuri and Maths as eminent centres of learning which existed for centuries and the fact that the majority Goan Hindu population still follows Puranic pantheon based on the broad philosophy of Vedanta, all of which is indicative of Goa’s pre-eminence as a nerve centre of ancient Indian Vedic culture.
Agraharas, Brahmapuris and Maths
These were the three most important institutions consisting of communities of learned Brahmins whose profound scholarship attracted students from far and near. The Agraharas constituted the real universities of medieval India. Where as Brahmapuris which were the settlement of learned Brahmins in parts of towns and cities differed from the Agraharas.

The third agency that played an important role in cultural life was the Math. It was a typical Indian monastery with monks, ascetics and students living within its precincts which also served as a free boarding house.The Math tradition of Goa has survived with Goa having three key Maths of Goud Saraswat Brahmin community - Kavale Math, Gokarn-Partagali Math and Kashi Math. In order to enable these institutions to carry on their work, they were richly endowed by Kings, Chieftains and philanthrophic and wealthy citizens.

Historical records of the 11th century AD describe Govapuri “as beatiful and pleasing city, the abundant happiness of which surpassed the paradise of Indra”. The prosperity continued till the arrival of the Portugese in the 16th century. During the Golden Age, the indigenous architect found expression not only in mansions, houses and temples but varied complexes like Agraharas, Brahmapuris and Maths”
Gokarn-Partagali Math, Partagali, Goa
Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguese factor at Cannanore and Cochin in between 1503 and (about) 1517 and had left behind an interesting account on trade and political events of the southeast including Bengal. About Goa, he says:
“This town was very large, with goodly edifices (Temples ?) and handsome streets and squares, surrounded by walls and towers. There is a very good fortress in it, and in the environs many gardens and orchards of fine trees and fruits, and many pools of good water.”
Tom Pires, a Portugese apothecary, who came to India in 1514 after Albuquerque conquered Ilhas mentions in his writings that there was a very large Hindu population and he gives the following description which obviously is that of the Hindu brahmin elite of the time:
“There are a great many heathens in the kingdom of Goa ...Some of them very honoured men with large fortunes; and almost the whole kingdom lies in their hands, ... Some of them are noblemen with many followers and lands of their own and are persons of great repute, and wealthy, and they live on their estates which are gay and fresh ... They have beautiful temples of their own in this kingdom ... There are some very honoured stocks among these Brahmins ... These Brahmins are greatly revered throughout the country, particularly among the heathens... They are clever, prudent, learned in their religion. A Brahmin would not become a Mohammedan (even) if he were a king.”

Saraswats in Goa
Among the Brahmin communities of Goa, the Goud Saraswat Brahmins have always played a dominant role in religious, social, cultural and economic role of Goa.
According to some sources, the first migration (700 BC) to Goa by Saraswats was directly from the Sarasvati river banks via Kutch and southwards mostly through sea routes. The three main groups who came to Goa were the Bhojas, the Chediyas and the Saraswats and maintained connections with the Kutch, Sindh and Kashmiri Saraswats. The second wave of immigrants settled at Keloshi (Quelessam) and Kushasthal (Cortallim) and were named after those villages as Keloshikars and Kushasthalikars. From here they spread to other villages. The main deities which also came along with them were Mangirish, Mahadeo, Mahalaxmi, Kamakshi, Mahalsa, Shantadurga, Nagesh, Saptakoteshwar besides many others. Gomantak region is dotted with so many Kuladevata Temples of Saraswats which testifies to this fact.

The first group of Goud Saraswat immigrants from Trihotrapura (around 1000 AD) settled in two different parts of the Gomantak region. Thirty families were grouped in one commune and sixty six in other. The first commune was known as Tiswadi meaning 30 villages (modern Tissuary), and the other Shashatis meaning 66 (modern salcette). The Tiswadi commune was migrants from Kanyakubja and Shashatis was from Mithila. There is a view that these settlements together were 96 and referred as Sahanavis (Saha means six and Navi means ninety) and later as Shenvis. Once settled down, they continued in their traditional professions of administration and education and some got royal patronage and positions in governance in due course of time. Some enterprising Saraswats branched out into the practice of trading. The successes of these pioneering Saraswat traders encouraged many other Saraswats to whole-heartedly adopt trading as a main-stream profession.
There is another version of the story that, Sri Parashuram brought 96 families of the Panchagauda Brahmins from Trihotra (in Bihar) and settled them at Panchakrosha in Kushasthali of Goa. Such stories are also narrated about settlements of brahmins in Konkan Kanara Coast. This is considered to be more mythology than history. Legends say that Lord Parasuram, shot an arrow from the Western Ghats in adjacent Konkan and the arrow (Baan) landed at the site of Benaulim town. Benaulim also known as Banavali about 40 km from Panaji and 2 km south of Colva is today a beach resort. Even if the legends are considered only as myths, today a temple of Parashuram exists in Poinguinim village of Canacona Taluka in South Goa.

Sage Parashuram - A painting

Should Indus Valley be called Sarasvati civilisation ?

Recent researches based on the satellite photographs have now established the fact that what was called Indus Valley Civilization or Mohenjodaro-Harappa Civilization should be factually called Sarasvati Civilization. Hundreds of remains of these settlements have been discovered, the depth of the underground flowing Sarasvati determined and voluminous reports on these have been published.The Indus Valley civilization was so named because the first site discovered by Sir John Marshall in the 1920s, Mohenjo Daro or “mound of the dead,” happened to be situated in the Indus Valley. Thereafter, more discoveries were made and eventually as many as 2600 sites were unearthed between Iran in the west, Turkmenia, Bactria and the Pamirs in the north, beyond Delhi into western UP in the east, up to the Godavari in Maharashtra in the south, encompassing over one million square kilometers.

The culture goes back to around 7000 BC in Mehrgarh (Pakistan), which shows evidence of a strong agricultural economy and the presence of granaries for storing surplus grain. In its mature phase, this culture spawned the great cities of Mohenjo Daro, Harappa and Lothal, around 2600 BC.

Location map of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization
The more recently discovered Dholavira created elaborate stone gateways and water harvesting structures, and is deservedly renowned for creating the world’s first sign-board in the Harappan script. Lothal had a port with a dockyard and granaries. Yet by1900 BC, the Indus-Sarasvati cities were being abandoned and an eastward shift in population took place. This is reflected in the Sanskrit literature, with increasing importance bestowed upon the Ganga and Yamuna. Saraswat Brahmins preserve a tradition of their southward migration, while Gaud Saraswat Brahmins say they came South via Gaud (Bengal) after the Sarasvati disappeared.

Human settlement patterns have always been closely intertwined with the fundamental economic activities that they support. Thus in the prehistoric period the pattern was migratory, moving with the growth seasons and the animal herds, and the house form corresponded to those needs. It was mobile, light, simple, and protective. A fundamental change in the economic system--the advent of the agricultural revolution, wherein early humans discovered that they could intervene in the reproductive cycle of edible plants and thus control and manage their food supply--brought a corresponding change to the human settlement pattern. No longer was a migratory pattern desirable. Instead, a more sedentary, more permanent form emerged. As agriculture developed further, human groupings were able to produce a surplus of food, and from this single fact grew division of labour and ultimately towns and cities.

Did Central Courtyard architecture originate in the Indus Valley ?

These changes occurred most rapidly in very specialized climatological areas. The first urban agricultural centers emerged in areas blessed with benign and year-round growing seasons combined with the ready availability of rivers for irrigation purposes. Major permanent concentrated populations arose and probably originated in the Thar Desert crossed by the Indus River in what is now India that gave birth to Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan civilization which now dates back to 7,000 BC. where the Central courtyard architecture may have originated and subsequently spread to other regions like the Tigris Euphrates region of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt of the Nile. Iran and China also had adopted courtyard architecture as far back as 3000 BC. In all these arid-region urbanized agricultural centers, the courtyard house emerged as the basic house form. Today, throughout the arid regions of the world, the courtyard house remains a sensible, satisfactory, and preferred solution. A wide range of courtyard house solutions emerged in such cities as Monenjo-Daro, Ur Kahun, and Athens, which formed the essential prototype that spread ultimately from the Spain of the Moors on the west to the valley of the Yellow River on the east. With Columbus's voyages from Spain to the new world, the house form continued further west.

It should be noted that the courtyard house emerged as both an urban and rural prototype. Its key characteristic, however, is not its context but rather that it represents a fundamentally different conception of space. In the courtyard house, outdoor space is captured and included in the residential volume and ultimately becomes the heart of its morphology. This is an arid region concept that serves its climate well.

Courtyard Houses in India
The first courtyard houses, according to historical evidence, appeared to have originated in India probably around 6500-6000 BC. Evidence of the earliest village is from Mehergarh (6500-6000 BC). The settlement consisted of an irregular scatter of mud brick houses and the material for house construction The idea of settlement planning was well established at Harappa at a very early phase, Kot Diji (prior to 2600 BC). The basic overall layout of the settlements is distinguished by the orientation of the streets to cardinal points.
Most private houses had rooms arranged around a central courtyard. Doors and windows opened out into side lanes. Stairs led up to the roof or the second storey. Windows had shutters and latticework.

Sir John Marshall describes the courtyard houses as follows:
“To the right of the porter’s lodge a short passage led to the central courtyard of the house, which was open to the sky and provided light and air to the rooms grouped about it on both the ground and upper floors. And here, let me say parenthetically, that the principle of the open court encompassed by chambers was just as fundamental to -planning at Mohenjo-Daro as it was throughout the rest of prehistoric and historic Asia, and as it has continued to be in India until the present day.”
Sir Johh Marshall in ‘Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization’ (1929).

Courtyard house architecture in India was not just an architectural style. It was a way of lifeCourtyard style architecture which eventually spread from north to south India is called by various names – haveli, wada, deori or nalukettu. If we look at the courtyard houses of India, they are indigenous and matched the climatic requirements. The spatial and formal elements fell into a wonderful introverted blueprint. It reflected the society of its times. Even the simplest courtyard homes have an air of elegant character. The Indian courtyard houses was a remarkable form of residential architecture. The courtyard was this style’s quintessence and its relevance to the home was apparent as well as subtle. It was the structure’s core.

The courtyard ordered other spaces by context in an abode where space was not rigidly fixed but could be adaptable depending on the time of day, season and exigency. It obliquely controlled the environment inside and served the needs of its inhabitants. Its mood changed with varying degrees of light and shade, and with them the ambience of the abode. Centrally located, it imprinted the domain of the dwelling like a visual anchor. Around this courtyard space the rest of the structure seamlessly coalesced by the play of peristyles and gallery spaces. It was the spatial, social, and environment control center of the home. The courtyard ordered other spaces by context in an abode where space was not rigidly fixed but could be adaptable depending on the time of day, season and exigency. It obliquely controlled the environment inside and served the needs of its inhabitants. Its mood changed with varying degrees of light and shade, and with them the ambience of the abode. Centrally located, it imprinted the domain of the dwelling like a visual anchor. Around this courtyard space the rest of the structure seamlessly coalesced by the play of peristyles and gallery spaces. It was the spatial, social, and environment control center of the home.

Haveli of the northern India
Sri Chakra is the Yantra of the Cosmos. It is believed that the Angan represents the four corners of the Universe.
This form of architecture met with the requirements of the traditional joint family system as well as the climate. The courtyard functioned as a convective thermostat and gave protection from extremes of weather. A dust storm could pass overhead with little effects on the inmates. The courtyard moderated the extreme effects of the hot summers and freezing winters of the Indian sub continent , and averaged out the large diurnal temperature differences. It varied from being a narrow opening to a large peristyle one in the interior zone of the house, with perhaps another or more near the entrance and the rear section. The total number of courtyards in one residence could sometimes be five to six. The courtyard house in India was not based on blind conformity and there was tremendous innovation over the intervening centuries.

Chettinad central courtyard house

Traditionally Nadumuttom or central open court yard used to be their in bigger houses of Kerala.They is an open area usually square shaped in the exact middle of the house dividing the house in its four sides. Due to this four side division of the house by having a Nadumuttom. Houses with one Nadumuttom used to be called as Nalukettu house. Similarly there was Ettu kettu and Pathinaru kettu which are quite rare.

Central Courtyard Houses of Goa
The Hindu heritage or traditional houses of Goa that have survived today, have a backdrop of millenia years of history, starting with Mohenjo-Daro and Hararppan civilization and settlements. Most of the surviving Hindu traditional houses are central courtyard houses, the origin of which lies in the Indus Valley Civilization. The Indus valley Courtyard architecture which probably originated as far back as 6500-6000 BC spread gradually not only to the other parts of India but also to other ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is matter of conjecture, with some basis, that the Central Courtyard Culture was probably adopted and brought to Goa by Saraswat Brahmins when the first wave of their migration settled down in Goa around 700 BC and the subsequent waves of migration. The Central Courtyard design dominates the architecture of the Hindu traditional homes of Goa. Considering the highly traditional, conservative and custom bound way of life, Saraswats who migrated to Goa, continued the ancient architectural style of residence for their residence in Goa, especially since the Central Courtyard (Angan, Rajangan) with Tulasi Vrindavan was considered a ‘sacred’ space by the householder.

Goan domestic architecture is a combination of biodegradable building material and an exposure to the elements may have been responsible for the collapse of older constructions. The main stock of houses that have survived appear to be those built or refurbished between the middle of the 18th and the 20th centuries, a period when the region was under Portuguese governance. The year 1750 was a turning point in Goa’s political and social history. It is this turning point that was also responsible for the exuberance and ostentation in architectural wealth that we see in the houses of Goa built subsequently.
Illustration: courtesy Mario Miranda

During the middle of the 18th century the gold rush in South America had begun a few years into the reign of King João V and following this wealth came into Goan hands. The proclamation by the powerful Marquis de Pombal, Prime Minister to the King, declaring all colonial subjects to be Portuguese further emboldened Goans. They began to express themselves (and their Goan identity) through music, dance, sculpture, painting, food and folklore. It was around this time that Goans first began to use their homes as vehicles of this expression.

Hindus of Goa also began to use their homes to display personal wealth, unthinkable after the arrival of the Portugese. Most grand houses that we see today are the homes of Goan Christians. A few may belong to Hindu families as well but these are town houses originally built for the entertainment and luxury of European guests who could not be entertained in the more tradition-bound country homes where religious taboos disallowed the serving of prohibited foods and where women followed seclusion regulations. Conversion to Christianity turned ‘inward-looking’ houses into ‘outward’ looking ones. Small windows (rarely fronting the street), blind walls and open courtyards in the interiors of Hindu homes were transformed to create ornamental homes with balcaos fronting the street where men and women could sit together and ‘see and be seen’. Homeowners who claim that their homes can be dated to before the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa have refurbished their homes to such an extent that it is difficult to find evidence of their antiquity.


The courtyard house of Goa harks back to a long tradition of dwellings with a central space open to the skies circumscribed by rooms on all sides, a model as much functional in keeping the house cool in the hot climate, as of sacred inspiration. Along the famed Konkan coast, we find references to courtyard houses from the later medieval period onwards. Indeed, in order to find a suitable precedent to the patio house of Goa we need look no further than the domestic and monumental architecture of Vijayanagar. While the churches and sacred buildings of Goa have been the focus of a majority of studies on the built heritage of Goa, in more recent times, there has been increasing awareness that the resplendent houses of Goa are as deserving of careful attention.

'The Chowki' - Courtesy Sawakar family, Borim, Goa. Pic by Mohan Pai
The architecture of Goa is a combination of Indian, Mughal and Portuguese styles. Since the Portuguese ruled for four centuries, many churches and houses bear a striking element of the Portuguese style of architecture. Goa was also under the Mughal rule and thus one finds monuments built in the typical Mughal style complete with the domes. By the end of the 18th century, there was a change in the style of the buildings of Goa. Though the Portuguese essence remained, there was an overdose of colors and usage of tiles increased. Blue and red turned out to be favorite colors with many houses being painted in bright blues and the roofs being covered by red tiles. The houses are usually large and have spacious rooms with windows for ventilation.

The height of Goa's glory was mutually linked with the Portuguese, but the Goan grandeur predated the Portuguese. Chieftains, kings and a host of Indian dynasties had made this little jewel glitter with royal pomp. The inscription of around A.D.1000 (when Shashtadeva of the Goa Kadamba dynasty sat on the throne), describes the early splendor of the capital: 'Gardens on every side. White plastered houses, alleys, horse stables, flower gardens, markets, harlots' quarters, and tanks.' In his son's reign, Goa is reputed to have commanded a powerful fleet and traded with fourteen foreign lands. In essence, it was a coveted land with the most sought after port in India before the arrival of Muslims and Portugese.

The elaborate entrances and openness of Catholic houses, the best of which retain the courtyard, combine Indian tradition with new European influence both in structure and lifestyle within. Most of these houses came into existence during the later part of the 18th century after the Marquis of Pombal brought in the changes in the Portugese outlook of its colonies.

Ancestral Hindu houses in the town are plain, closed structures which conceal the illustrious tradition of the inhabitants. A step or two lead into quiet entrances, with small windows opening out on to the street. The house reveals its beauty only indoors - rooms converge on to the courtyard with ‘Chowkis’ which is the centre of family activity; light flows in hidden from the public gaze. It is a protective and private space.

Naik Mansion, Margao - Courtesy Naik family. Pic by Mohan Pai
The Rajangan or just Angan was a large space with internal court open to the sky; roofs from all sides of the house drained into it. The focal point of the central courtyard is the Tulasi Vrindavan in the centre. The four sides were open like an internal verandah (Chowki), quite often with special ornate columns, brackets, beams, etc. Column and their brackets are pre-Portugese features that depict the progression of the architectural style in ornateness and refinement. The Puja room is always located on the left side of the house. Apart from being a place of activity and the centre of the house, ‘Chowki ‘served as a dining area on festive occasions, for large number of guests.
Sopo, a cowdung finished mud masonry in the houses of lower class and lower middle class people, figured in upper-class homes as a built wooden or masonary seat and as a stylised balcao in the house of a Christian landlord. Though commonly termed as an Indo-Portugese feature, balcao or Sopo is very much an indigenous concept.
Goan traditional Hindu houses have the following standard features:
Rajangan or Angan (courtyard with a Tulasi Vrindavan)
Deva kood (a place for daily prayer and other rituals)
Saal (a hall) Raanchi kood (a kitchen with a door which is called Magil daar)
Balantin kood (A room special meant for pregnant and nursing mothers.)
Kothar (store room)
Pooja Hall (A hall specially meant for celebrating Ganeshotsav)
Vasri (Dining Hall)
Gotho (Goshala)
Manne (Bathrooms located next to the well)

It is very difficult to assess the age of the old Hindu houses that have survived. One can only put together information available from bits and scraps.
The grand Hindu mansions like that of Kundaikar, Gaunekar and the Dempo house in Santa Cruz were built much later during late 18th and 19th century retained the introspective character but added a couple of chandeliered salas and western furniture in keeping with their status as leaders of the Hindu community within the Portugese colony.
Among the few pre-Portugese surviving houses, the oldest is perhaps the Pundu Camotim’s house located about 3 km from Old Goa. It’s a vast house and according to its present owners it is at least 580 years old. The family appears to have lived in the house even before the Portugese arrived at the beginning of the 16th century. Filipe Nery Xavier , administrator and historian has recorded the grandeur of the house of Rucuminim Camotim as the first of three most important business houses of Goa in the first quarter of the 18th century.
The next house is that of Mhamai Camotim at Panaji next to Idalcao Palace which is a late17th century house built after they returned to Goa. The earliest detail relating to Mhamai Camotim family is a loose document found by Teotonio de Souza who was perhaps the first to trace their history. When the Mhamai family moved to Panaji it was partly inhabited by Portugese fidalgos and Goan merchants as a suburb of Old Goa.
Mhamai Kamat Mansion, Panaji. Courtesy Mhamai family. Pic by Mohan Pai
The age of Malbarao Sardesai’s ancestral house in Savoi Verem is uncertain. But it is a vast and sprawling construction with as many as 3 inner courtyards. The house has an elaborate gateway and a flight of steps leading into a large porch with sopes, long seats, to lie or sit on.
Casa Dempo, Panaji. Courtesy Dempo family. Pic by Mohan Pai
Casa Dempo in Panaji, the second house of Dempos was built after they returned to Goa and when the capital was shifted from Old Goa to Panaji during the mid-eighteenth century. This house has been partly refurbished over a period of time. Their first house was located in Panvelim near Old Goa when they returned to Goa in the late 16th century. Dempo house in Santa Cruz was built much later and markedly different from the older house in Panaji.
References: 'Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization' by Sir John Marshall (1929), Raj Chengappa 'The Indus Rddle' in India today, 'Goa - A daughte's story' by Maria Aurora Couto, Houses of Goa (Architecture Autonomous)


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