Goan mansions

V i n t a g e G o a

The old homes of Mascarenhas,

Vivian Coutinho, Nazario Colaco,
Salvador Costa and
Pinto de Rosario

Photography by Atul Sharma Text by Mario Cabral e Sa INDIAN DESIGN & INTERIORS, Feb-March 1997

"ELABORATE WORKMANSHIP, complicated skirts, twisted and turned". That is how a leading Portuguese critic, Francisco Hipolito Raposo saw Indo-Portuguese woodwork. He was writing in a recent issue of OCEANOS, dedicated to Indo-Portuguese art.

It was also a series commemorating Portugal's 500 years at sea, the saga that brought them to India -- Koppat, near Calicut in Kerala, in 1498 -- and enabled them to conquer Goa in 1510 and hold on to her till 1961, for over 450 years. The longest any of her many sovereigns ruled her.

Goa's encounter with Portugal was at times cataclysmal. Primal temples were destroyed and churches built in their stead. Often enough, the stones that only a while ago had adorned the shrines to the old Hindu gods were brazenly used in those built to propitiate the Christian gods of the conqueror.

Sometimes, pyrrhically: the holy water basin of the Moira church, built in 1636 and dedicated to the immaculate conception of Mary, was sending for centuries on the tripartite 'linga' of Lord Shiva, a rare piece of art which once stood in the temple razed to make way for the church. Until the well-known German Indologist Grittli V. Mitterwallner discovered, just a few years ago, the crass disparity. For that long, devotees of the Virgin had blessed themselves with the holy water borne by Shiva's phallus!

Reaction to the Indo-Portuguese blended ethos, that resulted from the Portuguese presence in Goa and the assimilation by Goans of the alien inputs they thought would enrich their own culture, range from outright indignation to unabashed euphoria.

Caroline Ifeka, an Australian anthropologist, dismises in a recent work as unreal "the most compelling image for many Goans of all walks of life who believe that theirs is a special land -- not an Indian land but of India." Goa's dominant image, she asserts, is Indian.

The internationally known Goan historian Dr Teotonio R De Souza treads the middle path. He writes that "the strong cultural and economic resistance in the face of Portuguese occupation resulted in a synthesis that one could term as an artistic Indo-Portuguese patrimony, of which the Portuguese too could be proud!" He argues in that essay, for the issue of OCEANOS already mentioned, that the Asian proved they had a greater capacity to resist the forces of colonial expansion than the Americas (north, central and south) and Africa.

There are, also, dirges in the air.

Raquel Soeiro Brito, a Portuguese social historian, bemoans: "All the areas of the world are in a permanent state of transformation -- and Goa does not escape that general rule. But not all (the areas) do it with the same speed nor with the same visibility."

Late Sir James Richard, an architect and writer of renown, who dwells on some of the houses featured in this article, reasons the prospects in his book GOA (1986). "The houses," he wrote, "belong to the past; yet they are an essential part of the history of Goa and exemplify the qualities that make Goa unique... when these householders have gone, few are likely to keep up the beautiful houses and fewer still will have the means of doing so."

The designers of those houses, let us admit, worked for royalty and rich local traders and landowners. They were not inhibited by modern constraints of space or economy. Andrew Ciechanowiecki who wrote the three very competent chapters on Spain and Portugal for Helena Haywards' excellent WORLD FURNITURE: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY says it felicitiously: the patrons of those marvellous works of art lolled in "unearned wealth". Nor did they have, in their time, "as many luxuries (as today) competing for favour." They could therefore pursue their notions of grandeur, perfection and comfort with single-minded devotion. Luckily for us, many of the owners of the houses we feature here were also very imaginative and people of refined tastes.

I will begin with the Salvador Costa mansion in Loutolim, a South Goa village that is famous for the many large and beautiful houses spread out in a radius of about one kilometre from the nucleus of the village.

The house was built in the nineteenth century. It probably was completed in 1874, a grand period when most extant Goan mansions were built (or the old ones modified, re-built and embellished) by two wealthy siblings and priests, Padre Pedro de Alcantara Lamartine de Quadros -- Padre Pedrinho, as he was known -- and Padre Lourence Avelino Xavier de Quadros, a missionary and probably the one who invested most of the money.

They had a great tradition to keep. An ancestor, Antonio de Quadros had been knighted in 1695. Dr. Adelia de Quadros e Costa, the doyenne of Goan psychiatrists and a grand niece of the Padres, recalls that her father, Salvador -- Salu to the family and friends -- Costa, a young man then, was expressly sent to Bombay by Padre Pedrinho "to buy the best" he could set his eyes on. In terms of chandeliers and faiences, particularly East Indies pieces, he did a very fine job, judging by the items that adorn the house.

The house has many facets. Suzanne Slesin and and Staffard Cliff feature it in their book INDIAN STYLE (1989). They remark that "from a distance only the Indian elements, the low pitched tiled roof, wide verandas and pastel colours are visible. But the Gothic- style windows, cluster columns and fretted spandrels typify the European heritage of the house."

Perhaps what the two Padres had in mind was to dress up their ancestral Indian heritage in the recently acquired European accouterments. They did it splendidly. Note, for instance, the prevalence of turquoise blue on the walls (the Portuguese preferred white and off white). The faiences are Chinese. The Portuguese are rated as the most passionate collectors of Chinese porcelain, which they call 'Macau faiences' because it was acquired through that colony of theirs on the Chinese coast. (The Goans avidly followed the trend.) The vases are European.

And here, hence, is beauty in diversity. The wood carving is typically Goan, in fact Kanarese (part of Goa was once under the Kanara kings till the eighteenth century). The special concepts of the houses are Hindu, e.g. the inner courtyard, the spread of living and dining rooms.

Like most Goans houses, it has a *balcao*, Portuguese for balcony, and by now a word that has entered the Goan vernacular. To first appearances, the *balcao* is European. Actually, it is the good old Hundu extended living room. If the family, for a brief while oblivious of the prevalent sexist taboos, freely mingled in the courtyard and went about their daily routines and chores, it was in the extended living room that the social life processed itself at sunset. Now the old Hindu courtyard is often mistaken for an Iberian patio. The balcony, as another Portuguese derivate....

Padre Pedrinho lived many years before Julian Thomas of Sothebys laid down the essential principles for a good collector: "The development of an educated eye and the knowledge of current values."


    Padre Pedrinho also knew, and only too very well, as his 
    grand niece Rosa Costa    
    Dias, the present             THESE HOUSES ARE AN ESSENTIAL
    householder, vouches,         PART OF THE HISTORY OF GOA
    that with time the            AND EXEMPLIFY THE QUALITIES 
    fortune he and his            THAT MAKE GOA UNIQUE...
    brother had spent would       WHEN THESE HOUSEHOLDERS HAVE
    be worth several times        GONE, FEW ARE LIKELY TO KEEP 
    the investment. He had        UP THEIR MAINTENANCES AND
    his pelments, mirrors on      FEWER STILL HAVE THE
    the wall, idols and the       MEANS TO DO SO...
    door of his private chapel 
    gilded with real, 24-carat gold dust. 

It is not known how the Regency-style sofa caught his fancy. It does not really match the rest of the furnishings. Perhaps he had seen it elsewhere and had his heart set on it. He had it made by his own carpenters, at home. His shrine is decorated with Macau plates. Most ingenuously! He used them in lieu of tiles. The unmistakable Buddhist images decorating them were to him in no way antagonistic to his staunch Catholic faith. On the other hand, if you note carefully the Gothic door, you will realise how he imparted to it a distinctive ecclesiastical influence. Look at the small stylized flowers at the crossings of the joinery.

The other shrine featured in this article is the "Solar dos Colacos". It is a unique mansion situated at Ribandar on the left bank of the River Mandovi, mid-way between Old Goa and Panjim. It is built in baroque style with an imposing facade with a spectacular view of the islands of Chorao and Divar and the historical churches of Old Goa. It is, probably, the only Goan mansion that faces the river.

This mansion consists of two wings.. Construction of the west wing was started around 1730 by Joao Colaco, and was completed in 1745 by his son Nazario Colaco. This part of the house has the family dining room and the mansion's private chapel -- the "Oratorio".

The east wing with its elegant ballroom and its ministrel gallery was a later addition. It was completed by another descendant Jose Bernado Colaco, in 1825.

Jose Bernardo Colaco was for a while a judge in Diu. And this fact seems to have given rise to a legend, apocryphal according to the family, that the grounds in the front facade, below the corridor, built in the style of the monasteries of the time, was meant to receive the "esquife" of the governor of Daman. "Esquife" is an ambiguous word which could mean skiffs, small boats, or more gruesomely, coffin.

Nazario Colaco II had the title of 'Fidalgo Cavalheirio' conferred upon him by the King of Portugal, in 1890. The title raised him to the status of a nobleman and it was then that the house was named Solar dos Colacos, "solar" meaning in Portuguese the residence of a nobleman.

Nazario Colaco II was an artist and a craftsman. His work can be seen throughout the house, the doors of the ballroom and adjoining bedrooms, the quaint carvings and paintings on display in the shrine. He had also executed the centerpiece inlay on the parquet ballroom floor consisting of sixteen different types of wood, including wood from guava trees in the orchard.

The ballroom itself is furnished with intricately-carved Goan furniture, mirrors, chandeliers, and camphor-wood chest inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The bedrooms have four-poster beds, carved wash-basin stands and a full length mirror.

Typical of the ambivalence of the times, Nazario Colaco II carved a sideboard of his dining room with scenes from the RAMAYANA.

But the brief incursion into the family's Hindu ancestrality is counterbalanced by the strident Roman Catholicism of the family's private chapel. The altar, the main feature, is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Legend has it that Jose Bernardo Colaco found the statue of Our Lady in the sea, off Aguada.

In the Pinto de Rosario mansion, in Porvorim, half-way between the capital city Panjim and Mapusa, it is more the joy of possession than reverence for style. Piled up in side-boards and cupboards are rare pieces of everything -- cut-glass, silver, blue china, ivory, you name it. The objets d'art are yet to be categorised and dated. But the sheer quantity and doubtless quality of most of the items are quite simply astounding.

A Goan house, even belonging to people of modest status, is generally large. Till three decades ago, laterite was the main material. Next came timber and there was a wood for every use -- dacoit-proof Matti (so strong!) for outer doors, pest-proof teak (cured in the brakish water of the rivers) for furnishing, sesam and rosewood for carving, the jackfruit for highly polished surfaces.

Till some time back, it was the done thing to scoop the earth and built the houses below the road level. "They were adorned with flourish ferns and plantation and other fruits," as Edward Ines wrote in A VOYAGE FROM ENGLAND TO INDIA (1773).

But opinions, as always, differ.

One could quote two Richards, Sir James, already known to the reader, and Sir Richard Burton, the first Englishman to reach Mecca (he also translated ARABIAN NIGHTS) who came to Goa in 1851 "on six months sick leave" and wrote a book, GOA AND THE BLUE MOUNTAINS that mirrors, most perfectly, the state of his mind.

Wrote choleric Burton, "in Goa amusement began to assume the form of indignation." Nothing could go right for him in Goa, the white-washed walls resulted in "an offensive glare", the churches were "ill-built piles (but) beautifully situated," the Goan *balcao* "had none of the joy-inspiring features of the Italian *balcone*."

Let us take cognizance now of how Sir James saw the same *balcoes*, even if 130 years later, when many of them were, probably, well past their prime. He wrote, "These and other porches serve as outdoor living-rooms, a purpose emphasised by the built-in seats along either side of many of the porches. Goans are no different from other Indian sin permitting their social and family life to be visible to the passer-by."

We published two characteristic *balcoes* in this article. The one of the Mascarenhas mansion in Anjuna, a beach in north Goa, gives one an idea about the lengths to which the landed gentry could go to indulge their pleasure and flaunt their wealth. The other, of Vivian Coutinho, in Fatorda at the entrance of Margao, the care that went into the planning of the entrance of a house of good mirth. The Coutinhos always had, at least as long as they can remember (the house is 75 years old), a well kept garden, the green pleasantly contrasting the red of the masonry seats. They broke the monotony of the red wash and the outer wall, interspersing decorative tiles. As a result one inevitably enters the house in an excellent mood.

The Mascarenhas mansion, in contrast, awes you. It simply is monumental. The riches overpower you. The seat along the length of the porch are L-shaped, of expensive wood, the glare is cut off with a mixture of brightly coloured stained glass and, as if to contrast it, light tinted flint glass "such as which is no longer made" with fine floral etchings.

Past the *balcao* is the entrance suite, with the ancestor's ceremonial velvet coat, cap, sword and insignia reverentially encased in crystal and ebony. The Portuguese had bestowed on his a marquisate and he truly lived to the manner born. So, too, try to the best of the ability his heirs. The mansion has a chandeliered reception room to the right.

Just above there is a low-slung chancel for the band to play. A banquet hall is but a step away, the almirahs replete with faiences turned out in Chinese kilns that have long since closed down.

There is a lot more of history of Goan houses. Not all the householders might know it, but their houses reflect more than the arrival of the Portuguese in 1510 and their stay in Goa till 1961.

Goan houses mirror a dozen other historical upheavals. By 1580, Spain annexed Portugal and she retained it till 1640. During the Napoleonic wars, the French briefly occupied Portugal and were then expelled by the British. The British also briefly occupied Goa during those years. In Asia, the Dutch ousted the Portuguese from Sri Lanka. Which is how one finds so many diverse strands in Goan furnishings, a bit of each country that occupied Portugal and in turn influenced Goan tastes.

On the other hand, Goan craftsmen -- crafty as ever -- had the mischievous pleasure of sneaking into Christian idolatry their own primal cult figures.

If Padre Pedrinho thought it amusing to have Buddhist figures skirting his private chapel, elsewhere the carvers and moulders had their pleasures too. They joyously moulded their Madonnas as bosomy as their primal Laxmis, their Christs as angular as the Himalayan Sadhu. They blended Mediterranean flora, grapes and vines, with Indian fauna, elephants, tigers and lions.

The Portuguese loved to be flattered and so they had them elaborately carved in their formal hunting gear, an obliging Royal Bengal tiger meek and lifeless under their right boot. They were such remorseless romantics, those Portuguese! How best to flatter them than carving on the arms of their love-chairs an Indian courtesan begging to be caressed?

All of which makes Goan houses, particularly the interiors, such a timeless journey into history and civilization. I remember writing somewhere that "Goa is where yesterdays are forgiven and tomorrows are forgotten. Where life is, like love is, like love, an innocent dream. Unpremeditated, and unexpected. But beautiful." The pictures illustrating this article should corroborate this.

PHOTOGRAPHS: The nineteenth century Mascarenhas mansion in Anjuna. The owner was bestowed a marquisate by the Portuguese king and the house has a coat-of-arms at the entrance. In the picture is a *balcao*, Portuguese for balcony/porch, a word that has entered the vernacular. The *balcao* is a common, at one time almost mandatory, feature of Indo-Portuguese architecture. The special feature of this *balcao* is the stained glass. Besides its obviously decorative purpose, the glass cuts off the glare.

The Colaco mansion. The corridor runs along the front facade and faces the Mandovi river. This is the only extant Goan mansion that faces the waterfront. The walls are washed in ox-blood colour, one of the three traditional colours of Goan exteriors, the other being white (very Portuguese) and indigo (very Indian).

Vivian Coutinho's house in Fatorda. 75 years old. The picture shows a typical *balcao* with a red masonry seat. This is one of the few Goan houses with decorative tiles (azulejos in Portuguese, a word derived from Arabic, the Moors having being the ones who taught the Portuguese the technique during their occupation of the Iberian peninsular).

Another view of the *balcao* in the Mascarenhas mansion. On a quiet morning, the lady of the house, Dona Jeannette Lira Pereira e Mascarenhas sipping coffee and gathering her thoughts. The masonry railings with the steps could be used either as seats or as a base for potted plants.

The Salvador Costa mansion in Loutolim, a village noted for large nineteenth century mansions. In the picture is one of its several tall Gothic-style doors, with a discernible ecclesiastical influence in the decorative flowers on the door. Faiences, generally made in China, typify the European influence.

A Regency-style sofa between two Gothic doors with curtainless pelmets in the Salvador Costa mansion.

Dr Pinto de Rosario mansion in Porvorim. Probably late nineteenth century. The Italian floor tiling characterizes the parlour. The furniture is Indo-Portuguese and European; the vases and knick- knacks European and Chinese. On the right, above the exquisitely carved sofa is a Dutch tapestry, a replica of Rembrandt's *Night Watch*.

One of the two reception rooms in the Salvador Costa mansion. The cut-glass chandelier, gilded mirrors, pelmets, and carved furniture are in the late nineteenth Indo-Portuguese style.

The master bedroom in the Colaco mansion. The carved furniture is in the Indo-Portuguese style. The bed cover was personally embroidered and brought in her trousseau by Nazario Colaco II's wife. Its exquisite craftsmanship makes it a revered heirloom now.

The guest bedroom in the Colaco mansion. The beds are in Iberian style, *torcidos e termidos* (i.e. turned and twisted), popularized in Portugal, and as a fallout in Goa, during the Spanish occupation of Portugal (1580-1640).

Another section of the parlour in the Rosario mansion. The love- chair is said to be 200 years old.

Solar des Colaco, the Colaco mansion, solar being a Portuguese word for the large house of landed or knighted gentry. Situated in Ribandar, nineteenth century. The shrine and the idols were carved and painted by the then owner, Nazario Colaco II, circa 1890. He was knighted by the Portuguese king around the same time.

The family chapel in the Salvador Costa mansion has been described as a "kaleidoscope of ivory and wood icons, European vases, Chinese porcelain and electrified candles." The wooden doors, as the floral details in the altar, are gilded, the procedure then being to apply gold (24 carat) dust on wet, neutral colour paint. (*)

From: Frederick NoronhaEmail:fred@goa1.dot.net.in