Tuesday , 18 December 2018
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A glimpse of ancient Govapuri

A glimpse of ancient Govapuri

Dr. Nandkumar M. Kamat

There are very few history and archeology museums where one can chronologically experience the evolution of technology in a small place.

The seminary of Pilar is one of the most scenic, peaceful and clean place on earth. It stands today at the same citadel which commanded the capital city and port of Kadamba dynasty of Goa for 300 years. But the port had existed under the Arabs earlier and is claimed to be at least 4500 years old. How many Goans have visited the Pilar Seminary Museum curated by historian Fr Cosme Jose Costa (87)? It has an astounding display of more than 10000 artefacts (including stamps and coins) which capture the full history of technology in civil and military areas of the past 2000 years. The second edition of Fr Costa’s monograph ‘The Heritage Of Govapuri’ which is largely a catalogue of the objects in the museum is on display with a lucid narrative on local history. Thanks to a liberal grant from Goa government, the museum is refurbished and once the illumination and air-conditioning work is completed it will be an invaluable cultural and intellectual asset to Goa and India.

The grandeur of the location can be experienced from the viewing gallery on the seminary’s terrace- a photographer’s delight. About the artefacts on display we can begin from simple stone tools-there are several on display. A few were found in river sediments. But more astounding is the display of stone- age tools discovered in the Pilar freshwater lake. It includes a giant stone pestle. Some Mesolithic tools from Goa are also displayed. These were donated by archaeologist A S Gaur from NIO. Human settlements in Tiswadi arose from the Mesolithic period.

Then we see an extensive collection of pottery made from diverse types of clays- more than 5000 broken pieces, which may be one of the largest collections outside India’s national museum. These pieces provide a chronological idea of how the technology of firing micaceous and non-micaceous pottery evolved. Red pottery from Guajarat and Black pottery from North India show a booming trade. Fragments of Arab pottery show trade with Saudi Arabia. There is also 800 years old local pottery.

The Roman amphora and glass piece recovered from Pilar tank also proves Roman contacts from 2000 years ago. It makes the knowledge of wines in Goa as old as the Roman Empire. Satavahana coins found in the tank also prove the Roman contacts. The port carried intra-coastal and transoceanic maritime trade spanning East Africa to China. So we are not surprised to see Chinese pottery and Ming porcelain. The Chinese introduced fireworks in Goa possibly in 10th century. The Saivaite Kadambas imported sublime camphor from Borneo. This demonstrates their knowledge about insect repellants.

Evidence of Celtic silversmiths visiting Govapuri is demonstrated in a ‘gem box” a mysterious octagonal silver box with each face having an interesting scene. We see a temple water conduit, shaped as a hollow ‘girivyala or ‘mountain lion’ which has perfectly polished interior indicating knowledge of stone drilling and polishing solid rocks. The museum also has solid evidence of iron metallurgy in the display of 16 metallic objects discovered in the Pilar tank. The Kadamba must have employed ironsmiths who smelted iron using abundant local iron ore.

The knowledge of gold craftsmanship is demonstrated in an intricately carved nose ring shaped like a tortoise. This Kadamba period tortoise ring, along with a small gold coin show that there was abundant local supply of gold and the port city was flourishing with gold artisans. Most of this gold came from panning of river sand from places like Muxir Colvale, Cudnem, Sirigao, Sonus, Sonal, Sonshi, Sonavali, Sonarbag, Zambauli etc. There was a gold supply line connecting to Govapuri. Gold also came from Zambezi valley to Govapuri in exchange of cotton, silk, rice, salt.

One of the earliest evidence in India of the use of hookah or chillum is also found at the museum and fragments of a hookah are displayed. These belong to 16th century. The Portuguese brought tobacco in India. Within few years the local artisans fabricated the hookahs for the smokers.

There is also an astounding display of stones employed as projectiles in mangonel. This is first such evidence of Kadamba period naval warfare projectile technology in pre-gun powder period. But the museum impresses the visitor with varying styles of stone carvings with sculptors struggling with a brittle, rough, porous material like laterite. But the objects made in laterite indicate that they had an excellent idea of choosing the laterite stones which would harden with time. To engineers and architects these more than thousand years old laterite objects without defects can provide clue about choice of local durable lateritic stone for construction or carvings.

So far not much serious analytical archeological or isotopic dating investigations have been carried out on the museum artefacts. The sediment of Pilar tank may also yield lot of information to sedimentologists, biostratigraphers and archaeologists. With Lord Govanath and Goddess Chamunda as patron deities, Govapuri was a seat of fierce tantric cults. Tantrism and development of ancient Indian alchemical and metallurgical traditions go hand in hand. So we need to look at the Pilar museum as a repository of Goa’s ancient technological wisdom and a cosmopolitan melting pot of regional and trans-oceanic innovations and ideas. The nation should salute Fr Cosme Costa for conserving this precious heritage.

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