Goa's isolation from the rest of India for more than four centuries under the Portuguese rule, its geographical borders in the form of the Sahyadri ranges and the tidal rivers have managed to give the people of Goa a unique and separate identity. The people of Goa prefer to call themselves Goans and not Goanese as mentioned in guidebooks and brochures.
Goans are very much aware of this unique identity; they are proud of it and guard it fiercely. The population of Goa is composed of a Hindu majority of around 65% and a Christian minority of around 30%. Muslims and other religions make up the rest. The interesting part in all these percentages is that, as is the case with most statistical figures, they conceal more than they can ever reveal.
The Hindu community is dominant in the talukas (districts) of Ponda, Bicholim, Pernem, Satari, Sanguem, Quepem and Canacona. These areas actually form part of the Novas Conquistas, or the New Conquests, made by the Portuguese in the last stage of the expansion of their Goan empire in the eighteenth century. By this time, the Portuguese military might was on the wane and the religious ardour for forced conversions was at its lowest ebb. Hence the population in these newly conquered areas were pretty much left to practise their religion in peace.
The Old Conquests on the other hand, consisting of Salcete, Mormugao, Tiswadi and Bardez bore the brunt of the Portuguese army and the religious zealots. Together, the two arms of the Portuguese empire, managed to destroy temples and converted hundreds of non-Christians in these areas, which are predominantly Christian today.
Fortunately, these bitter memories of the past have done nothing to change the warm, friendly and loving nature of the Goan people. By and large, the Goan considers himself a Goan first and a Hindu, Christian or Muslim afterwards.
The bonds of language and the Goan identity are strong enough to allow for different religious persuasions. In contrast to other parts of India, Goans have developed a remarkable degree of tolerance towards each other's religious beliefs, and hence religious fundamentalism is completely unknown in the state. The best evidence of this is seen in quite a few places of worship in Goa, where both Hindus and Christians go together.
The Damodar temple at Sanguem, the Church of Our Lady of Miracles in Mapusa, the Shantadurga temple at Fatorpa are excellent examples of this unique religious harmony that exists in Goa. Besides these, a number of other festivals in Goa are celebrated by members of both communities with equal fervour.
In proportion to their numbers, a very high percentage of Goans live abroad than the members of most other regional communities of India. But no matter where they might be on the surface of the planet, Goans love to express the adoration of their homeland in some form or the other.
Goa is a state of mind. And to most Goans, this is best expressed in the lines of the Konkani poem penned by the eminent Goan poet B. B. (Bakibab) Borkar: "If I am to be born again and allowed to choose my birthplace... I shall choose Goa... because its scenic beauty has a supernatural quality of refining the human mind and turning it inward into the depths of creativity and spirituality."