Sunday , 26 May 2019
Heritage in a submerged land

Heritage in a submerged land

Sanjeev V Sardesai

It is a common notion that if ever there is a Third World War, it will be fought for water. The frightening signs are all over, and Goa is not an exception. In our intangible heritage of oral arts, there is an adage “One starts to dig a well, only when thirst hits”. How true!

Goa was once called as ‘Gomantak’ because it has a very rich agrarian history. Agriculture flourished here and these lands were known to have a huge population of cows, hence the identity: ‘Gomant’ translates to land of cows; other theories profess that the name Gomantak may have been derived from the legend to Lord Parshuram shooting arrows from the Sahayadri Mountains to create the land. ‘Gom’ meaning ‘arrow’ and ‘an(ta)tak’ – the end or destination.

Despite what the legends of the past convey, today agriculture has taken a back-seat and is almost on the verge of dying. Be it the present generation’s non-engagement with the land, or pure apathy, lack of proper education & heavy red-tape or simply an egoistic disdain, the occupation has be pushed away. The other reason could be unavailability of continuous water for irrigation.

Goa has been blessed with many rivers – Mhadei, flowing down the Western Ghats, renamed as Mandovi as it approaches the Arabian Sea; Rivers Tiracol, Chapora, Baga, Valvanti, and Assanora in the North Goa district; Rivers Zuari (earlier known as ‘Agghanasshini’), Sal, Galgibag and Kushawati in the South Goa district. These rivers bring fresh water from the Western Ghats but turn salty as they approach the Arabian Sea. The unplanned development, industrialisation, uncontrolled tapping of ground water are taking its toll and thus adding to depletion in water availability.

To address both – heritage and the water crisis – let us now venture into the Curdi water catchment basin, in the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. This huge water catchment area was created when the Selaulim Dam in South Goa was conceptualised through suggestions of the first development commissioner of liberated Goa, Alban Couto to Goa’s first chief minister Dayanand Bandodkar.

Tapping the Rivers Uguem and Salaulim, it was decided to build a mud banked dam at the height of almost 15 metres for the water catchment, submerging 17 villages in the Curdi area when filled to its capacity. Started in 1975 and fully operational around in 2000, it required that the residents be re-located to higher and safer grounds of Vaddem and Valkin. During monsoons, the entire area of the water catchment is out of bounds for any visitors.

This dam is an awesome view when filled to its brim and the water overflows over the Duckbill Spillway down to the Salaulim River. The loud crashing of the water is often frightful, yet it leaves the viewer in awe of the beauty of water. On the other side of the dam is a beautifully manicured botanical garden maintained by the Forest Department.

The raw beauty of this water catchment area is seen from mid-May through the first fortnight of June when the entire land becomes arid, and the old village vacated in 1983 displays itself, with its otherwise submerged ruins of old houses and other institutions.

Many Goan greats have their roots in this village including Indian classical vocal artistes Mogubai Kurdikar and her equally famous daughter Kishori Amonkar. They are considered the ‘Jewels of Curdi’. Around mid-June, you can see the ruins of Mogubai Kurdikar’s house in the waters towards the eastern front of the Sri Someshwar Temple, which lies atop a small hillock. You will see a plethora of ruins in various stages of decay giving you an impression of walking or driving through a ‘ghost town’. Take time off to see the stumps of trees that have been submerged for the past many decades and today freckle the entire area like pieces of art.

Curdi lies on the border of Goa with Karnataka and may have been a vital part of the ancient trade routes. Even during the Portuguese era there existed a police station whose ruins can be seen along the approach road to the basin.

The Sri Someshwar Temple is surprisingly unaffected in entirety, and so is the beautiful crucifix built in masonry. Both hold their stand with fortitude. On May 20, every year people head to this destination to attend the feast of Sri Someshwar, where the ling is venerated. The feast of the cross and the Chapel of Sacred Heart is celebrated on the following Sunday.

There are many other archaeologically important features strewn around the area and care should be taken not to move it from there.

Also please note that no attempt must be made to enter this basin if you are unfamiliar with the area as there is every possibility of getting lost and no assistance shall be available due to no mobile coverage.