Sunday , 24 March 2019

Kottan – archaeologists’ delight!

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Chandor or Chandrapur in South Goa has always been a locale of intrigue, not only for archaeologists, but also to people in general. It is a definite destination for an individual with the travel bug, to go and spend a full day scouting around. Be confident that your visit here shall leave you an enlightened person.

After visiting the Chandor village, near the main Church Square, we can now proceed towards the east where the road takes us to the eastern end of Chandor, known more popularly as ‘Kottan’. In Goa, we have many such “Kottan” or just “Kot” – indicating a fortification of varying importance in the vicinity; “Kot” in local parlance means a high wall or a steeply placed location. These fortifications were selected by kings from a strategically important intent of defence from enemy forces.

Chandor too had a massive fort which can be traced only in bits and pieces. However, the ASI Museum at Old Goa displays a model of what the Chandor Fort of the Kadamb Dynasty could have looked like. Today, Towards the East, the village has the Kushawati River, while all around this ward is seen a silted ditch, partly modified as a water canal which could have been an effective yet, practical moat.

Once you drive east from the Nossa Senhora de Belem Church about a kilometre or two down the road after a long stretch of fields to your right, you come to a sharp turn, with a side road going to your right. This is the western border of the old fort precinct; a bus shelter stands here now.

Behind the bus shelter you will see a modern trench or a rain water canal. This was possibly the original moat, or the first line of defence, of the Kadamb Fort at Chandrapur or Chandor. Today this moat is very heavily silted, but the River Kushavati on the eastern end flows strongly and through a tunnel of coconut groves.

About 20 metres from the point to your right is a very intriguing chapel dedicated to St Thiago. Situated right besides the Margao-Curchorem motorway via Assolda the chapel accessible over 5 steps, has at the base something that would give the fainthearted jitters. This is the infamous ‘Stone of the Curse’ of Chandor that has a very hoary legend appended to it.

This is an almost square piece of granite stone, about two feet wide and about one foot thick. It has four elongated depressions along one of its upper edges, almost resembling depressions made by an imprint of a small foot. The origin of this legend is associated with the visit of the church historian Fr Heras around 1930’s.

It is said that in his exploration of the lands, he found this stone in a nearby field. It was then transported and kept at the base of the steps of the St Thiago Chapel. The legend, possibly based on actual happenings, says that when a Kadamb Queen had gone to visit her family away from Chandor returned to find that her husbands’ family annihilated by the enemy, having realised she had been widowed, in a fit of anger kicked the stone four times and cursed that like her ‘the women of this ward would lose their husbands and that any girl getting married into this ward would be widowed at an early age’. So goes the legend and it is left up to each person’s belief.

In the chapel’s compound lie many broken granite pieces, that indicate an hindu temple in the vicinity. It must be noted with pride that these pieces are preserved with care in acknowledgement of the rich heritage of this land. Opposite this chapel is a huge cross with a tall, evergreen ‘Nagin tree’ or the Sterculia foetida tree next to it. These trees were planted earlier close to chapels and churches especially as they acted like ‘lightening conductors’ to protect the metal bell of the church.

In the absence of freely available public transportation, goods for sale especially farm products, were transported over long distances a bamboo basket carried on the head by the people. Such heavy loads carried over distances definitely led to fatigue and thus there needed to be place to rest the loads as well. The age old Gaunkari system or the village administered system had built masonry platforms of shoulder height, called ‘Dovornem’, where people keep their loads and rest. ‘Dovor’ in Konkani means ‘to keep’ or ‘to rest a load’. You can see two such ‘Dovornem’, along the left side of the Kottan road. These must be preserved as it is a link to our past.

As you travel further, you are treated to a view of beautiful old houses in Indo-Portuguese architecture. The ‘Sarah Fernandes Heritage Home’ or what is known famously as ‘Vhodlem Ghor’ or ‘The Big House’ is a house museum that a visitor should not miss.

Every aspect and artefact of this house from entry to exit leaves you spellbound as Ranjit Fernandes explains the same with passion. The residents very proudly state that this house lies in the precinct of the old Kadamb Fort and an excavation carried out by the ASI in their backyard confirms this.

This house is a ground plus one mansion with many antique Goan items. The most unique experience is the hidden tunnel inside a cupboard which was used during enemy attacks as an escape route. Speaking of cupboards there is one cupboard with a hidden compartment, and it is a viewer’s delight. The sitting room on the first floor has a fantastic display of cut glass chandeliers, mirrors and intricately carved furniture. Though there is no fixed entry ticket, it is customary to leave a donation which is used by the owners for maintenance of this massive edifice.

This Kottan ward of Chandor is also the birthplace of the famous Mussal dance. This dance has many unique features of inter communal harmony and is carried out only in this locality and the ward of Cavorim. Cavorim may be a degeneration of the word ‘Koudi’ meaning ‘gate’, suggesting that the Kadamb Fort entrance could have existed here. In the Kottan ward there is a shrine from where this dance starts on the second day of carnaval and ends there after visiting all the Kshatriya Christian homes and dancing in their compounds.

Just a stone’s throw away at a Y-intersection is another rich piece of amazing heritage. The ASI carried out excavations at this place and found a huge granite carved Nandi, with a missing head and the foundations of a Mahadev Temple. The Kadamb Dynasty revered Shiva (Mahadev) as their family deity. You can see the almost 1000 year old kiln fired bricks, used during the Kadamb era to build this temple.

Visitors and locals themselves must visit this village of Chandor and help the people to protect, preserve and promote the heritage of Goa!


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