Thursday , 20 September 2018

The Lost Ports of Goa

Tensing Rodrigues

Some time back we had mused: we need to search for the archaeological remains of ports in the Zuari bay or along that river; for that is where we have supposed the kathiyavadi chaadd’ddi landed and settled in Goa; that could lead us to our roots.

We certainly know of one port in the Zuari bay – Gopakapattan, the modern Vhodalem Gomy (Goa Velha). In 2015 the marine archaeologists at NIO unearthed a 1.2 kilometres long wall parallel to the Zuari River, which was expected to be a part of an old port. They believed that its structure could be similar to 4,500 years old Lothal dockyard in Gujarat, discovered by Archaeological Survey of India in 1954. Unfortunately we chose to bury it back into the silt, relegating it to the dustbin of history as a Kadamba port (11th century CE).

5,000 to 4,000 years ago is probably when the kathiyavadi chaadd’ddi arrived on the southern Konkan coast in search of suitable sites for ports to replace the submerged Kathiyavad port complex. That is probably when the belt of ports from Samjan to Kharepatan were set up. So the surmise of the NIO marine archaeologists could be fairly right. Gopakapattan lay right across Zuari from the prime villages – Kutthale (Cortalim), Samkhavale (Sancoale), Kelasi (Quelossim) – in which the kathiyavadi chaadd’ddi had settled. At this point you may ask: why did they not build a port on the southern bank of Zuari where they had settled? If the topography of the Zuari bay was then as it is now, the reason is immediately obvious; large tidal flats or marshy swamps lay between the above villages and the river course. As against this, Gopakapattan shore was rocky and there were less of tidal flats. Moreover, the Jesus of Nazareth promontory offered it a sheltered bay.

However, further upstream, many ports seem to have come on the southern bank of the river. The first of these was probably Lottali (Loutolim). There are no archaeological remains suggestive of an ancient port at Lottali; the whole place is so filled with jetties and dry docks, that there is no chance of any remains being visible. But that there must have existed a port here is suggested by the ‘akhyayika’ of Devi Kamaksi at Lottali.  It tells of how the idol of the deity came to be in Lottali. When a boat that had come to Lottali port was being unloaded, one of the blocks of ‘gopi camdana’ (gopi chandan – a type of clay whose powder is used for tilak) that was carried as ballast was found to be cracked, and on inspection an idol of Kamaksi was found to be inside it.

Could Lottali have any connection with the Harappan port Lothal? Lothal was one of the Kathiyavadi ports lying on river Bhogavo. Flowing through the Nal-Bhal depression, together with the Little Rann, it was a part of the navigable channel between the gulf of Khambat (Cambay) and the gulf of Kacch (Kutch). Could it be that the kshatriya who settled in Lottali had come from Lothal, just as those who settled in Kutthale came from Kusasthali, and those who settled in Samkhavale came from Samkhodhar?

Probably the biggest of all was the port at Rachol or Raitur. The current topography of Ilha de Rachol and its environs is suggestive of a very large port – the island itself could be the embankment offering a sheltered harbour; again very reminiscent of Lothal. The ‘rai’ prefix in the name, suggests its importance in the past. As we have seen in the Silahara history, the trading importance of a place, led to its elevation as a seat of power. There could have been a minor port at Kudtari (Curtorim).

Along the river Kushavati, a tidal tributary of Zuari, lay the port of Camdar (Chandor). We have said earlier that the South Konkan Silahara began their reign from Camdrapur or Camdar, Goa. The place still retains vestiges of royal sojourn. Though no remains of a port as such have been found there, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Camdar had a port. It is unlikely that the Silahara would make it a capital if it did not offer them an access to the sea. This is obvious from their very next move. Soon they extended their capital to Balipattana or Valipattana, as can be seen from the Pattanakudi plates dated 988 CE: “Dhammyara, who founded Ballipattana, charming with the surging waves of the ocean.” Historians believe that Ibn Batuta’s Sindabur was probably Camdrapur, which is Camdar. [Moraes, 1941: Notes On The Pre-Kadamba History of Goa, in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol 5, 165; Moraes, 1990:  The Kadamba Kula, 215]

Betul port was located in the wide bay at the mouth of the river Sal, or Kshara-Nadi, as it was known during the Silahara reign. This bay is almost a lagoon with a narrow opening. It must have made an excellent port as it was fully sheltered from the open sea by a 3.5 kilometre long sand embankment known as Mobor (Mobor).  The ‘kot’ (fort) area in Betul is a reminder of its past importance.

A number of smaller ports seem to have functioned upstream of river Sal. The first of these could have been at Asolanem (Assolna – Asanavir in Kharepatan plates), where the river was fed by a tributary rising in the adjoining hills. But there are no signs of an ancient port here. The next could have been at Devasa (Deusua). The topography of the river bank here is typical of remnants of a port – same as what you find at Ilha de Rachol for instance; this, as well as the signs of past trade – what are locally known as ‘lozam’ (warehouses) – strongly suggest the possibility of an ancient port. According to reliable oral sources, an Agni family traded from here and held sway over the merchandising in the Cimconem (Chinchinim) market. However Devasa is today a nondescript ward of Cimconem village; till some years back a canoe service (tari) operated from here to ferry passengers to Karamanem (Carmona – Karaparni in Kharepatan plates) and adjoining coastal villages. Could it be that while Devasa was the port, Cimconem was the market where the trade happened? The probability of Cimconem as a market town increases once we consider the fact that it lies at the end of a cart track that emanated from the trade route passing through Veddem-Paddem (Veroda-Paroda – possibly Vaparavata in Kharepatan plates) and going through the Anmod Ghat. Through the tari (ferry) the goods might have been carried to the coastal villages.


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