Some important chimes in Goa

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

Today let us give an ear to the ‘chimes’ of the various bells found in Goa. In Sanskrit, the ‘bell’ is called as ‘ghanta’! Bells are prominently seen in temples and churches, and have had their existence since time immemorial.

Initially in Portuguese Goa when the churches were being constructed, the bells were initially fixed in a triangular gable, generally just over the main entrance, or at one side. The concept of affixing church bells in ‘bell towers’ can be credited to the Augustinian Order. In Old Goa, at the ruins of the Nossa Senhora da Graca Church at the Holy Hill, we can still see the surviving ruins of the bell tower.

The ecclesiastical institutions have a set of two or more bells, of which one is the big, main bell, while there is another small bell in a belfry. The ringing of the bell is sometimes auspicious and sometimes ominous.

The main bell was rung three times a day – at dawn, at noon and at dusk, tolling the time through their strokes. It was also a message for the people to attend their religious services. Another socially important part that the church bells played was passing on information of a demise of a parishioner, by ringing it repeatedly, for a certain time, with “one long ring – a short interval – two short rings”. The bigger bell was rung if the parishioner was staying in the village or area; while the shorter bell when a local parishioner had passed away outside the area or the state.

The biggest and the heaviest church bell in Goa is set atop the surviving south east bell-tower of the Se Cathedral, Old Goa. This bell was considered as one among the twelve best cast iron bells in the world. The sound of this bell is highly melodious and it is named as the “golden bell” or “sino d’ouro”. Viewers must note that this bell is not made of gold, but has got its name because of its sound!

In my article, a couple of weeks ago, we saw another bell atop the Panaji church, presently being refurbished. This is the second heaviest church bell in Goa, weighing approximately 2,250 kilograms. It was originally on the St Augustinian Convent Church, from where it was shifted to Fort Aguada and then here.

When you proceed to Old Goa via the old route, passing the old Ribandar Hospital (now the GIM branch) do not miss the bell of the Our Lady of Piety Chapel, attached to the west side of the complex, which rests outside, hanging in the open on a masonry pillar and wall
support.

The temples have a set of many bells affixed on a thick wooden beam (now dangled from hooks in concrete roofs) in the room outside the sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha) and facing the deity. The temple bells are predominantly made of brass. The sound is created by striking the long pendulum like ‘dong’, hanging inside the bell dome, on the side of the bell!

It is a mythological misunderstanding that the Hindu devotees ring the bell, to awaken the deity or to register one’s presence. The actual reasoning is purely scientific. The temple bell, when rung by standing under it, produces an auspicious resonating sound which is said to ‘disengage the mind from any ongoing thoughts and assisting in focusing on the deity’. The culminating sound of the bell, when heard by standing below it resembles the hum of “aum” or a sound similar to the celestial resonating sound, heard and recorded in space.

What really got my interest in the bells were the two Hindu shrines – one at Headland Sada in Vasco and the other one just before the Patradevi Border. One could see hundreds of small and medium size brass bells hung at these places, creating a very mysterious aura. What was most surprising was these unmanned roadside shrines, displayed these huge number of commercially valuable brass bells, but they were not pilfered or robbed. Today, the small shrine at Vasco has been converted to a medium sized masonry structure, while the Patradevi shrine is open to the sun, wind and rains.

Another very interesting aspect in a Hindu temple that came to sight was at the Sri Shantadurga Temple of Dhargal in Pernem Taluka, along the NH66, immediately after you cross the Colvale bridge. You will be surprised to know that this deity is the presiding deity of the residents of Mapusa, the city famous for its Friday market. It was shifted to the safe lands of Dhargal in Pernem, during the era of religious persecution and temple demolishing by the Portuguese. Before every major religious event in Mapusa, the people seek the deity’s blessings.

In this temple, besides their own brass bells in the mandap hall, there are other bells which hang in the temple. On these bells, we can see the wordings “Candido Roiz Bellas Lisboa”, moulded in relief and dating to 1818, 1870 and 1871! Could it have been ordered from Lisboa? Or gifted as a vow? The other icon moulded on the bell looks like a coconut in a pot. The origin of these bells from Lisboa in this temple, was not found neither could someone give a proper explanation. However, the connection to Lisboa is clearly visible!

The most interesting bell in Goa is found at the famous Sri Mahalsa Narayani Temple at Mardol in Ponda Taluka. This is called as the “bell of truth” or the “nyay ghanta”! Today this bell lies tied, inside the temple, but is not used.

The story goes that, when a person was found to be doubtful in his work, he would be brought to this temple and made to stand under this bell to depose. The psychological pressure was such that, with the fear of the deity, the person would make his statement. It was not just the devotees who accepted the statement of the person as truth, but the Portuguese Administration vide Article 27 of a decree dated December 16, 1880 officially accepted the statement of the guilty person – “as truth”!

When the present viral situation eases a bit, go on a treasure hunt of the sounds and stories of the bells in Goa, with your family.