Unexplored handicrafts of Goa

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

As seen in our last article, one of the major factors that portray the intangible heritage of our land of Goa, are the handicrafts. The local populace is totally unaware of the potential importance of these beautiful handicrafts. Besides offering the innumerable visitors a choice of amazing takeaway memories, in the form of souvenirs, the promotion of these arts contributes to providing livelihood to the artisans, besides creating avenues to preserve the dying

occupations of our land.

If we travel to Agra, it is expected that we will carry back souvenirs related to the Taj Mahal and the other magnificent architecture that we see, in mini-models or printed materials. So too, when our tours take us to places such as Hyderabad, a model of the Charminar travels back with us; while sandalwood products accompany us back from Karnataka and Kerala.

In Goa, we have the Goa Rural Handicrafts and Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (GHRSSIDC), which was established in October 1980, to offer a platform for the local artisans to showcase their products, and also assist in the promotion of their trades. They have their own showrooms, Aparanta, all over Goa, promoting a range of handicrafts related to Goa.

When we are confronted by visitors to recommend souvenirs, we must keep in mind that purchasing and transporting them safely to their origin are the two main criteria. The heavier the weight of individual items, lower is the chance of purchase for reasons of extra baggage load, especially at airports. So also, higher the prices per souvenir/ handicraft item, lesser the quantity purchased, thereby limiting the scope of enhancing the output of products. So what can we recommend to those who ask us?

Goa is a shore land which is blessed with coconut palms. This palm is granted the status of a “Kalpataru” in the Indian context, wherein each of its part is put to use, in social or home activity. The fibrous coconut fruit shell offers the coir which is now known as “the wonder fibre”. An entire industry is based on this coir craft.

Goans, as well as the world, have used and are still using coir ropes for drawing water from wells, and also use them to harness ships in port. The post Liberation era of Goa saw many dyed and natural coloured coir products that flooded the market. Coir mattresses are very comfortable and offer a good support to sleep on. Coir products come in a range of items such as door mats, table coasters, slippers, wall hangings, etc. Indians may not attach much value to these products, but foreign visitors are fascinated with such handmade products. What fascinates them most are the “carved whole coconuts” depicting Indian deities, caricatures and animals, which are comfortably priced and light to transport. The new option in Goan handicrafts is the banana tree fibre, used in many ropes and other products.

Brassware, manufactured by the Kansar community, is very famous in Goa. One can find many products made of brass, which was a flourishing industry in our state. Brass oil lamps in various shapes and sizes, the five armed brass divaj, wall hanging plates, etc, are a safe recommendation for cost effective

purchases by tourists.

Goa though a coastal state, is surprisingly void of large size sea shells. However the small and medium shells are used to make key chains, decorative lamp shades, shelf display pieces, paper weights, etc. Recent trend shows a high demand for beautifully made, naturally broken sea shell trinkets and jewellery, which is becoming a hot fashion among the college students and teenagers, in the form of formal and informal earrings, wrist bands, and necklaces. Though the larger format items are fragile to carry, such small trinkets and decorative pieces show a good potential for the purchase itinerary of tourists.

One of the most fascinating arts that were introduced in Goa by the Portuguese, who in turn imported the same from Spain, is the painted tile art of azulejos. Tourists, who love the Indo-Portuguese houses, are as fascinated with the blue and white painted ceramic tiles that adorn the house exteriors in the form of plates and huge artistic panels. One of the finest examples of azulejos panel art is seen at the entrance foyer of Institute Menezes Braganza at Panaji, where the entire journey of Vasco da Gama’s discovery to India via the sea route is beautifully displayed since 1927, on all its walls.

Though there are dedicated shops in Panaji making available various pieces of azulejos, one can find many similar pieces for sale in souvenir shops. They are available as customised pieces in 3D images, single or multi plate murals in blue and white or coloured tiles. If one has the time, one can get his or her own name incorporated on customised designer door nameplates.

Another fascinating and highly appreciated art of Goa, much sought after by the foreign visitors is crochet. Today in the western world, customised products have an extremely high value; and when coupled with their high value currency, the pricing here is comfortably very low. Such products are in high demand with the upper echelon of foreign tourists.

The soft toy industry is fast picking up in Goa, but it requires our support in promoting the same with the tourists. They are easy to carry, affordably priced and much appreciated when presented. Earlier the works of artisans in wood art and ivory carving have been highly acclaimed. Today procuring of good wood and natural ivory is difficult or has been banned.