India and the World: the meaning of Goa

Look at the map from the perspective of land borders, and India’s
smallest state is an insignificant pinprick of territory tucked away
on a western coastal extremity of the subcontinent. But turn the
prospect around to think of the vast oceans as the main location of
cultural flow, contact and exchanges that they are, and you really
begin to understand the essential importance of entrepots. As Ranjit
Hoskote said earlier this week in Panaji, that switch in outlook is
crucial to understanding Goa’s function over millennia as an important
crucible of “entanglements, exchanges and transfusions”.

Hoskote was hosting an “outreach programme” that is collateral to the
exhibition, ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’, at the
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai. This
collaboration between the host institution, the British Museum in
London and the National Museum in New Delhi brought together hundreds
of objects from the main partners as well as 20 smaller museums and
private collections across India. The Museum of Christian Art in Old
Goa lent its showstopper monstrance in silver, and was the host of the
Panjim event, ‘In the shade of the Calpataru’.

Another of the evening’s speakers, Delhi-based academic Jonathan Gil
Harris reiterated Hoskote’s point that it is important to look at some
of the broader questions of identity, culture and tradition from the
perspective of Goa. He said that this required an acknowledgement that
“all culture is actually conversation, indeed a function of
translation”. This is one of the main themes of his 2015-released
book, ‘The First Firangis: Remarkable Stories of Heroes, Healers,
Charlatans, Courtesans & other Foreigners who Became Indian’. That
book of history is full of examples of transnational characters,
including Garcia da Orta (‘the Hakeem of Bombay and Ahmednagar’),
Thomas Stephens (‘Patri Guru, the Kavi of Rachol’) and Juliana Dias da
Costa (‘the Jagirdar of Jogabai’).

In his individual presentation preceding a panel discussion, Hoskote
spoke about Jose Custodio (Abbe) de Faria, the Candolim-born priest
who achieved significant notoriety in Rome and Lisbon before
intriguing at considerable length in post-revolutionary France in the
late 18th century. That journey from India to Europe is the precise
opposite to what was accomplished by Thomas Stephens in the 16th
century. Gil Harris recounted how the Oxford-educated Englishman wrote
the first printed grammar of any Asian language on Konkani (in 1640),
Arte da Lingoa Canarim, and later the singular Krista Purana in a
unique mixture of Marathi and Konkani that is profoundly influenced by
both Greek classical literature as well as his contemporary, the great
bhakti poet Eknath.

One of India’s leading tabla players, the scholarly Aneesh Pradhan
described the trajectory of Kesarbai Kerkar, who was born into a
devadasi family in Goa in 1892, then shifted to colonial Bombay to
pursue the study of Hindustani music in her teens, and eventually
became such a celebrated exponent that hers was the only Indian voice
included on the gold-plated Voyager Golden Record compilation of great
world music that was sent into space on board the US’ Voyager 1 and 2
spacecraft in 1977. Here too was a story of infinite adaptability and
ambitious transformation, as the girl from Keri became imperious Padma
Bhushan award-winning “Surashree” legend.

Three life stories that played out in markedly different spaces in
varying time periods. Yet, there are deep resonances. One intriguing
suggestion made by Gil Harris was those who carry secrets eventually
drive cultural production. This certainly makes sense with regard to
the spectacular flowering of Goan aesthetics throughout the 19th
century, with its bountiful efflorescence of a new architecture,
music, cuisine and artistic approach that is poised confidently
between East and West. The secret, so to speak, is complexity (which
Hoskote astutely pointed out is another word for complicity). With
political and economic clout, the Goans of the time felt comfortable
expressing the fullness of their identity, some of which had fallen
dormant in the face of overt colonial intolerance.

India is currently lurching through an era of impositions on its
age-old pluralist values. Instead of unity in diversity, the
prevailing mantra appears to be uniformity. In this cultural
strangulation, Goa stands out to continually confound the would-be
homogenizers. Here, the narrow communal calculus winds up with a
bottom line of zero. Here, humanism trumps bigotry almost every time.
It is an increasingly invaluable example for the rest of India and the

Article by Vivek Menezes.

This article first appeared in the Times of India Goa edition on 17th february 2018.

The writer is a photographer and a widely published columnist. The views expressed are personal.

Miraculous Weeping Cross

The Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa, Asia’s first and largest Convent, was built between 1606- 1627. The Church of Santa Monica, is joined to the Convent on the Southern side.

The nave of the Church of Santa Monica is divided into two parts: the first makes up the main part of the Church with two side Altars, the Main Altar and the Altar of the Weeping Cross. The second part of the Church (presently the Museum of Christian Art) is separated from the first part by an iron railing.

The Altar or the Chapel of the Weeping Cross is divided into two distinct parts: At the lower part, is the retable. At the upper part, is a verandah, having at its centre the image of Christ on the Cross, after which the Chapel/ Altar is named.

The image of the Crucified Christ on the Altar of the Weeping Cross, initially stood on the choir loft, and is reputed to be miraculous. It is said, that on the 8th of February, 1636, the second Friday of Lent, this image of the Crucified Christ opened its eyes many times as well as its mouth as one who desired to speak while blood was seen flowing from its wounds as though it were living. This event was witnessed by some of the cloistered nuns.

This supernatural event was repeated again on the 12th of February, 1636 in the presence of the Viceroy, the Archbishop, aristocrats and a vast multitude of people. After a thorough inquiry this event was declared as miraculous. Since then, the image is held in great veneration. From 1915 onwards, the feast of this Cross that was initially celebrated on the last Sunday of November, was fixed to the 27th of November.

The Church of Santa Monica (Chapel of the Weeping Cross) has been recently restored by the Museum of Christian Art with the financial assistance from the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Government of Goa.

The Church is open to the public everyday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Getting around in a Palanquin!

Song of the Palanquin Bearers

Lightly, O lightly we bear her along,

She sways like a flower in the wind of our song

She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream

She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.

Gaily, O gaily, we glide and we sing,

We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

Softly, O softly, we bear her along,

She hangs like a star in the dew of our song.

She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide,

She falls like a tear from the eye of a bride.

Lightly, O lightly, we glide and we sing,

We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

– by Sarojini Naidu

This poem written by Sarojini Naidu is an ode to palanquin bearers who engaged themselves in humming, chanting, and singing during their treks as a way to break up the monotony of daily transport.

A palanquin is a wheel-less vehicle, consisting of a chair or a ventilated cabin suitable for a single occupant and is carried by at least two porters each in the front and at the back, using wooden rails that pass through brackets on the sides of the chair. The Portuguese word ‘palanquim’ can be traced back to the Sanskrit word ‘palyanka’ meaning ‘bed or couch’. It is known as ‘jiao’ in China, ‘silla’ in Latin America and ‘sedan chair’ in England.

Before the use of the automobiles began in the 17th-18th centuries, palanquins were a desirable mode of transport for the rich and the nobles. It was preferred as those inside did not feel any discomfort from the terrain even when the carriers moved at an irregular pace or ran. It was mostly used by women. Men were allowed to use the palanquin only on certain occasions. Each palanquin, depending on its size, required the use of 2-6 palanquin bearers known as ‘boyees’.

In India, palanquins are mentioned in literature as early as the Ramayana (c.250 BCE). In British India, the palanquins were used as a means of transport by the ruling elite as well as to carry the wounded from the battlefield.

The transport in Goa during the Portuguese period, followed the customs and legislations prevalent in Portugal. In the 17th century, an order from King Felipe II of Portugal prohibited men from using palanquins as they were considered an unmanly mode of transport. However, this ban was not widely observed. The Chief criminal judge, the sick and those over sixty years of age were allowed to use such transport. Prince Augusto de Braganca used this form of transport during his stay in India from December 1871 to March 1872. Even the church had its ‘machila’ for the parish-priest to make his rounds of the village.

This late 19th century sedan chair (machila) from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa was originally from the Saviour of the World Church, Loutolim, Goa. It was used to carry the Priest when he visited the interiors of the village. It is painted in red with golden floral motifs framed in oval shields centered on each panel of the sedan chair, including the doors. The interior of this chair was ventilated by a series of horizontal slats (openings). The wooden shaft that was used to carry the chair, was fixed to the chair by iron struts inserted through the feet. The feet of this sedan chair were shaped like lion’s paws.

MoCA @24

The journey of the Museum of Christian Art (MoCA) began on the 23rd of January 1994 at the Seminary of Rachol where it was first housed. Since its inception, MoCA has enriched the cultural heritage and history of Goa.

MoCA was originally set up with the technical and financial assistance from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi who have continued their collaboration with MoCA till today.

MoCA is a treasure trove of unique Indo-Portuguese art objects. Every object has a story to tell of the cultural past of India and Portugal. The art objects from MoCA have been sought for international exhibitions in Japan (1999), Brussels (2010), Australia (2015) and Mumbai (2017).

Lectures, Workshops, Exhibitions, Music concerts, Heritage Walks are a few among the many activities carried out by MoCA over the years. MoCA has also played an important role in restoring back to its former glory the 450 year old Church of Santa Monica, Old Goa.

As MoCA advances into its 25th year, we have embarked on an exciting and prestigious project which will totally transform and upgrade MoCA to the latest world standards of Museology as well as vastly enhance visitor experience and conserve Goa’s unique Indo-Portuguese artistic heritage. This Refurbishment Project which is estimated at Rs. 7.5 crores has received a grant of Rs. 4 crores from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.

Your contribution to this much needed cause of preserving, for posterity, our rich cultural heritage will be received with gratitude.

To make a generous donation to MoCA

Contact: Museum of Christian Art

Convent of Santa Monica
Old Goa, Goa 403402
Ph: +91 832 2285299

Although MoCA is now closed to visitors due to the ongoing refurbishment works, the restored Church of Santa Monica will remain open every day for visitors. Throughout closure we will be organizing various events and activities. Keep in touch with MoCA for all the latest updates by following us on Facebook: Museum of Christian Art -Old Goa and Instagram: museumofchristianart

St. Sebastian

Representations of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian are abundant in both European and Indo-Portuguese art. He is mostly depicted wearing a loincloth, tied to a tree or a post and his body pierced by arrows. This image of St. Sebastian from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa is done in an 18th century style with Italianate features. The anatomically well proportioned St. Sebastian is shown in the usual pose, tied by his arms to a tree at the moment of being pierced by arrows.

St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne, in Gaul and was brought up in Milan (Italy). Despite being averse to the military life, he went to Rome and joined the army in c.283 AD, to minister to the persecuted Christians without suspicion.  He moved through the ranks of the army and became an imperial officer. He was a gifted healer and converted many soldiers as well as the governor of Rome to Christianity. He was eventually caught and Emperor Diocletian ordered him to be tied to a stake in a field and shot to death by arrows. He survived and was nursed back to life by St. Irene who recovered his body. After recovering from his multiple wounds he was once again brought before the Emperor, only to be martyred again in 288 AD.

One of the seven principal churches of Rome is built over his relics and burial site along the Appian Way in Rome. His feast day is celebrated every year on 20th January by the Roman Catholic Church. He is invoked in times of plagues and is the patron of archers, athletes and dying people.

Museum of Christian Art (MoCA) Heritage Walk ‘Retracing Monte Santo – an Art and Architectural Walk atop the Holy Hill’

Everyday there are hundreds of tourists as well as locals visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Old Goa. However, not many are aware of the monuments that are located atop Monte Santo (Holy Hill), Old Goa. The heritage walk ‘Retracing Monte Santo’ was started by MoCA with the aim to bring to light these unexplored art and architectural treasures that are located on the Holy Hill.

Each Heritage Walk begins at 9:00 am and lasts for 2-3 hours The Walk is led by Arch. Noah Fernandes and covers the Ruins of St. Augustine Monastery, Royal Chapel of St. Anthony, Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary and  the Church of Santa Monica (Chapel of the Weeping Cross) located on the Holy Hill (Monte Santo) in Old Goa. We also conduct Heritage Walks around monuments in Old Goa on request.

The first Art and Architectural Walk was held on 18th December 2017 for the students of School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal. A second Walk was organized for the students of the Painting Department of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda on 10th January 2018. It was led by Arch. Noah Fernandes and covered the Churches and heritage monuments of Old Goa.

The heritage walk ‘Retracing Monte Santo’ is one among the many fundraising activities of MoCA which has currently embarked on an exciting Refurbishment Project. The proceeds from the heritage walks go towards funding the conservation of the art objects from MoCA’s collection

The funds raised from the 1st two walks will help us conserve the following art objects: Holy Trinity, Infant Jesus the Good Shepherd, and, Monstrance.

The Heritage Walk is open to students, tourists and the general public. To register individually or as a group, contact: (0832)2285299 or send us an e-mail at

To know more about MoCA and the Refurbishment Project visit

Pelican Tabernacle Monstrance

The use of animals in religious symbology is often found in both, the Old and the New Testament. It had been common practice since the Middle Ages and continued vigorously in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Pelican has a prominent place in Christian art, based on the words from Psalm 102:7, ‘I am like unto the pelican’. There was a widespread belief that pelicans were so devoted to caring for their young that, if there was no food, they would peck at their own breast and feed their blood to their children. This gesture of the Pelican was compared to the action of Christ on Calvary, who shed His blood for the remission of sins, feeding mankind with His Body and Blood at the Eucharist. However, the truth is actually rather more prosaic: when a pelican catches fish, it retains half digested food in a membrane beneath its beak, to be subsequently fed to its offspring.

Besides the carved or painted representations on the doors of tabernacles, the pelican was also used on this unique 17th century Tabernacle Monstrance, from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. It is an exquisite object with great religious symbolism associated with it. It was originally made for the Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa (Asia’s first and largest convent) and was used on special religious occasions such as Maundy Thursday. Later, it was kept in the Sé Cathedral, Old Goa. It was part of the exhibition held on the occasion of the 38th International Eucharistic Congress held in Bombay in the year 1964 when Pope Paul VI visited India for the first time. It was also used at the Eucharistic Celebration when Pope John Paul II visited Goa in 1986. It is presently on loan for the international exhibition “India and the World” at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Mumbai.

This piece has two distinct but interlinked parts: the spherical base made of wood covered in silver, with a cavity for the tabernacle to which access is gained through an opening at the back; and the Monstrance, which is in the shape of a Pelican in whose breast is an aperture surrounded by a radiating halo to show off the consecrated Host for the adoration of the faithful. This Pelican is an example of the Indo-European art of the first half of the 18th century and is important not just because of its monumental size but also due to its powerful feet, made of teak and covered in silver. Also worthy of note is the treatment of the body and wing plumage, as well as the crest and the beak (the latter looks more like that of an Eagle).

Goa’s greatest museum needs our help

The greatest Indian painter of the 20th century was born in Saligao,
but was never happy about it. Francis Newton Souza had suffered a
scarring bout of smallpox at a young age, about which he wrote,
“Better had I died. Would have saved me a lot of trouble. I would not
have had to bear an artist’s tormented soul, create art in a country
that despises her artists and is ignorant about her heritage.”

In that case he was talking generally about India, but most of the
hurt came directly from Goa.

Right until his death in 2003, this spectacularly accomplished artist
revisited his ancestral roots, only to be ignored. When he tried to
donate some masterpieces to his beloved homeland, he was rejected and
humiliated. Now many of those same ignorant people call him “my
favourite artist.”

Souza isn’t an isolated case. Goa has produced an extraordinary string
of amazing artists, but they have always remained almost entirely
unknown amongst their own people. It’s a unique case in the world,
where a highly productive culture purposely devalues its own most
significant achievers. Thus, until it closed recently, the state
museum was easily the worst in the country, displaying almost nothing
noteworthy across multiple fields in which Goan artists and craftsmen
have excelled.

Now there is nothing, with nothing better planned either. To see gems
from the state’s tradition, you need to travel to London or New Delhi.

There are three exceptions to this depressing rule. Subodh Kerkar’s
bravura Museum of Goa (MOG) has championed Goan art from inception.
Many artists of India’s smallest state produced their best work in
response to the opportunity to exhibit in the largest private space in
the country.

Another invaluable service is rendered by Lisbon-headquartered
Fundacao Oriente, which houses the stunning Trindade family archive at
its delegation premises in Panaji. No one should miss the opportunity
to experience the landmark paintings by the ‘Rembrandt of India’
Antonio Xavier Trindade, and, less often, his remarkably talented
daughter Angela. It should be a matter for serious searching
introspection that this Portuguese organization handles (very well) a
cultural responsibility where Goa’s state institutions have
comprehensively failed.

Even compared to these well-intentioned efforts, the Museum of
Christian Art in Old Goa is in a category by itself. An outstanding
labour of love, and single-minded purpose by tireless trustee
Nascimento (Nasci) de Souza, and wonderfully capable curator Natasha
Fernandes, it is the only world class museum in a heritage landscape
brimming over with treasures that usually only deteriorate and get
destroyed as time passes inexorably.

It is true this fine institution is poorly named. The term “Christian
art” is alienating, inadequate and strictly inaccurate. The marvellous
objects in this collection were created from seamless interplay
between East and West, moulded by hands belonging to artisans of every

If you look with open eyes, you will find Krishna, as well as the
Nagadevata, along with Islamic motifs. Thus “Sacred Art” would be
better, and “Museum of Old Goa” even more to the point. But while the
name change is necessary, it would only affect perception. The reality
is already a first-class display of artistry of the highest order:
painting, sculpture, embroidery, ivories, silver. The museum is
absolutely priceless.

In a laundry list of impressive achievements by the tiny team running
this invaluable institution, its willingness and capacity to
collaborate stands out. Over 20 years of its existence, including
moving from its original home in Rachol to the mammoth Santa Monica
convent, it has flourished in partnership with INTACH (The Indian
National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) and the Calouste
Gulbenkian Foundation (which is also based in Lisbon).

Both national and state governments have been unstintingly generous in
their support. When then-chief minister Manohar Parrikar came to its
inaugural in Old Goa 15 years ago, he immediately pledged state
support to cover all security costs. That promise has been kept, right
into the present.

Now MOCA has plans to expand and improve, and it needs to bolster its
budget to add to sizable grants already pledged by the Ministry of
Culture in Delhi, and other donors. Given its proven competence, and
precisely because it stands alone in doing vital work to restore,
preserve and showcase Goan artistic genius from across the ages, this
institution clearly merits and deserves unstinting support from
individuals and organizations across the world, but most particularly
from Goa and Goans. Go to the museum, or check its website for how to

This article first appeared in the Times of India Goa edition on 18th Ocotber 2017

Article by Vivek Menezes

The writer is a photographer and a widely published columnist. Views expressed are personal.


After many years of intensive painstaking restoration work, the 450 year old Church of Santa Monica will be opened to the public on Friday 10th June 2016. At 4.30 p.m., there will be a Presentation on the works carried out, followed by the formal opening by the Archbishop of Goa.

The 450 year old Church of Santa Monica, a part of the Convent of Santa Monica (Asia’s first and largest Convent) in Old Goa, and a State protected Monument, has been restored by the Museum of Christian Art Goa with financial assistance from the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Government of Goa.

This beautiful church with its exquisite altars, pulpit, miraculous crucifix, statues, paintings and art objects was in desperate need of repair and restoration, and preservation for posterity. The Archdiocese through the Museum of Christian Art Goa sought the technical assistance of the conservation architect, Ketak Nachinolkar and two internationally recognized art restorers, the late Miguel Mateus and Jose Pestana of Portugal to carry out an in-depth study of the state of the church building, its altars, pulpit, statues, and paintings, the extent of deterioration and to draw up a comprehensive restoration project proposal. The proposal was approved by the State Government and provided a grant of Rs. 1.3 crores in two phases and the work entrusted to the conservation architect and the two expert art restorers and their teams.

Restoration work on the building involved complete removal of the cement plaster from the walls, internally and externally and its replacement with the original mud and lime plaster, rebuilding the entire roof whose members were severely damaged the removal of the damaged red cement flooring to reveal the original stone flooring. Removal of the much damaged wooden pulpit revealed the original beautiful carved stone pulpit and the graffito work which surrounded it. The altars needed extensive work as much of the wood work had decayed either due to ingress of moisture or attacked by termites. The statues and paintings all needed a great deal of attention. Original graffito was discovered under layers of lime wash and these have been restored.

The church will now be open to worshipers for veneration at the Miraculous Cross popularly known as the Weeping Cross and to visitors to appreciate the artistic and architectural beauty of the church. The church will also be the venue for sacred music concerts and for temporary art exhibitions organized by the Museum of Christian Art.

Persentation of “A plan for the Reorganisation and Upgradation of the Museum of Christian Art”

The Archbishop’s House, Panjim, on Tuesday 30th. June 2015, was the venue for an excellent Presentation by The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on ” A PLAN FOR THE REORGANIZATION AND UPGRADATION OF THE MUSEUM OF CHRISTIAN ART, GOA”  The proposed reorganization Plan is designed to bring the Museum abreast of the latest International standards of Museuology and Museuography.

The Presentation was well attended by a large number of dignitaries and well wishers of the Museum. Among those present, apart from the host, The Archbishop of Goa, Most Rev Filipe Neri Ferrao, were Professor Eduardo Marcal Grilo, Senior Trustee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal, Honourable Smt. Alina Saldanha, Minister of Museums, Government of Goa, His Excellency Jorge Oliveira Roza, Ambassador for Portugal in India, Honourable Rui Carvalho Baceira, Consul for Portugal in Goa, Shri Nilesh Cabral, Chairman GTDC, Shri Virendra Kumar, Secretary Museums, Government of Goa, Shri Amey Abhayankar,Director of Tourism, Smt. Radha Bhave, Director of Museums and many other distinguished persons from Government, Commerce and Industry.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal who, apart from INTACH (The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) New Delhi, have been collaborating with the Museum of Christian Art, Goa since its inception over 20 years ago, responded to the Museum’s request for assistance in drawing up a well structured Plan for the reorganization and upgradation of the Museum in keeping with the best practices in Museums globally as well as greatly enhance the visitor’s experience.

The Presentation made by Architect Rita Albergaria of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation followed many months of hard work by a team of Museologists and Architects of the Foundation and the Museum of Christian Art, and a detailed study of the needs of the Museum in all its aspects. The Proposed Plan includes museographic interventions which would help preserve the Museum’s valuable art objects for the future and would include improved show cases as well  as appropriate lighting and humidity. The plan also includes the provision of an elevator to allow access for the disabled to the mezzanine floor -a facility which does not exist at present.

The Presentation was acknowledged by all as being thorough, interesting and embracing all aspects of display, visitor experience and preservation of art objects. Moreover the presentation was of special interest to all, as the proposals applied equally to all other Museum’s desirous of upgradation to current International standards ”