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.

Preparation of Base Documents for care of Christian Art

The Museum of Christian Art, Goa in collaboration with the CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre, Mumbai is organising a five day Workshop on ‘Preparation of Base Documents for care of Christian Art’ in Goa. The Workshop will take place at the Gallery Gitanjali, Panjim from 6th – 10th August, 2013. The workshop is open to functionaries of churches, collections, museums and others.

A review of houses of worship shows that there is an urgent need to arrest the deterioration and ultimate loss of the objects of ecclesiastical art in collections, homes, and parishes. These objects could well be the ones that are even to this day being used in day to day rituals and prayer, like paintings, manuscripts, vestments, chalices, decorative wood, sculptures, relics etc. This workshop will address these concerns and enable the participants to prepare a framework for a series of base documents for the care of Christian art, with special reference to their own collections.

The workshop is being supported by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Museum of Christian Art, Goa and Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangralaya, Mumbai.

The workshop leader is Mr. Anupam Sah, Head of Art Conservation , Research and Training, CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre, Mumbai and his team of art conservators as part of the Art Conservation Resurgence Project (Phase I).

The workshop is free. There are limited seats and the last date to register is 10th July, 2013.

For further details contact Museum of Christian Art, Goa.

Ph; 0832-2285299. Email:

Sr. Citizens visit MOCA

26 members of St. Andrew’s parish Vasco visited the Museum of Christian Art on Sunday 22nd August 2010.

The Group got a glimpse of Goa’s rich Christian artistic and cultural heritage that is showcased in the Museum. Some of the artifacts on display at the Museum are no longer seen or in use in Goa’s Churches and it made the group nostalgic.

The group was particularly impressd with the Palanquin used by priests in the earlier centuries, richly embroidered vestments and the Pelican Tabernacle cum Monstrance.

They also visited the soon to be restored Chapel of the Weeping Cross where some of them  shared their childhood memories of having visited  the place.

The hour long visit ended with the treasurer of the group making a generous donation of Rs. 1000/- to the Museum.

Natasha Fernandes


Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa