Thursday, February 16, 2017

Four Pillars (Char Khambe) of Santa Cruz

Aerial view of the 4 pillars with the backdrop of Panjim city.

By: Sanjeev V Sardesai

The history of the village of Santa Cruz, which is more popularly known as “Calapur” or “Kalapur”, a small peaceful hamlet, primarily with an agrarian heritage, and just about 5 kms from the capital city of Panaji, is quite amazing, when one is exposed to many of its facets of ecological, historical & natural assets, from time immemorial.

To better understand the history of this quaint Goan village, we must travel back in time to understand the possible identity granted to this area. Immediately preceding the arrival of the Portuguese rule in 1510, the territory on the island of Tiswadi, comprising 30 wards/ villages (“Tis”= Thirty; “Wadi”=wards/villages) was under the tutelage of the Adilshahi dynasty. This region of the Konkan belt came under Muslim rule since 1469, when the Bahamani reign overthrew the Kadamb rulers and anchored themselves on these lands. Later it was the Adilshahi Empire that took charge of these lands, after the breakup of Bahamani Dynasty.

But prior to the Muslim rule being established here, these lands, along the banks of River Zuari, were a natural & strategic trading port, constructed during the Shilahara Dynasty, prior to the Kadamb reign. This village, then known as “Gopakapattan”, and presently identified as “Goa Velha”, was chosen to shift & establish their Second Capital by the Kadamb Monarchy, after River Kushawati at Chandrapur (Chandor) - their first capital, got silted.

The reign of the Kadamb’s, at Gopakapattan, illustrates a very blooming rise in the trades with traders from as far as Africa, Middle East, Gujarat and such far off countries from the Far East arriving here. This movement of people & vessels required good governance, not only for management of sea borne traffic, but also for revenue collection. It is said that the Kadamb Kings’ had put their faith in a Muslim individual, who had assisted one of the Kadamb Kings, during one of his crucial sailing expeditions, to govern Gopakapattan. For this they had granted lands around Gopakapattan (Goa Velha) to him. It is said that a Muslim edifice, “Michigiddi”, was erected at Calapur (St. Cruz), towards the present National Highway, in the region of the ‘Bandar’ (Port), now identified locally as “Bondir”. Though till a decade or two ago, there were traces of its ruins, today no trace of this structure remains.

The place, today known famously as “Santa Cruz” or St. Cruz”, was earlier (and still) known as “Calapur”. This etymology is inferred from the inscription found on a copperplate which addresses “Gopak” or “Gopakapattan”, - that the Kadamb King Shastadeva II (1107 AD), granted these lands to one Kalapa Kelima, a rich merchant, who was surmised to be the father of one of the Kadamb Minister’s, during the reign of Kadamb King Shasthadev III. It follows that after being granted these lands by the Kadamb King, Kalapa Kelima may have possibly changed the name of this village, after himself, as “Kalapa-Pur” or ‘land of Kalapa’. This may later have got corrupted to “Kalapur” or as the Portuguese inscribe it, as “Calapur”.

It was only in the year 1565, after the advent of the Portuguese in Goa that the Church dedicated to the “Holy Cross” was established in this village. The “Holy Cross”, in Portuguese language, was referred to as “Santa Cruz”, from where the identity of the village St. Cruz arose. It was much later in 1710, that the Dominican Order of the Christian Faith rebuilt this majestic Church which celebrates its Feast every 3rd May. Later, in 1776, due to amends in the Royal administrative edicts, the administration of this Parish Church was taken up by the Diocesan Clergy.

In an interesting, researched article by Dr. Nandakumar Kamat, who was born and brought up in the village of “Calapur” writes - “This villages’ story is uniquely intertwined with ecological and economic factors. The entire village was under the sea some 12,000 years ago. The Holocene transgression of the Arabian Sea, an epochal event of global magnitude which occurred around 6,000 - 10,000 B.C., pushed back the sea water from the Santa Cruz - Chimbel area”. This transgression of sea waters gifted another unique aspect to this village - The Khazan Lands or the tidal terrains.

These Khazan lands extended northward towards the River Mandovi & westward to border Panaji, the present day capital of Goa. It is pertinent to note here that after consistent epidemics of plagues, in Old Goa, the then flourishing capital city of Portuguese Goa, in 1700’s, the Portuguese decided to shift their capital to a safer & more strategic location - Panaji.

Panaji at that time was a very marshy, forested land, with huge tracts of palm groves. The initial Panaji, evolved in an area of a palm grove called “Palmar Ponte”, around a natural spring, which was developed & named as “Fonte Phoenix”. The present day “Fontainhas”, is the corruption of this identity “Fonte Phoenix”. The status of Panaji, as a capital city was granted by a Portuguese Royal Decree, only in 1843.

When Panaji started to take shape, its population was restricted to the eastern foothills of the Altinho Hillock, which separates the main Panaji City, with its distinctive Latin Quarters – Fontainhas-Mala.

Even during the time of its progression, this Fontainhas area had the ad-hoc status of a city, with “strict city rules & regulations”, as governing them. This new city, taking shape at Fontainhas-Mala, shared its eastern boundary with the historic village of “Calapur” or “St. Cruz”, along the “Khazan lands.

Today, when one travels along the Rua de Ourem road towards Mala, proceeding to Santa Cruz, and immediately crossing a “Manos” of a traditional tide water controlling lock-gate, one can see a very cute structure, right in the middle of the Khazan lands. This structure comprises of four beautifully designed pillars, placed at the corners of a pair of curved masonry seating provision, called as “Sope’s”, facing each other across a motorable road. The seats are said to portray “Meia de Laranga” or the shape of an “Orange slice”. These are the historic “Four Pillars” or “Char Khambe’s” of St. Cruz.

Four pillars. Photo by: Sanjeev
Santa Cruz had the honour of hosting two eminent villagers’ who have been granted the title of a “Baron” by the Portuguese Royalty - Baron Purushottam (Baba) Quencro & Baron Krishnagiri Dempo. The main arterial road connecting Panaji to Bambolim via Santa Cruz, passes through these Khazan lands, and has been named after the scion of the Dempo Family and mining magnate, as “Vasantrao S. Dempo Marg”. The start of this road precedes the “Four Pillars”, about 20 meters, towards Panaji.

Dr. Teresa Albuquerque’s book on Santa Cruz, informs that these structure was erected by Barao Baba Quencro (Baron Kenkre) of Santa Cruz, to welcome & receive a Royal Dignitary-a Prince from Portugal, - Infante de Portugal, who arrived in Goa, to sign the peace treaty with the rebelling Rane’s of Sattari. The book also informs that the Prince had resided in the mansion of the Gonsalves family at Guirim, because they were from a princely ‘Kshatriya’ lineage and the mansion was closer to Sattari.

It is said that the Prince visited Santa Cruz at the invitation of Baron Quencro, in a pair of four horse drawn carriage, somewhere in the month of February (year not specified), and was accorded a traditional welcome, by being garlanded here at Four Pillars. The retinue had then proceeded to Santa Cruz, accompanied by a traditional band, to a ‘noble pavilion’, erected in an open space, just opposite a bend in the road, after the “Bandar” (old port), the area presently known as ‘Bondir’. Today, the stately house of the Kenkre Family stands in this open space, which once honoured a Portuguese Prince.

Due to consistent flooding of this area, every monsoon, and the only connecting road between Panaji & Santa Cruz going underwater, the height of this arterial road was sizably increased. This led to the both seating provisions of the “Sope’s”, to be literally buried below many layers of tar & hot-mix. However, the Four Stately Pillars, very stoically make their presence and identity felt to every passerby. It is heartening to note that the pride of the “Calapurkars”, and with the able assistance from the Directorate of Archives, attempts are being made to beautify this complex, and possibly restoring these “Four Pillars” area, to their original glory.

These Four Pillars, at all four corners, of this complex have a very unique shape. They are not just square, but are concavely, pyramidic in shape, starting upward from a round platform base, placed about one meter above the ground.  This round platform, in turn, rests on a conical base, which tapers to a smaller circumference, as it enters the earth. The top end of the pillars have a decorative filial, that ends as a pointed shape. On one of its pillars, lies hidden under coats of paint, a marble plaque, which possibly could assist in throwing more light on the inception of the “Four Pillars” or Char Khambe’s”. The Department of Archives has commenced work to scientifically clean up the coats of paint and expose this marble plaque.

Many stories, legends & myths revolve around these “Char Khambe’s”.  An interesting detail that is conveyed down, as an oral description, is that the Governor General of Portuguese Goa, would take a respite here on the “Sope’s” - masonry seats, between these Four Pillars, when he took his evening stroll, from Panaji to this favourite site.

An incident is narrated, in the book “Santa Cruz - Calapor: a Profile of a Goan Village” written by Dr. Teresa Albuquerque, which was experienced by the Governor General himself. Since the Governor General was the highest dignitary of the State, every person, - high or small, passing that route would pay respects and courtesy him. Amongst those passing by, there would be one person, of labour class, who passed by that way, and never curtsied to the Governor General, nor did he acknowledge him.

This was quiet perplexing to the aide of this high ranking administrator. The Governor General is supposed to have remarked that “this man must be a sacristan”. On enquiry, it was found that this man was indeed the Sacristan of Santa Cruz Church. The aide was surprised that the Governor knew this lowly & disrespectful man, and queried with the Governor. The Governor is supposed to have responded, and I quote Dr. Albuquerque’s book, that “A man, who does normally not pause in the course of his duty, even to genuflect to God Almighty; only that man would neglect to salute the Governor General”. The Four Pillars has been a humble host, to such lofty dignitaries.

Just like any other monument of mystery, and that too bordering two villages, it lives to the reputation and its share of legends & ghostly tales. Many people have reported sighting of apparitions’ & ‘ghosts’, during their lives. Though many cannot confirm their personal experiences, these detailed narratives have been passed down from their ancestors, and are believed, with interest.

The most interesting fact of these “Four Pillars” was the strict act of “city dress protocol”. The Portuguese had a strict rule that no citizen - with high or low status, could enter a ‘city’ bare-chested. The individual had to mandatorily wear a shirt, or a covering of any kind, if there was any need to enter the city limits. Santa Cruz being primarily an agrarian village, with lush green fields, there was a daily need for these farmers, to enter the city, to sell their produce.

However, the traditional dress pattern of farmers was that they always worked bare-chested during their field work, in the hot sun, and wore just a loin cloth, called as “Kashti”. This dress style was also comfortably practiced in their own homes & the village. However, they could not enter Panjim, to sell their products, in this dress code, since Panjim was granted a city status. Hence, these farmers followed a dressing pattern, to overcome this dress code hurdle, and the Four Pillars was a mute witness to this daily change-over!

In the absence of motorable transport, these hard-working farmers would walk to the city, with the load of vegetables, to sell, in bamboo baskets, carried on their head. They would always carry a long, knee length bush-shirt, which would be rolled up and kept in the basket.  When they approached the “Four Pillars”, they would lower their basket to the masonry ‘Sopo’ (seat) and wear this long bush-shirt, to enter the city of Panjim.

After selling their vegetables, and on their return journey, they would again set down their basket at the ‘Four Pillars”, remove their long bush-shirt, roll it up to keep in the basket, and proceed to their village - bare-chested & with their ‘kashti’. So also the Palanquin Carriers or “Boias” would follow this dress code, before entering the ‘city limits’.

Presently, the authorities have commenced works to excavate the lovely “Meia de Laranga” (orange slice) shaped seats, submerged under layers of tar & mud. The glory of the original heritage is finally returning to the very seats, on which sat the Governor General’s of Portuguese Goa.

Many a times, we pass by a heritage structure not understanding its value, or watch helplessly as they are pulled down, to be lost in the sands of time. But one must appreciate  & salute the resilience of the “Four Mini-Towers” or the Char Khambe” or simply “Four Pillars” of Santa Cruz, who have stood the test of time, in the hot summers & the ferocious monsoons’ of Goa, to carry a message of a “grand royal welcome” to the generations to come.

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