Why the World likes Goa

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
04 December 2014 23:32 IST

Is Goa the Rome of the East, due to which people from all over the world get attracted to this tiny state on the west coast of India? Is it the ‘western’ flavour of this one-time Portuguese colony that differentiates Goa from the rest of India? Is it the free-for-all environment, which otherwise is not available in ‘traditional’ India, that attracts people to freak out in this tourist state?

Well, these are all misconceptions.

But, it’s true that Goa has its own identity, which is its Unique Selling Point (USP). It’s a different culture that people prefer to live in. 

Identity is different from identification. Identity, as defined by sociologists, is “a distinctive characteristics belonging to any given individual, or shared by all members of a particular social category or group. Identity may be distinguished from identification; identity is a label, whereas identification refers to the classifying act itself.”

Every community of a region, state or nation has its identification. That includes its different language, folk culture, dress, cuisine, music, architecture etc. That alone cannot be termed as identity. Like everyone has its own language, Goans also speak Konkani, have their own folk culture, their cuisine is little different from other regions of the country and even houses can be identified as Goan (not necessarily Portuguese only). But, this cannot be considered identity, may be identification.

“Anthropologists have most frequently employed the term ‘identity’ to refer to this idea of selfhood in a loosely Eriksonian way (Erikson 1972) properties based on the uniqueness and individuality which makes a person distinct from others. This was reinforced by an appreciation, following the trend in sociological thought, of the manner in which the individual is affected by and contributes to the overall social context. Identity has continued until recently to be used in a largely socio-historical way to refer to qualities of sameness in relation to a person’s connection to others and to a particular group of people.”

What’s Goan Identity?

Identity is social behaviour. Individuals, families or groups belonging to different communities or religion living in the same social environment may have different lifestyles, but their social behaviour would be similar. The social psyche would be identical. That’s identity. A social identity.

In that case, what’s Goan identity? What’s the uniqueness and distinctive characteristics that attracts the whole world to Goa? I am not counting the tourists when I say it attracts the whole world. Tourists come, visit and go. But there are people who live here for a long time and many of them like to settle down in Goa. They don’t behave like tourists or strangers but like to belong to this land. Not the ones who have holiday homes here. But they include many Indians or foreigners who live here for several months or have settled down here. It’s also the thing which Goans, when outside, miss immensely and pulls them back to their motherland. 

I have started interacting with many such people, trying to find out what is the characteristic that has attracted them to settle down in Goa. And the answers are almost similar.

  1. Goa is peaceful and pleasant.
  2. People are hospitable and respect others.
  3. It’s a tolerant society with no social tensions.
  4. People are accommodative.
  5. People are hard-working yet live with a laid down attitude.

Is Goa Portuguese?

Hardly anybody tells me that he has shifted to Goa because of its so called ‘Portuguese’ culture. Does it prevail anywhere, except handful of Goans who still prefer to live with the colonial hangover? In fact, it’s a misconception that the whole state of Goa was ruled by the Portuguese for 450 years. Only the four coastal talukas – Salcete with Margao town, Mormugao with a port town of Vasco, Tiswadi with the capital city of Panaji and Bardez with a commercial town of Mapusa – were conquered by the Portuguese in 1510. But the rest of the seven talukas (Dharbandora created recently as eighth taluka) were ruled by the Portuguese for only 178 to 197 years, much after the conversion and inquisition was completely stopped. The talukas of Canacona, Sanguem, Quepem and Ponda (now also Dharbandora) became part of the Portuguese empire in 1764, after Soonda (Soundekar) fled to Goa and surrendered its territories below Western Ghats to the Portuguese. The Sawant Bhosle of Sawantwadi ceded its territories of Bicholim, Sattari and Pernem between 1783 to 1788. These are called Novas Conquistas (New Conquests). There is hardly any influence of ‘Portuguese’ culture found in these talukas. But all 12 talukas have the five distinct – but common - characteristics mentioned above.

Goa actually is a mixture of different cultures belonging to different tribes settled in Goa. It goes back to 3500 BC. The Gauda and Kunbi tribes are considered to be original settlers of Goa and the Konkan coast, belonging to Austric origin. The Kol tribe of fisher folk believed to have migrated from Gujarat at around 1200 BC. Meanwhile came the first wave of Indo-Aryans around 2400 BC while the Sumerians settled in Goa and along the Konkan coast around 2200 BC. Phoenician traders from today’s Lebanon and Syria became extensive settlers of Goa around 1775 BC. And then came the second wave of Indo-Aryans between 1700 to 1400 BC. During the same time, around 1600 BC, came Dravidians from the Deccan Plateau to escape submergence of their civilisation, which thrived on sea trade. (Ref: Wikipedia: History of Goa).

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described Goa as a pimple on the face of India. But this pimple is unique. While India still remains divided between Aryans of the North and Dravidians of the South, Goa is the only place where these two ancient civilisations, with its distinct identities, live with co-existence for centuries together. This has created Goa’s identity, which attracts both North as well as the South.

Goa Made of 16 Dynasties

Historically, Goa never had its own king. Including Portuguese, Goa was ruled by 16 dynasties, from 1st century BC to 1961.  The longest rule was by Kadambas of Karnataka on the largest part of Goa, for 350 years. Comparatively, 450-year rule of the Portuguese was limited only to the middle part of Goan coastline, perhaps from Betul to Chapora. During this time, Goa was not ruled as a singular kingdom. Parts of this territory were ruled by several different kingdoms at a time.

This included Mauryas, who popularised Buddhism. Then it was Shatvahana (200 BC to 100 AD), Bhoj (Yadav clan) - in parts - for almost 500 years, Western Kshatrap (150-249 AD), Abhir and Batapur (400-600 AD), Chalukya of Badami (600-800 AD), Rashtrakoot of Malkhed (800- 1000 AD), Kadambas (1006-1356), Yadav of Devagiri (1200-1300 AD), Vijaynagar (1400-1500 AD) and then Bahamani Sultanate of Gulbarga and Bijapur (1350-1510 AD) till Portuguese conquered Goa. In the meantime, there are also evidences found of Greek converts to Buddhism having ruled Goa for a short while.

Today’s Goan settlers belong to the armies of all these dynasties, most of which ruled for over a century. They rooted in Goa their culture, customs and lifestyles, through which emerged Goan identity. It consists of Mauryans, Guajarati, Kannadiga, Marathi, Muslims and converted Christians – hybrid of Indian and Western culture. Perhaps this is the reason Goan Shigmo (and Intruz of Christians) - the harvest festival of peasants - is found in various forms and with different musical instruments, having no connection with each other. This can be well witnessed at the Shigmo parades held nowadays in the cities. It sounds different and still there is coherence in it.


We have been accommodative since then. We have welcomed different cultures, absorbed it and blended it with Goan environment. Assimilation thus appears to be a strong factor among Goans. They don’t look at the newcomer as enemy, unfortunately even when the enemy comes. Goans blindly trust them. Migration is not a new phenomenon for Goa, though nowadays we treat the migrant labour in an uncivilised manner while utter no word against the wealthy migrant, who builds holiday homes by destroying our natural beauty and ecological balance.

Goans don’t destroy; Worship Nature

Goans not only love environment but they worship it. Chovoth is the most celebrated festival where Lord Ganapati, a deity made of clay, is worshipped in all the houses. Thick jungles in Bicholim and Sattari talukas are worshipped as Devraee, the forest of God. In Shirgao, the Goddess Lairaee is nothing but a pot of water. The prime Goddess of Goa is Santeri. It means an anthill. Literally every village of Goa will have one temple of Santeri-mai. The same Santeri was renamed as Shantadurga, say some historians. Another legend claims that that Goddess Shantadurga mediated as a ‘peacemaker’ when celestial battle took place between Shiva and Vishnu. And the third legend says that along with the Saraswat Brahmins from West Bengal, travelled down their Goddess Durga. The Mata of Shakti was known for killing the devil. But so peaceful was Goa that Durga cooled down and lived here as Shanta-Durga (peace-loving Durga). Such is the power of Goa and Goans, which makes everybody peaceful and tolerant, due to which hordes of writers and artists of national and international stature prefer to make Goa their permanent home.

Goan has a ‘multinational’ character. History has thrown him (and her) to all corners of the world. While Goa was one of the favourite ports for the whole world and was a prime market of horses in Asia, Goans out-migrated and settled in different parts of the world, due to historical accidents. The religious conversion and destruction of temples by the Portuguese forced Goans to shift their Gods and Goddesses across the rivers to Novas Conquistas while also migrating permanently to Karnataka and Kerala, to save and preserve their ‘culture’, just not religion. After Portuguese rule, with formal education, Goans started migrating to other Portuguese colonies as well as other European countries. Mumbai was like the second home for Goans, a hub of opportunities. Going abroad for jobs as shippies and also in the Gulf countries has been a trend till date. Nowadays, going to Europe with Portuguese passport, unfortunately even by giving up Indian citizenship, is the latest trend. On the other hand, most of the Goan scholars have been migrating in other parts of India as well as the World since there are no opportunities available locally.

But the migration trend has helped Goan community immensely. He (and she) has struggled through to come up in life. Many Goans have excelled, within and outside India, in diverse fields – education, law, medicine, literature, music, dance, fashion, science, research, business and even politics.  We have a fleet of Konkani stars shining all over the World. The rest of the Konkanis, who might have not shined, but are surviving with dignity due to hard work they put in; not Susegado as they are being projected. The exposure to the whole world has made them knowledgeable and tolerant. 

This tolerance is our identity.

Konkani, our mother tongue, was suppressed, especially by the Portuguese. But we excelled by embracing other languages – Marathi, Portuguese, English, Kannada and even Gujarati and French. It made us multi-lingual, exposing us to much wider world of literature, culture and education. This enrichment has again helped us immensely in establishing our unique identity of being multilingual.

Not that these characteristics are not found anywhere else in the World. But may be it’s rare that all these characteristics are found in one place together. Goa is one of them. That’s why it’s unique. And that’s the identity of Konkani Goenkar!

We, the Konkanis, need to cherish this multilingual, multifaceted and multinational identity of a Goan. This is our strength, not a weakness. This is our heritage we need to preserve. This is our culture we need to flourish in this chauvinistic world.

So, dear chauvinists and fanatics, mind you, Goa is not a place for you. We love fish and you may simply feel fish out of water if you decide to settle down here. Either cherish our identity; or Perish! Cheers!!!

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of Prudent & Goa365, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities. After retirement from day-to-day journalism in 2020, he is into Re-Search Journalism (पुनर्सोद पत्रकारिता), focusing on analytical articles, Video programs & Books.

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