There are two dominant
views about the spread of Christianity in Goa. One view is that the
evangelistsa wide assortment of them in terms of their
nationalities and religious affiliationsachieved their results
because they were severe. The other view, a trifle simplistic, is
that the evangelists were catalysts of a great and continuing
Pietro Della Valle who
visited Goa around 1624, the year when St. Francis Xavier who
canonized, describes scenes in his memoirs which were strange in his
view. There is no country in the world where so many
processions are held as in Goa. Obviously, the Indian yatras,
loud and colourful, and therefore an effective means to attract large
crowds had been inducted into the evangelists methodology.
Della Valle mentions that in order to illustrate points made during
the sermons there were displays of images which were mobile and
traveller, an unlikely purist, Gabriel Dellon, had seen in Old Goa a
sick Portuguese youth who had an ivory image of the Virgin in his bed
which he reverenced much and often kissed and addressed himself
Dellon was a French
physician who, while in Goa around 1670, had the temerity to seduce
the Viceroys concubine. As a result, he was tried by the Holy
tribunal of the Faith, as the Inquisition was known, and his account
of his ordealsRelation de I Inquisition de Goais
arguably the best first person account of the tortures inflicted on
those tried by the Inquisition.
A time came, in the 16th
century, when Rome objected to the idolatrous practices followed in
Goa, such as devotional around cribs depicting the mysteries of
nativity. But the Goan hierarchy urged for tolerance: it is
only for the people of the land and it is set up on their account.
The point was well taken by Rome.
The Indian elements of
Goan iconography and other Christian works of art, have been
identified over the years: Indian fauna (like Madonna on crocodile)
and floral elements (like Madonna holding a flower) a tendency to
stylize, introduction of Indian celestial symbols (like moon phases),
oval faces and a certain partisanship for colours like bright red,
blue and green.
techniques and styles were adversely criticized by the Portuguese
clergy. Feyto por mao de pymtores da terra e os olios e
tymtas nao muy perfeitosis a description found in Fr.
Silva Regos monumental Documentacao (Vol. IV, pp.
128-9). The message was loud and clear: made by the hands of
local painters and the oils and colours which are not quite perfect.
As time wore on, so did the resistance to the native artists. A
document dated 14 November 1559, listed in Silva Regos
Documentacao (Vol. VII p. 335) mentions um mocadao de
pintoresa foreman of painters (which suggests that he had a
studio with several apprentices) had been under much pressure of past
Governors and Viceroys to convert himself to Christianity. When
stucco surfaces became the fashion in religious architecture, the
Portuguese seem to have taken a group of masons, originally from
Sawantwadi, and their families to the island of Juvem (since renamed
Santo Estevao) near Old Goa and converted them to Christianity.
The paintings gifted by
the Jesuits to Akbar, and later Jehangir, and which seem to have had
some influence on Mughal art, were done mainly by Goan artists
serving under Portuguese masters. Interestingly, a painting of the
time, a portrait of Viceroy Dom Joao de Castro, the stern and
intolerant bigot who introduced the Inquisition in Goa, has a
noticeable influence of Mughal art.
Indian influence in
religious artwhich is acknowledged by contemporary
Portuguese art critics and historians, like Prof. Reynaldo dos Santos
and Carlos de Azevedo as elements of pagan cultureis
to be found at its best in the silver casket of St. Francis Xavier
which was exclusively done by Goan jewellers.
There are other Christian
iconographic masterpieces made in Goa which evidence Indian
influence, like the 18th century image of Immaculate
Conception, in wood, published by Kalpana S. Desai and belonging to
the Bombay based Heras Institute of Indian History. In that
interesting sculpture, the Virgin with folded hands stands on the
moon supported by a makara (crocodile_. Kalpana Desai also
sees a parallel in the concept of Goan icons depicting Virgin Mary in
her invocation as protector of navigators (a fact not
mentioned by Kalpana Desai is that the Virgin Mary in this particular
invocation is known as Nossa Senhora de Boa Viagem
i.e. Our Lady of Good Voyage) and the Buddhist Tara which is
considered as a saviour of navigators.
Obviously, the Portuguese
were not insensitive to Indian art forms and they incorporated them
with no qualms in their architecture and sculpture. In a parallel
development, the Hindus of Goa adopted graffito techniques in temples
built after the arrival of the Portuguese or those rebuilt at new
sites in the interior, after the destruction of their primal
templeswhich were generally situated on the littoralin
the first blast of the Portuguese domination. Quite a few Hindu
temples in Goa also have discernable Muslim influences.
Interestingly, the graffito techniques were later followed in several
areas of Konkan, which had once formed, along with Goa, the mythic
province of AparantaAronda in Sindudhurg, Ankola, Shadasivgad,
Sirsi in Karnataka, to mention a few sites.
Goan icons are generally
made of wood and ivory. On the other hand clay, porcelain,
terracotta, marble and jade icons found in several public and private
oratories, churches and chapels, were all imported. The Mother and
Child recurring theme in biblical episodes and incidents easily
inspired local craftsmen who were familiar with the myths and legends
of Hinduism, where Mother and Child themes also recur. The
multiplicity of places of worship, and along with it, the diversity
of saints venerated and propitiated by the devotees were, again,
influenced by their primal Hindu concepts and notions. Devotees of
the 10 avatars of Vishnu, on their conversion to Christianity,
accepted without any reservations the various invocationsavatars
in a wayof Mary Mother of God. And we find in
Goa Nossas Senhoras (Our Ladies) all kinds of imaginable human
situations and predicamentsde Bom Viagem (for safe
travel) de Piedade (of piety), das Angustias (of
anguish) and naturally enough, do Bom Parto, Our Lady in whose
hands every Goan mother-to-be entrusts the safe delivery (that is
what Bom Parto means in Portuguese) of her child.
The craftsmen, generally
charis or chitrakars by caste, saw in the penitents and
hermits of Hinduism excellent modelsemaciated and angular
faces, long hair and shaggy beards, pale veinal hands and feetfor
their representations of Christ. Lakshmi, Parvati and a dozen other
Hindu goddesses offered them a wide range of facial expressions to
choose from when depicting Mary in her various invocations.
If Renaissance artists could get their wives and mistresses to pose
for their paintings and sculptures of the Madonna, why would not the
chairs and chitrakars of Goa draw inspiration from the Hindu
But Goan iconography
seems to be on the verge of becoming yet one more of those good
stories fated to end on a sad note. The craftsmen have all but
disappearedthere is only one recognized craftsman left: Vaman
Zo, at Chimbel, an obscure village near Panaji. And there is no
demand for bonafide devotees. The market is flooded with plastic
moulds, which may not be as artistic as wood and ivory icons, but are
definitely cheaper, and from a purely religious point of view,
perhaps as effective. More: no one steals plastic icons, whereas wood
and ivory icons have been, and are being, stolen almost every week,
from churches, chapels, wayside sanctuaries and private homes; and
sold, through antiquarians with few or no scruples, to all manner of
A priceless statue of St.
Francis Xavier presently adorns the bar of a multi-millionaire
American socialite. What a come down for a Saint who had been
initiated in his missionary career with these words from his
spiritual guru: what doth it profit a man to win the
whole world and lose his soul? What indeed?!!