Date:06/07/2004  URL:


Showcasing Goan architecture

HIDDEN HANDS — Masterbuilders of Goa: Heta Pandit; Pub. by The Heritage
Network, 29/30, Green Valley, Porvorim, Bardez (Goa)-403521. Rs. 1400.

"WHO WERE these artists of Goa who created such beautiful frescoes, wall
paintings and stencils in Goan houses? What sort of payments and rewards
did they receive for these works of art? How did they select colours,
patterns and themes for these pictures? What was the source of their
knowledge? What was their status in society?"

Post-Modern is often characterised by the pursuit of local and
contingent theories unlike the grand and totalising theory of modernism.
In architecture, the Po-Mo approach has brought about a keen interest
and detailed study of the oft unknown and unrecognised contributors to
the field of building — the brick masons, the stone masons, the
carpenters, the potters, other craftspersons and also women, whose
contribution habitually goes unnoticed.

Recent thinking has also been to reposition architecture into the social
sciences, so that architectural development can be seen in conjunction
with other areas of culture.

Supported by the Homi Bhabha Fellowships Council, Hidden Hands —
Masterbuilders of Goa by Heta Pandit not only presents the architecture
of Goan houses through crafts that went to make them; it is also a
narrative that attempts to link the historical, environmental, social
and cultural framework that has produced the distinctive architectural
style of Goa.

While elements of the Pre-Portuguese period exist, it was during the
Portuguese rule that a distinctive architectural "Goanese" style
evolved. In the Early Phase (1510 A.D-1750 A.D.), the Church and the
army played a dominating role. Having come to trade, by force if needed,
the major buildings of this period were the fortress-factories and
churches and cathedrals built by army engineers.

In 1560 A.D. the infamous Tribunal of Inquisition was introduced which
brought along forced conversion and religious persecution of
non-Christians. But of the many changes this wrought, two were
particularly "volatile", Pandit observes; one was the emancipation of
women and the other the free transportation of architectural features
from religious buildings to houses.

It was in the Late Phase (1750 A.D-1950 A.D) that the flamboyant "Goan"
style really blazed forth. White being the colour of the church, the
secular buildings were distinguishable by the profuse use of colours —
"red ochre, burnt clay and indigo at first and a variety of pastel
shades as more colour dyes became available." The architectural
expression was at once native and foreign. Borrowing heavily from the
style of the rulers, it combines idioms of Pre-Portuguese era and Hindu
ancestry into its colonial appearance.

Quoting Annabel Mascarenhas, the book says, "the ornamentation of the
Goan house in the 18th Century combined the Mannerist and Rococo styles.
Later in the 19th Century, houses were a confused mix of Neo Classical
and Neo Gothic finally culminating in a compound of the Mannerist and
Rococo with Maratha and Moghul interpreted in a folksy manner."

Conversion changed the life of artisans especially those belonging to
the "lower" caste. They gave up traditional occupations and several
crafts associated with the church began to be executed by them.

The author makes an interesting observation that "when it came to
building of houses in Goa, caste prejudices and pecking orders were set
aside." She also says, "unlike in British India, the five major
craftsmen enjoyed independence, caste status and creative freedom in Goa."

Pandit points out that even before the Portuguese, there was evidence of
women's professional guilds and that "high" caste women enjoyed
positions of power in South India.

However, she deals in detail about the marginal role played by women in
the actual production and the minimal recognition they received for
their hard work in preparing the basic work material and in the
maintenance of homes.

A unique feature of Goan society was that even though several of them
travelled away from home during this period, they made it a point to
return and brought back new ideas and new materials.

This has helped the architecture of Goa in general and the Goanese homes
in particular to incorporate several new and stimulating concepts and
architectural expressions.

Bemoaning the dying of the crafts due to lack of patronage, Pandit is
hopeful that the future may see its revival due to interest from a small
section of enlightened public and from the Government.

The well-documented research is made more useful by including a
directory of master artisans.


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