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History and Evolution of Goa: Analysis of Portuguese Colonial Rule

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History and evolution of Goa.

Origin and early inhabitants

Legends from Puranas and Vedas say that Goa was created from the sea and it was received by Lord Parashurama, sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The name Goa or Gomantaka is believed to be derived from Govarashtra, one of the seven divisions of Parashurama Kshetra (land comprising Kerala, Tulanga, Gorashtra, Konkana, Kavalata, Varalata and Barbara, which Lord Parashurama is said to be reclaimed from sea. The Sarasvat Brahmins who came for the correct conduct of yadnya wished to make Goa their home. Lord Parashurama granted them their wish and settled them in different regions of Goa, allocating them with grants in the form of villages and lands. They were also directed to venerate the deity that was in worship in the local region. So the local deity also became the kuldeva of the Sarasvat Brahmins. These Sarasvat Brahmins apparently served as priests in temples of their family gods, as scribes, as accountants, masters of trade, commerce and administration.

Goa’s original inhabitants were Kols, Mundas, Kharwis and others. These people took up hunting and fishing as primary occupation and later took agriculture as secondary occupation.

Goa in iron age (16th century – 3rd-century B.C.E)

The initial phase of iron age witnessed the formations of Gaumkaris and self-rule. Gaumkari is the democracy of village administration in Goa. The main feature of Gaumkari system was that the village’s preeminent deity’s temple was center of all activities. It consisted of defined boundaries of land from one village to another village with its topographic details, its management, social, religious and cultural interaction. The later inhabitants arrived between 1700 and 1400 B.C. They were south Indians from Deccan Plateau.

The history of Mauryans is almost non-existent. The existing records disclose the names of only three kings of the dynasty who were Suketavarman, who ruled from 4th–3rd B.C.E, Chandravarman in 6th C and Ajitavarman in 7th-century B.C.E.

During this time Buddhism was introduced in Goa. The Mauryans were followed by the satvahana dynasty, which began as vassals of Mauryan empire but declared independence as the Mauryan Empire declined. They ruled Goa until 249 A.D. The satvahana was followed by Bhojas who ruled Goa for more than 500 years and annexing the entirety of Goa.

Middle kingdoms and late medieval period (3rd century B.C.E- 16th century CE)

Goa was ruled by several dynasties from 1st B.C to 1500 AD. Since Goa was under the sway of several dynasties there was no organized judicial or policing system in those days, except for traditional arrangements. During this time, Goa was not ruled as a single kingdom. Rather parts of its territories was ruled by several kingdoms and their boundaries were not clearly defined.

Portuguese colonial rule (1505-1961)

In 1498, Vasco Da Gama landed in Calicut, India and broke the Arab monopoly of trade. Later in 1510, Portuguese Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque attacked Goa at the behest of local chieftain Timayya. After losing the city to its former ruler Ismail Adil Shah, the Muslim King of Bijapur, Albuquerque returned in force on 25th November, with a fully renovated fleet. The Portuguese fleet took possession of Goa from Ismail Adil Shah and his Ottoman allies, who surrendered on 10th December. It was from this period that the Portuguese advent in Goa began.

Goa’s independence movement:

After India’s independence in 1947, India made many requisitions to the Salazar regime of Portugal to grant their Indian colonies independence. But when it failed, on December 18 1961, Indian troops crossed the border into Goa and liberated it. Operation Vijay involved sustained land, sea and air strikes for more than 36 hours, which resulted in unconditional surrender of Portuguese forces n 19th December.

Historic evolution of Goan houses:

pre-Portuguese secular architecture in goa:

Earliest traces of architectural activities would be the group of six caves near Arvalem waterfalls, which were probably Buddhist in origin and were large enough to be used as living spaces. Earliest traces of secular architecture is found in the cave complex at Rivona. These Buddhist caves dates back to 7th century. These houses didn’t bear decorations or embellishments of any kind.

In subsequent centuries, the secular architecture remained similar throughout the Konkan region. Also architectural emphasis was more on religious buildings (built in stone with rich carvings and embellishments) rather than residences which were built with mud bricks and thatch or tiled roofs. The secular buildings were built with materials of a relatively temporary nature and were bio-degradable compared to the basalt or granite which was used to existing while the secular buildings are not.

From what remains of the Hindu houses today we can conclude that Hindu features were small and narrow windows generally barred with masonry piers or with wooden turned posts and lain plank shutters within. Houses were single storeyed and never more than double storeyed. This must have been the character of secular houses when Portuguese took over Goa in 1510.

Architectural activities of Portuguese after their arrival in Goa.

Early building activities of Portuguese focused on construction of forts and drew inspiration from Italian mannerist style. Years of warfare enhanced the Portuguese military technical and nautical skills and impressed upon the people an austerity which got reflected in their buildings. Buildings of this period were characterized by solidity and somber appearance. This architectural style was the primary source of inspiration for the aesthetics of building from 16th C till beginning of 18th C. It is characterized by its functionality and practicality with less importance on ornateness.

Early phase of secular architecture in Goa.

It is the period in which Portuguese residential architecture was styled on religious model. It lasted till the middle of 18th C from when the late phase of residential architecture in Goa began.

Religious structures like monasteries influenced the design of secular mansions of this period and this influence was seen till mid-18th C. These structures portray typical characteristics of this period: massive, simple structures, utilitarian and functional. The feature of small openings on the ground floor and larger openings on first floor further enhanced the solidity of the structure.

Late phase of residential architecture in Goa.

According to historical research on the subject until the 18th C, no part of the local population (neither Hindu nor Christian) had assimilated Portuguese culture and taste.

Portuguese fortune dipped around the same time that the local landlords experienced an upswing. The major reason was trade with British-India. Goans were also accumulating large amounts of wealth abroad. There was another class of Goans who held high posts in Portuguese government and were rewarded with large tracts of land in appreciation of their services. It was around this period that the osmosis of styles which led to Indo-Portuguese architecture really began in Goa. It was also around the same time that Christianity came to be fully accepted by the converts. A time when Goa’s unique hybrid cultural style evolved.

As theoretical equals of Portuguese, Goans were emboldened to build huge mansions on a scale as grand as their rulers. This attempt to assert their own superiority through their lifestyle.

This period in Goan domestic architecture also saw the decline of Portuguese power in Goa. It was also a period that fostered the expression of a strong Goan identity. The houses built by the Goans during this period reflect the metamorphosis of concepts derived from the traditional Hindu house and the house built by Portuguese gentlemen and it can be said as typical Goan houses.

Types of façade in the houses of late phase

Some of the features of Portuguese secular architecture that reflected in the secular architecture of Goa (after mid-18th C) are the front planar facades, the emphasize being on top storey in case of double-storeyed houses, the vertical and horizontal division of the façade being with moldings and pilasters.

Double-storeyed house façade

The double-storeyed house or Casa de Sobrada is a throwback of Portuguese double-storeyed mansion. These houses maintained a European sense of form. Even so it was still within the Goan tradition and the main rooms following the andar nobile syndrome in that houses never went above two storeys and the living areas were on the first floor while the service rooms were on ground floor.

We cannot say that the double-storied house in Goa has the same significance as the one in Portugal. Such houses were built in Goa not for retaining the hierarchy of classes as the Portuguese did but to imitate it blindly as a status symbol.

Just like the Portuguese double-storeyed houses, these also had the first floor for the exclusive use of the family and the lower floor for services. This feature is reflected in the facades by the grand windows on the first floor and smaller non-descript openings on ground floor. The first floor windows usually had a balcony corbelled with a carved table and enclosed with a railing in cast iron or wood. The window surrounds ranged from a single plaster band to elaborate mouldings in Baroque and Rococo styles. The ground floor windows were simple square openings with no decoration.

The single-storeyed house or courtyard

House facade:

Till the end of 16th C, supremacy and formality was portrayed by double-storied houses the Goans built for themselves in resemblance to the ones built by Portuguese.

By the 18th C, the character of supremacy got diluted in these house forms giving rise to a new Goan identity. Houses built over centuries focused on practicality and functionality rather than grandeur in mind. The single-story houses evolved from the Hindu courtyard house and in 16th C was adopted by catholic converts of upper class.

The single-storeyed house as a type was fully acceptable to the wealthy families in Goa. The Hindus had been living in this house type. For the rich and the poor only the scale of the house and the no. of courtyards varying to reflect the economic status of the house owner.

The traditional Hindu architectural style has evolved over generations incorporating certain socio-specific needs. The Hindus had their own set of customs, traditions and rigid social forms which were all integrated into the design of the house. These cultural aspects reflected in the spatial arrangements of the rooms, the orientation and location of spaces and aesthetics of house.

Sizes of windows in Hindu houses remained small. The window was at first barred with turned wooden posts or a square section fixed at diagonal with a spacing of 8’’. In later years, one finds that the exterior of traditional courtyard also adopted a lot of features of Portuguese secular architecture. Although single-storied, the façade began to incorporate pilasters and horizontal bands of mouldings and cornices and the exterior facades were divided into bays with pilasters alternating with windows. On the exterior the window surround of a plain plaster band which became a common feature.

The catholic influence on Hindu houses in areas not controlled by Portuguese government was equally strong. This was mainly because the Hindu artisans working on Catholic houses brought these influences to Hindu houses. Also Hindus who converted to Christianity built houses which were influenced by the Portuguese design.

The half-storeyed house facade:

The transition from the sobrado or double-storied house and the single-storied courtyard house gave birth to the half storeyed or meio sobrado house form. The height of the plinth ranged from 3ft-8ft leading to an interesting array of plinth details.

The Goan identity:

The late phase Goan houses differs from the Portuguese secular architecture in the form of the porch or balcoe and the details of its ornamentation.

The ornamentation of 18th C Goan house combined the Mannerist and Rococo styles. Later 19th C house were termed as Goan eclectic style which was a mix of Neo-Classicism and Neo-Gothic. It was a compounding of the Mannerist and Rococo features with the Maratha and Mogul interpreted in a folksy manner.

Another important feature of Goan house is the Neo-Gothic arched windows. The aesthetic features of the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Manueline styles of 19th C were also manifested in the interior of houses. Houses owners with houses earlier in fact rebuild their interiors in accordance to this trend.

The end of 19th C saw the final evolution of the style of the house, which we commonly referred to as Goan houses or the Indo-Portuguese houses. The climatic conditions of Goa changed the balcoe into a wide running verandah running all along the front and sometimes the sides of the house too. This change which took place in the 19th C was even adopted by the houses built thereafter until early 20th C. The traditional Hindu house was a response to the people’s need, culture and lifestyle. Since the traditional Hindu Houses of Goa was designed and built without conscious aesthetic pretensions found in the Post-Portuguese houses, we are justified in saying that the aesthetic embellishments we see in Goan houses are largely a throwback from Portuguese.

Elements of Goan houses:

Parts of traditional hindu houses:

There are predominantly two major types of Hindu houses: one that existed before colonial invasion and one that existed after the Portuguese came.

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Before the arrival of the Portuguese, most Goan houses were mostly made of mud and had a thatched roof. They faced inwards towards a central courtyard and had small windows, mostly devoid of ornaments.

After the Portugal invasion, there was very little influence of Portugal style in planning and layout. Ornamentation was added to the houses as an impact of Portuguese invasion.

Ancestral Hindu houses in the town are plain, closed structures which conceal the tradition of the inhabitants.

A traditional Hindu house in goa had the following elements

  • Rectangular in plan
  • Single storey
  • Central courtyard with tulsi maadam
  • Central entrance has a veranda
  • The rooms are arranged around a central pillared courtyard

The courtyard is called as rajangan, where a tulsi vrindavan is seen.

Chowki is a space next to the courtyard, where the family activities take place. It is the internal verandah.

Devakood is a place for prayers and their rituals. A hall was specially meant for celebrating ganeshotsav.

Soppo is a space used for relaxing.

Saal is a hall space in the house.

Kothar, vasri and gotho are store room, dining hall and goshala respectively.

Manne are bathrooms located next to the well.

Features of Goan catholic houses

Rococo features of the façade:

In the late phase, the exterior began to articulate with pilasters and entablatures. Windows frequently opened out to balconies. Each window has individual balconies with a projection over the portal. The facades of the house were planar. Sometimes the windows are purely classical tradition and have a pediment over the opening with a moulded bust within the tympanum. This is a characteristic feature of the Italian classical style. Other features of Italian classical style included fluted pilasters with a Corinthian capital and the pilasters in true baroque style which alternate the windows dividing the façade into no. of bays. Other details which were introduced was the magnificent entrance way and pediments.

A little romanticism came into the design of Goan houses in the 19th C. The revival of neo-gothic style in late 19th C enhanced the decorative elements in Goan houses making them more pronounced than the houses in 18th C.


The balcoe is a common feature of Goan houses and could be described as colonnaded porch with seats built into the sides. It is the Goan houses’ device for opening up to the new world. The entrance steps are the main example of influence of baroque. In baroque, curvation is massive and more precisely structured compared to the rococo style. In Goan houses, the entrance steps with undulating parapets is quite common and could be described as two types:

  • Cyma reversa (convex in its upper part and concave in lower part)
  • Cyma recta (concave above and convex below)

Gate houses and gate posts:

Gate house was probably the only way to get inside the master’s castle. They looked imposing and impressive that it endured way long after the fortified walls. In 16th C, gate houses were lofty and elegant and their ornamentation reflected its owner’s social status. By 17th C, gate houses were usurped by towering gateposts that became banners of architect’s skills. In Goa, the only house that boasts to have a gate house was the Deshprabhu house in Pernem.

Early examples of gateways in Goan houses is seen in Cardozo house in Loutolim. The compound wall itself towers to 8ft height at the entrance, capped with a simple pitched roof covered with Mangalore tiles. Simple angular brackets anchored into the wall supported the tiled roof.

The opening which is entrance to the compound wall is about 7ft high and 4ft wide. Compound wall on the either side of the gateway gently slopes up to a height of 6ft and abuts the edge of the gateway. A protective coping covers the top of the wall designed to throw off rainwater. Gate and the compound wall is lime plastered and simply white washed to meet the color specification during the Portuguese rule.

Eave board:

Eaves boards are gable ends and eaves of timber roofs decorated with carved timber fascia. These eaves board are used on the verge of gables where the covering of the roof extended over the wall. Design of eaves board in Goan houses is very simple. Width of the board ranges from 6-8 inches. The planks of the desired width are first sawn, an organic or geometric design is first drawn and carved out. The plain edge f the eaves board is nailed along the edge of the roof on rafters. Thickness of the board is almost half an inch.

Design of eaves board was influenced by the Rococo styles which gave them curvilinear pattern. One design, the betel leaf dominated the house façade and was symbolic of hospitality and welcome. Not abashed about revealing the Hindu identity, Goan Catholics often used motifs and symbols from temples. They were painted so as to catch light and present and sharp and strong contrast against shadows caused by roof projections.

Pilasters and cornices:

Goan house of later phase of Portuguese advent reveal Italian Classical features in façade planning. A vertical emphasize on the building was supplemented by the use of pilasters. Repetitive use of these column like projections along with the windows flushed to the wall surface, divided the wall into no. of bays.

Pilaster can be divided into three parts- capital, shaft and base. In secular architecture of Goa, Tuscan order was frequently used.

After the 18th C, the neck of the capital was incurvated and came to be known as Indian Tuscan. Another popular form which also evolved was Tuscan Corinthian. Acanthus leaves of the Corinthian order was superimposed on the neck of the capital of the pilaster along with volutes and scrolls. An unusual feature similar to the Goan Rococo is the pendant or drooping leaf at the top of the pilaster shaft. In the lower storey, the capital of the pilaster was deleted and in its place was a cartouche- a form like a sheet of paper with edges folded over.

The cornice detail is remnant from the Early phase of secular Goan architecture. The top of the laterite masonry wall is crowned with a moulded projection or cornice. In several houses, rows of cantilevered country tiles lie above the cornice. The projecting roofs of the houses are supported on the cornice.

Pillars and columns:

At first, they seemed to be quite futile as they do not seem to be influenced by any style. The variety of mouldings found in columns in Goa can be classified into 3 types: Flat or square, concave and convex. The fillet is flat or square faced, the convex mouldings are the “astragal”, “bead”, “torus”, “bow tail” and “oval”. The concave mouldings are “apophyge”, “carvetto” and scotia. The combination of convex and concave- the ooge and cyma are peculiar Goan style. The pillars or piers were in solid stone masonry and were either square or rectangular in section and supported the beam.

Masonry columns had large bases 2ft x 2ft or 2ft x 3ft in case of rectangular columns. The base or the pedestal was the same height as the railing or about 2.5ft. The columns shaft would be about 1.5ft x 1.5ft or 1.5ft x 2.5ft. The features of the classical columns were absent. By 19th C, slenderer columns were used and large bulky masonry piers were totally out of favor. Columns with straight circular shafts were common supports for the balcoe in Goan houses. The abacus was more often square and similar to that of Tuscan order. The astragal was invariably present with or without fillet mouldings. The circular shaft was annulated with bands encircling the shaft at the top or bottom.


The most intricate embellishment in Goan house is seen in the design of railings. Intricately carved wooden railings are present both in Hindu as well as Catholic houses. Floral, geometric designs and patterns taken from elements of nature were common motifs.

Railings were usually made of wooden strips laced together to create patterns or from carved wooden strips arranged together vertically. Railing design on the verandah were often reflected at the base of the window.


Fig. 19: Types of railing

Simple, functional or heavily ornamented, windows lend charm and grace to the Goan houses. They let fresh air in along with a feeling of grandeur and gaiety. Window gave the house a sense of balance and symmetry. Also, it gave the façade character and personality. Functionally they were an important frontier for communication and a point of transition. When windows front a road they make a statement. That they once belonged to a house that was grand and important and its members were high up in the village hierarchy. And hence the windows in Goan house became ornate, decorative and expressive.

The simplest Goan windows were square openings which were about 3ft wide and the distance from the plinth to the window is 2-2.5ft. The functional aspect of having a low sill could be attributed to the need to view household activities outside the house which were often conducted at road level. The square openings were supported by flat arches made in laterite stone. Much before the glass was made available in Goa, the Goans covered their windows in Mother-of-pearl shells collected from mangrove forests. While breaking the monotony of long, cold, blank walls, these windows added to the elegance of structure with decorative elements. The choice of an angel or cherub motif was peculiar to Christian family homes were religious motifs advertised devotion to the catholic faith while asserting individual identity.

The graffito technique in which a layer of red plaster is applied followed by a layer of white plaster on which the desired design is scratched out was popular during the 18th and 19th C. Flat arch openings were popular with windows that were positioned on the side façade of the house. Mouldings continued along these side facades but weren’t elaborate as the ones that faced the road.

In 19th C, the grander houses had openings that ranged from 4ft-45ft with semi-circular arched windows. With the advent of 20th C, French doors were introduced. In this window design simulating the French door, the shutter can be opened from above the window sill level. The lower half of the window sports a wooden panel modelled after the railings along the verandah, giving the simulated effect of French door without being one. Besides external shutters most houses had internal shutters that came up to the lintel level, in wood. These shutters helped the house remain bugler proof. With the introduction of glass panes wooden shutters went through some modification. A small pane 6’’ x 8’’ was fixed into the center of each shell shutter to enable people to look out through the window even if it is shut. Another key feature in the window design is the use of various classical arch as seen in ancient Rome and the semi-circular arch seen in Renaissance Europe and Baroque architecture.


Doors of the Goan houses are lined up. So when the doors are opened, a long vista is obtained- A baroque feature borrowed from 17th C. Entrance door occupied the place of honor at the center of the façade. The dimension of the doors gave it prominence. As compared to other doors, entrance door was larger and elegant. Sometimes the doors are flanked by pilasters and columns which enhanced the grandeur of the house. Heavy moulded doorways and door surrounds were a development of late 18th C and early 19th C. During late 19th C and early 20th C, door shutter reached its fullest elaboration. At this time the raised door became increasingly common.


Earth excavated from the site itself is beaten with a wooden spatula over a bed of flat rocks to make up smooth even floor. Over this in some house is laid a paste of cow dung, which acts as a disinfectant and hay which acts as a binding agent. The top surface of this organic flooring is thin and wears off easily. The earliest grand houses of Goa have stone slabs on the ground floor. Stone used was either local laterite, basalt or granite. In certain houses the service area had cow dung flooring. Later broken China crockery was recycled to make mosaic flooring. Later the use of different colored material was employed to produce patterns such as frets, guilloches, foliage, etc.

False ceiling:

False ceiling was mainly intended to conceal the tiled roof (and probably to protect the house from draughts.) These ceilings followed the lines of roof timbers. So if the house had a hipped roof, the false ceiling followed its lines. Floral and geometric motifs were carved into this false ceiling. False ceiling gained popularity in the 1770s.


According to the code dictated by the Portuguese, no private house could be painted all white. The code also made annual coloring and white washing compulsory. Before the introduction of chemical dyes, natural dyes were used. This limited color to red (from red oxide), burnt red (from clay) and blue (from indigo). As chemical dyes came, a variety of pastels got added.

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