Impact of Geography on Goan History

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

Information on Goa:

Goa lies on the West Coast of India in the Konkan Region between 14°53’37″ and 15°47’59″ Latitude North; and 73°40’54″ and 74°20’11″ Longitude, East of Greenwich with an area of about 3806.9 square kilometers.

The boundaries of Goa are:

North – the river Aronda or Tiracol and a range of Western Ghats separating Goa from Savantvadi Taluka of Sindhurg District.
West – the Arabian Sea.
South – Karwar District. of Karnataka State.
East – the range of Western Ghats (Sahyadris) separating Goa from Belgaum and Supa Districts of Karnataka.

The greatest length of Goa from north to south is 105 kilometres and its greatest breadth is 60 kilometres.(1)

The census of population of the Territory of Goa gives the following figures:
Year 1921 – 465,000
Year 1961 – 590,000
Year 1981 – 1,002,000
Year 1991 – 1,169.793
Year 2001 – 1,347,668
Year 2011 – 1,457,723

Goa map showing talukas []

Goa map showing talukas (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There are three orographic systems of Goa. The first is formed by the chain of mountains running from Chorlem to Vagueri and Keri and still further to Surla (Satary), the main peaks of this zone being Zormem or Vagueri and Seleli or Morleancho Dongor. The second is formed by a range of mountains running from Parvor southwards up to river Madei (Satary). The third starts from the Ghats of Khelghat and travels southwards to Embarcem, the highest peak in Goa being Sonsogodd or Darsingha (1666 metres). Other main peaks of Goa are Katlanchi Mauli (1200 metres); Vagheri, 725 metres; Morllengod, 652 metres, all in Satari District. The other important peaks are Morpila, 480 metres at Quepem; Sidhnath, 410 metres at Ponda; Chandranath, 384 metres at Paroda; and Dudhsagar, 165 metres at Sanguem.

There are two major waterfalls in Goa: The Dudhsagar Waterfalls and the Arvalem Waterfalls. there are also dozens of lesser waterfalls. While the important lakes are at Mayem, Carambolim, Chimbel, Benaulim. There are also numerous springs, most of them perennial, scattered throughout Goa.

Goa is intersected by a number of fine navigable rivers. The following information on Goa rivers makes for interesting reading:

  1. The Tiracol River or Araundem has its source at Patarden in the Sahyadri Mountains at Savantwadi. It is about 24 km long. It flows south-west into the Arabian Sea.
  2. The Chapora or Colvale River rises at Ramghat near Maneri. It is about 29 km long, traversing a zig-zag course towards the south-west before flowing into the Arabian Sea.
  3. The Baga River rises in Bardez and is about 7 km long. After passing a redoubt it flows into the Arabian Sea.
  4. The Sinquerim River, 6 km long, rises in Bardez next to the Pilerne, and after making a right angle discharges in the Bay of Sinquerim.
  5. The Mandovi River, 62 km long, rises at the Bhimgod in Satari. It enters Goa through Parvor Ghats and continuing its course along with its tributaries Volvota and Madei forms a number of islands. It flows towards the north-west of Ponda, takes a south-west turn of Bicholim and Bardez then passing Panjim falls into the Bay of Aguada.
  6. The Zuari River, 63 km, the longest in Goa, rises in the Dighi Ghat. It flows northwards between the districts of Salcete and Ponda and then watering Vasco-da-Gama falls in the Bay of Mormugao. It has several names and several branches, one of which joins the Mandovi river between Agacaim and Marcaim.
  7. The Sal River, 24 km long, rises at Verna and running close to the city of Margao, falls into the sea near Betul.
  8. The Talpona River, 11 km long, rises at Ambe Ghat in Canacona and then running westwards falls into the Arabian Sea.
  9. The Galgibaga River, 8 km long, rises in the hills at Canacona and then running between the villages of Loliem and Poinguinim falls into the Arabian Sea.


Now for some information on Goa ports. Goa has three ports. The Mormugao Port formed by the promontory of Mormugao, at the mouth of River Zuari, is a natural harbour. It can safely accommodate ocean liners alongside the berths, while at the same time loading and unloading operations can be carried out in the mid-stream in over a score of ships. It is accessible in all seasons.

The Panjim Port is practically closed for navigation during the South-West monsoon because of the formation of the sand banks in the estuary of the River Mandovi and the high winds in the Bay of Aguada. Generally, Konkan line passenger steamers used to visit this port besides country-crafts.

The Betul Port is at the mouth of River Sal. Loading and unloading operations on ocean liners are carried out in mid-stream about 3 km off the port; while country-crafts berth right inside the port. This port is also closed for the monsoon period.

The minor ports of Tiracol, Chapora and Talpona at the mouth of the rivers of the same name are visited mainly by the country-crafts.

The ancient ports of Gopakapattana (Goa Velha or Vhoddlem Goy) on the banks of the river Zuari and Ela (Velha Goa or Goem) on the banks of the river Mandovi are no more in use, the waters having become shallow and having no economic value.


Having obtained a bird’s eye-view of various geographical information on Goa, including the terrain, highlands and the waterways of Goa, it is now easy to understand how its geography has made a tremendous impact on the history of Goa.

According to geological studies, once upon a time, all the land of which Goa is made up today was a vast sheet of water extending up to the foot-hills of the Sahyadri Ghats, a fact borne out by the existence of sea shells found at their base.

But the sea, owing to the geological and geographical factors, (leave alone the mythical Parashurama’s legend) has long since receded and, in its stead, alluvial plains of rivers rose above the sea level and formed the fertile land that is Goa.

No wonder then, that throughout the history of Goa, it became the bone of contention and the battle ground for both the native and foreign rulers!

Besides, the vast sea on the West and the Ghats on the East acted as natural defences to protect the land for many centuries against local and foreign invasion.

It is only when the science of navigation and warfare made rapid strides that all these barriers vanished into thin air.

Moreover, by a strange freak of nature there are a few mini-passes in the region of the Ghats, which served as gateways into Goa and made it easy for invaders to swoop down in successive waves upon this fair land!


(1) BRAGANÇA PEREIRA, A B de; Etnografia da India Portuguesa, (1940), Vol. II, pp. 2-9.

Bibliography for information on Goa:

COSTA, J A J da; A History of Goa, 1982, published by the author and printed by him at Ramakant Printers, Mapuca, Goa.

PEREIRA, Gerald; An Outline of Pre-Portuguese History of Goa, published by the author and printed by Sri Luis de Meneses at Diario da Noite Press, Panjim, Goa, 1973.

DHUME, Anant Ramakrishna Sinai; The Cultural History of Goa, published by Dr. Ramesh Anant S. Dhume, M.D. and printed at MAPP Printers, Panjim, Goa, 1985.

2 comments on Impact of geography on Goan history

  • I am glad to see this Website with articles written by my classmate and friend, Fr.Nascimento Jose Mascarenhas. He has done his best to produce writings on Goan history. I wonder how he is working in spite of his ailing health. He is a model of perseverance. He can compile such material on villages and persons. I do remember that once he gave me, at my request, a list of 100 English songs within a short time. I admire and praise the books written by him. Such a material would have gone lost without his dedication to history of the Church in Goa. Msgr.Francisco Xavier Gomes Catao left a lot of writings on the Church in Goa. With his prodigious memory and relentless devotion Msgr.Gomes Catao is to be remembered by the posterity. Fr.Nascimento is doing well according to his own capacity. I do praise him.
    Fr.Ivo da Conceiçao Souza (Holy Spirit Church, Margao, Goa 403601)

  • thanks for your Historie Information. I visit Goa between 1973 and 2000 several times.

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