Saligao - The Sylvan Marvel

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

It is in the charming village with its leisurely pathways, hushed coconut groves, ancestral houses and suffusing greenery that the equanimous heart of Goa beats. Saligao’s history records no battles nor does it occupy any strategic geographical position. It has not at any time been a point of key importance in the defence of Bardez. Never a fortress is known to have been erected there. Of course, marauding bands of warriors must have crossed and re-crossed its borders, and an occasional skirmish might have disturbed its sylvan calm. But a major battle in Saligao? Never(5).

Saligao falls on the ancient horse trade route linking the Chapora-Anjuna ancient port area to Mapuca where Dr. Dume had discovered a Roman amphora indicating Roman trade contacts through the then deep and navigable Mapusa river. This study attempts to scientifically and objectively document the pre-Portuguese history of Goa, and hence of the village, as Saligao is in many ways the archetypal Goan village.


Mae de Deus Saligao Church, Goa : Saligao SerenadeThe origin of the name Saligao has not been conclusively ascertained. Before this Goan village came under Portuguese domination it was known as Salgaon. It was the Portuguese who lusitanised it to Saligão by adding an “i” to sal. However, Monsenhor Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado in his famous Konkani-Portuguese dictionary(1), traces its origin to Jira-sal or Jeera-sal, a variety of paddy grown in the village. Dr. Nandkumar Kamat adds that Saligao produced abundant crops of this delicious and highly prized variety of a very tasty, easy-to-cook rice – the giresal paddy(2). So the village name is derived from (gire) sal + gão (village) or a “village which produced giresal paddy”. He also adds that ‘Marathi literature sings the glories of “giresal bhat“‘, the Goan equivalent of scented Basmati. This wild and later (about 3500 years ago) domesticated strain of Gondwana rice (about 55 million years old) is now disappearing from Goa along with 50 other wild rice strains. Today, Saligaokars who step in the fields prefer the hybrid varieties of rice(3). Before the integration of Goa into India on 19 December 1961, Saligaokars sowed giresal in their fields, but today hardly anyone does so.

Sal, with its variants sol and sil is an Indo-European root-word meaning wooded or forested area and if one looks at the village from the Saligao-Seminary hilltop one gets the impression that Saligao means a wooded village or a woodland, considering that the forest cover is still high in the village. Could the name of this Goan village have been derived from the word sal? This latter contention is reinforced by the one time profusion of sal trees in Salmona (ancient vaddo in Saligao), known in Konkani as ‘sailo‘ (Shorea robosta) which differs from Tectona grandis. This sal tree in Saligao is distinguished by its long bare trunk crowned with a cluster of large tobacco-like leaves. Reference to sal trees is found in Vedic literature and, according to some Sanskrit scholars, it is the form of the tree which gave rise to the expression, “your hands (arms) are as long as the sal”.

A capelinha (small chapel) on the way to Salmona via Souza vaddo near Archbishop Emeritus Henry Sebastian D’Souza’s house is known as Saileantleam Kopel in a property called “Sailem” or “Soilem”(4). However, the trees are slowly disappearing.

Or could the name of this Goan village be an adaptation of the name Sylvia or Silvia, which is the feminine of Silvius meaning living in the woods?(5).

Despite records that go back to the 16th century, nobody knows for sure, perhaps with good reason. Saligao is an apt name for this serene and sylvan village in Goa.

Dwellers in Pre-Historic Goa

Jose Pereira has attempted a chronology of Goan history leading up to 1510( 6 ). He illuminates traditions which have been overpowered by the mass of colonial and post-colonial history. In his view, the Goan population is descended from four races: the Negritos, the Proto-Australoids, the Dravidians and the Aryans. These races arrived in different stages, beginning with the Negritos in the 8th century BC from the shores of West Africa. They survive in the Andaman Islands, Malaya and Indonesia and the Philippines, but in India they were absorbed by the races that came after them. The Proto-Australoids came from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, represented among the Gauddas, the Kunbis and the Mahars in Goa today. Sanskrit borrowed some words, as did its descendant, Konkani, from their languages, some of which are still spoken in remote places in India. Skilled in fishing and boat-making, and in the use of the lunar calendar, they are also credited with the most important feature of Goan tradition: the creation of village agriculture and village associations that came to be known as ganvkari or comunidades.

The boundary of Goa from earliest times is best defined by the area of jurisdiction of its ganvkari system started by the Proto-Australoid groups. These village communities worked hard at reclaiming and maintaining agricultural land. They reclaimed marshy soils, protected khazan lands and salt works, nurtured sweet water ponds and lakes, and fruit and vegetable plantations, besides coconut groves. A system of creeks and rivulets controlled by locally-made sluice gates increased the supply of fish. Indeed these creeks and rivers, which made up the waterways sought after by the contemporary tourist, are navigable for a total combined length of 270 km. They were well developed along with jetties long before the Portuguese period and used for trade and transshipment.

The Dravidians who followed the Proto-Australoid groups are supposed to have originated in the islands of the Aegean. Jose Pereira in Baroque Goa(7) recounts that they ‘seem to have been the most civilised of all the foreigners to arrive in India in prehistoric times … (they) were city dwellers, and indeed … have created town planning itself. They also seem to have known how to construct docks. They had scripts of their own, and later inscribed them on their palm leaf manuscripts. They conducted a non-violent type of worship that later came to be known as puja, adored mother goddesses, and practiced a form of yoga. They seem to have built temples, where they worshipped their gods in the form of icons. Thus the Betal-Santer cult of the original inhabitants of Goa merged with the Aryan culture. The Betal-Santer cult is the original cult of the Gauddes and Kunbis. Santer is a representation of the roin (ant hill) which again is the symbolic representation of the fertility cult. Santer in Goa is represented as mother earth. Betal is the male counterpart. This cult was later represented as the icon of the linga (phallus of Lord Shiva, the male counterpart of the female Shakti). The cult of Shanta or Shanta Durga (in Goa the Goddess of Peace) was brought from Trihotrapur (modern Tirhut in Bihar-Bengal or the ancient Gaud region) by the Aryan Saraswat Brahmins. The Mangesh cult brought again by the Aryan Saraswats was the Aryanised version of the Santer cult. Still later, the cult of the mother goddess was incorporated into Christianity and is still popular in Goa.

The Aryans, the last to arrive around 2500 BC and the most martial of our races, subdued the others. They originated possibly from the banks of the River Dnieper in what is today Russia. On arrival in India they added a fourth class to their social structure of three classes – Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya – that of Sudras. This became the caste system of India. Jose Pereira, who is a student of the Sanskrit language, writes lucidly in Song of Goa(8 ) about Sankrit, the language of the Aryans : ‘… phenomenally rich in words and shades of meaning … the preeminent cultural speech of the subcontinent through most of its history and the vehicle of its greatest history and theological expression’.

The Goan history of ancient and medieval Goa is that of contests for power: a succession of dynasties warred among themselves. The loser carried on administration as a feudatory. The Satavahana dynasty ruled in the Deccan around 2nd century BC and the annexed Konkan, including the territory held by the Bhojas in Goa. However, they intermarried, leaving the Bhojas free to administer their lands as feudatories. The Satavahans escorted foreign ships to Broach. Coins found at Chandrapur-modern Chandor in the taluka of Salcete-suggest the ancient commercial glory of this city of the Bhojas. With the fall of the Satavahanas in the 4th century AD, seaborne trade diminished. It was restored by the Badami Chalukyas during the 7th century.

Reign of the Indic Dynasties(9)

By the 6th century BC, the Indian subcontinent had become a mosaic of peoples, ethnically multifarious and politically fragmented into smaller or larger kingdoms and republics. At the time of Buddha (c.563-c.483 BC) there were three kingdoms in the north, the largest that of Magadha, ruled by the Haryanka dynasty (546-414 BC). Succeeding these kingdoms in more or less the same region were those ruled by the Shaishunaga (414-364 BC) and Nanda (364-324 BC) kings. Around this time Alexander raided northwestern India (327-324 BC), but was unable or unwilling to move deeper into the subcontinent. In his progress eastwards from his native Macedonia he had destroyed the Persian empire of the Achaemenids (c.550-330 BC), the first of the “world” empires known to history, a realm extending from the Nile to the Indus. While the idea of an empire as a polity composed of peoples ruled by a master race or dynasty had already been advanced by the early Hindu scriptures known as the Brahmanas, it was not the Aryans of India but those of Iran who realised this idea in actual fact.

Yet the Indians were not tardy in adopting the polity of empire to unite their own subcontinent, north and south. It was an empire presided over by the Mauryas (320-183 BC), founded by Chandragupta, the expeller of Alexander’s forces from Indian soil. Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka (ruled 268-232 BC), the greatest of the Buddhist emperors, and the ardent propagator of his faith to foreign nations, governed all of India except Assam and the tip of the peninsula. The official language of the empire was not the “refined” Sanskrit, but one of the speeches that evolved from it, speeches collectively known as the “unrefined” language or Prakrit.

Ashoka’s empire was on the Iranian model, one divided into provinces administered by governors subject to the emperor. But eventually a characteristically Indian and loose imperial model emerged where the emperor exercised no more than ceremonial lordship over more or less autonomous feudatory kings. The institution seemed calculated to incite the feudatories, themselves avid for the imperial status, to constant rebellion, one which debilitated the Indian body politic and encouraged the Muhammadans in the west to invade and ravage the sub-continent.

The first great empire on the Indian model was that of the Satavahanas (“Horse Riders”? c.231 B.C. – A.D. 225) of Southern India. Founded by Simuka (c.231-208 B.C.), and including Goa in its domains, it was raised to the summit of its power by Gautamiputra Satakarni (ruled AD 86-110). The official language of the Satavahanas was also a Prakrit, but in the 1st century AD it was already becoming archaic in relation to the Prakrit actually spoken in the empire. This was the Maharashtri Prakrit, which in turn gave birth to the southern Indo-Aryan speeches Konkani and its sister-tongue Marathi. Maharashtri, considered the most euphonious of the Prakrits, abounded in folksongs of unparalleled beauty, lyricism and picturesqueness, so much so that even city poets wrote imitations of them. A Satavahana emperor (known as Hala, but who actually may have been Pulumayi II, ruled c. A.D. 130-c.160) was inspired to collect both the folksongs and their imitations and compile an anthology which he called The Seven Hundred Songs (Gahasattasai/Gathasaptasati).

A dark age descended on India after the collapse of the Satavahana empire. The North recovered from it in less than two centuries, but in the South the darkness endured for nearly five. Stability returned to that region with the empire of the Chalukyas of Badami (AD 535-757). Its greatest ruler was Pulakeshin (ruled 610-642) who aimed at conquering all of India, as did his northern rival Harsha (ruled 607-647), but each checked the expansion of the other. The Aryanisation of Goa, begun under the Mauryas (if not earlier), intensified under the Chalukyas. Among the Aryan or Aryanised families in Goa around this time were the Rashtrakutas (“Crest of the Nation”), successors of the Chalukyas as empire builders. It is not clear whether the Rashtrakutas were established anywhere else in India at this time; hence it is quite possible that they are of Goan origin, for they themselves claimed to have originated from a place called Lattala (or Lattalura), which could well have been the Goan village of Lottali or Lottli (Loutolim) in Saxtty (Salcete).(10)

As mentioned earlier, the Aryanisation of Goa began under the Mauryas. The Girnar rock edicts of Ashoka refer to a people known as Pettnikars, Rashtukas and Bhojas who had settled down in the semi-independent kingdoms on the southern border of the Mauryan Empire in the Deccan and the Konkan coast. According to Puranic tradition, the Bhojas belonged to the subdivision of Yadavas of the Aryan race of Kaikeyas and appear to have settled down in the Konkan or Aparant in the 3rd century BC during Ashoka’s reign. In post-Vedic Sanskrit literature they figure as a clan of rulers. Although originally governed by the tribal constitution in which authority was vested in the chosen representatives, these selected leaders appear to have eventually become hereditary rulers.

The thirteenth edict reveals that these peoples observed Ashokan instructions on morality. The earliest known record of a Bhoja ruler in Goa, King Devaraj, was found in South Goa in Siroda. Issued from Chandrapur, this plate dates back to the 3rd or 4th century AD. Written in southern Brahmi, it has the royal emblem of the elephant. It records the grant of tolls to two Brahmins, Govindswami and Indraswami of Bhardwaj gotra, along with a house and some pasture land for cows. The Bhoja rulers of Chandrapur appear to have controlled the area on the west coast beyond Goa. Records of grants by Bhoja kings have been found in the Ponda taluka and in areas of the Konkan further north and south of Goa.

The earliest record of the Chalukya period dated AD 610 refers to the great emperor Pulaskesi II. The Chalukyas became feudatories of the Rashtrakuta dynasty in AD 753 with the Konkan as a feudatory province. They remained feudatories till AD 980. The Silhares and the Kadambas later became feudatories of the Rashtrakutas. They were maritime powers who defended the west coast and traded with the countries of West Asia and East Africa. The history of Goa during this period recounts the fight for supremacy of the western ocean among these various powers.

Tambdi Surla temple built during the Kadamba dynasty

The Kadambas of Goa ruled from AD 1008 to AD 1300. The greatest of them was Jayakeshi II, an aggressive ruler and good administrator. They patronised the arts and learning, built structural stone temples and encouraged the study of the Vedas, Dharmashastras and Vedanta, as also of traditional knowledge of history. Although agriculture was the main occupation, there was a wealthy trading and industrial class, a flourishing mercantile community, fruits, oil, spices, camphor, perfumes and betel leaves. They developed Tiswadi island with small ports.

A copper plate of Jayakeshi I dated AD 1053 reveals that Gopakapattana, their capital, was one of the most important emporiums on the west coast, a centre of international trade, attracting people from as far away as Sumatra, Zanzibar and Sri Lanka, apart from Indian coastal regions like Bengal, Gujarat and Kerala. Inscriptions describe the splendour of the capital. Goans cherish a subliminal consciousness of culture, spirituality and material prosperity when they recall this period. The name of the great capital cities of Chandrapura and Gopakapattana glow in collective memory.

“Plates of the Konkan Maurya King Anirjitavarman belonging to the sixth or seventh centuries have been found at Bandora. They concern the ownership of land by an unnamed Rashtrakuta; the area is distinctively named – Kumarzuem and Bardez – and precisely described using terms such as khazan land which make it unmistakably Goan. (COUTO, Maria Aurora, Goa – A Daughter’s Story, Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., New Delhi, 2004, p.79).

“The Bahmani sultans ruled the Deccan from AD 1347 to 1489. Muhammed Shah Bahmani, who defeated Vijaynagar in AD 1368 was the first sultan to persecute the Hindus. The Konkanakhyana, an ancient text poem written by an anonymous poet, observes that the image of Saptakoteshwar, the family deity of the Kadambas was removed from the temple of Naroa in Divar and buried in a rice field nearby for fear of desecration in 1356. It is the most ancient, the Shivalinga believed to have been consecrated by the Sapta Rishis, or seven sages, themselves. When Madhav Mantri of Vijayanagar first conquered Goa around 1369 he restored the temple. The Saptakoteshwar is the most ancient of temples, situated on a hill that came to be known as the Kashi of the Konkan. Historically the temple is said to have been constructed around AD 1155 by the Kadamba queen Kamaladevi, wife of Permadideva Shivachitta Kadamba. The Kadamba Kings revered their family deity, Shiva, prefixed his name to their titles and maintained the architectural splendour of the temple.

The Bahmanis moved towards the Konkan to safeguard Muslim trading vessels. The powerful Rayas of Khelna and Sangameshwar on the west coast to the north of Goa sent hundreds of boats to attack Muslim ships and plunder pilgrims going to Mecca. These piratical raids led to the decline in maritime commerce of the time. Finally the Bahmani emperor sent Mahmud Gawan to the Konkan and Goa was annexed in 1472. The area was then divided into provinces, each with a governor. Some of them revolted, and Yusuf Adil Khal founded the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur in 1489. The squabbling generals divided the spoils of the Bahmani kingdom among themselves. In 1500, Goa was unequivocally settled as part of the Adil Shah kingdom, after having been buffeted between Vijayanagar and the Bahmanis for several decades. Administration was left to the village ganvkars, and ancient chiefs of mahals (akin to the modern taluka) like sardessais and dessais were confirmed in their offices. Dessai is the title of a chieftain which is a corruption of ruler of desh (territory). They were chieftains appointed by the Adil Shah to look after the various mahals. Their duties included maintaining law and order and collecting revenues. Their position was, however, below that of a governor. But this, too, was to last only one decade.

The European invasion began in 1510. Albuquerque’s armies, followed by traders from all parts of the continent, made Goa their home finding here a lucrative way of life and adventurism. It was from Adil Shah that the Portuguese, under Afonso de Albuquerque, conquered Tiswadi, the island of Goa, in 1510 in collusion with Goan Brahmin chieftains and traders whose fortunes were being affected by Turkish traders’ monopoly of transoceanic trade, especially in horses. The leaders of this group have been identified as Mhall Pai Vernekar, a powerful and popular sardessai of Verna, and Timaji, the governor of Honavar and a Vijayanagar admiral. Although Mhall Pai was given a land grant near the capital city, the Portuguese had no intention of sharing power. Twenty-five years later, frustrated ambitions and religious persecution made him conspire with Adil Shah to overthrow the Portuguese. His betrayal was discovered and he had to flee to Cochin where he lived in exile until his death.

Timaji (or Timoja as he was called also) was clearly the wilier of the two. Historians are yet to agree whether he was a Maratha, a Kannadiga or a Goan; a Hindu or a Jain; a pirate, a leader of robbers, a man of low birth, a high-ranking officer of the Vijayanagar king who was married to the Princess of Gersoppa, a good man as Albuquerque believed him to be, a willing collaborator, or a quisling. Before Albuquerque had arrived on the scene, Timaji had attempted an investigation of Vasco da Gama’s fleet anchored near Anjediva for repairs and provisioning. He had established cordial relations with the first viceroy, Francisco de Almeida, who had no territorial ambitions for the Portuguese. Was Timaji interested in the Portuguese as an ally for Vijayanagar against the Muslim rulers? Whatever his reasons, he made peace with them and won for himself a cartaz, a permit to sail the waters freely(11).

[Note: This post draws extensively from the mentioned sources of reference]


(1) COSTA, J A J da, A History of Goa, 1982, p.343.

(2) KAMAT, Dr Nandakumar, More on the Tantric Deity Sharvani from the village of Giresal rice, in goa-research-net on dated May 16, 2007.

(3) Idem, op.cit.

(4) D’CRUZ Seby, Joseph, Maiecho Ulo (Mother’s Call), Saligao Church Bulletin Vol.XXI, No.5&6, May-June 2004.

(5) SOUZA, J Patrocinio de & D’CRUZ, Alfred, Saligao – Focus on a Picturesque Goan Village, 1973, p.2.

(6 ) PEREIRA, Jose, Baroque Goa, Books & Books, New Delhi, 1995, pp.5-7.

(7) PEREIRA, Jose, Baroque Goa, 1995, p.6.

(8 ) PEREIRA, Jose, Song of Goa.

(9) PEREIRA, Gerald A. An Outline of Pre-Portuguese History of Goa,Vasco da Gama, Goa, 1973.

(10) PEREIRA, Jose, Rashtrakutas of Goan Origin Goa Today, Panaji, Goa, December 1990.

(11) COUTO, Maria Aurora, Goa – A Daughter’s Story, 2004, pp. 75-80, 85.

6 comments on Saligao – The sylvan marvel

  • Vivek Menezes

    This website is a treasure trove, of great value to all Goans. I would like to commend Fr. Mascarenhas for his tireless devotion to his native village and its people, and for this work of continuing scholarship which will bear dividends for future generations.

    Thank you, Fr. Mascarenhas, and more power to your pen always.


  • I went through all the features of this Website and admired the work done by Fr.Nascimento Jose Mascarenhas, who has been my classmate in the Seminaries of Saligao-Pilerne and Rachol. When I was a Professor of Biblical Exegesis and Sociology in the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol (before 2006), I had encouraged the students of Sociology to write on Goa and its various aspects. They produced a lot of articles. The history of Goa is quite complex. I admire Fr.Nascimento for having given us a summary of Goan history. Books abound, but the work can always be performed from different angles and perspectives. Being a lover of history myself, I have written several articles on history of Goa and India. Some were published, others are still waiting to come to light. If God gives me health and life, my dreams can be fulfilled. Yet, much work is to be done by the coming generations. May God bless us all!
    Fr.Ivo da Conceiçao Souza (Holy Spirit Church, Margao, Goa 403601)

  • ediddiply

    Ваш сайт, firefox не дает открыть говорит вирусы.


    I appreciate the work done by Mr. Kamat and wish to know more about this caste and their origin ,Hope this will help the communnity.

  • Teotonio Souza
    provides a different derivation for the village name.

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