Christuleacho Vôd - The Gateway of Saligao

Real ghost stories in India abound, and Goa too has contributed its fair share of Goan ghosts in real  ghost stories, or at least what were believed to be real ghost stories in ancient times.

Joseph Furtado, the Goan poet from the village of Pilerne down the hill from Saligao, whose lyrical and dramatic poems of ecstatic naiveté received appreciative recognition from no less a literary critic than Sir Edmund Gosse, composed a vivid ballad entitled “The Cobra Woman”, the ghost on Saligao hill, in his book Selected Poems.

Joseph had his early grounding in Latin, Portuguese and elementary arithmetic in Saligao over 115 years ago in a school called ‘Escola de Padre Ladru’.

The ballad was inspired by a sensational incident believed to have occurred around 1880 on the Saligao hill near the site of the banyan tree, the Vôd, which is an old landmark of Saligao. The Cobra Woman is supposed to have been the wraith of Christalina, a young, fair and beautiful woman of Saligao who had gone astray during her husband’s long absence in Bombay. On learning that her husband was at last returning home, she drowned herself in a well off the hill, and then joined the merry band of Goan ghosts by haunting the banyan tree!

This incident soon became one of the favourite real ghost stories and a subject of hushed conversation throughout the length and breadth of Goa. None in the village ventured across the hill late at night or before the crack of dawn, fearing the Goan ghost of Christalina.

The haunted banyan tree, which now falls within the boundary of the Diocesan Minor Seminary of Saligao atop the hill, cannot escape attention as one drives from Betim to Saligao. The Vod, it would appear, still stands a mute sentinel at the gateway of Saligao, but among the myriad real ghost stories in India, perhaps the story of the Goan ghost of Christalina is still told on some dark nights in the villages of Goa.

Tourists at Christalina's tree in Saligao, Goa : Saligao Serenade

Tourists at Christalina's tree in Saligao

The Cobra Woman

Dong! Dong! Dong! Clear the Angelus
Is ringing down below.
“Ave Maria!” he exclaims,
“How slow the horses go!”

It is a cleric, young and hale,
So late returning home.
The cabman cracks his whip and makes
The horses fret and foam.

But fast the beasts they dare not go
So narrow and so steep
The road is, while the dell anear
Is dark and dangerous deep.

“What dismal howls are these that rise,
Good driver, in our rear?” –
“’Tis but a hungry dog that howls;
Your Reverence need not fear.” –
“But, there, good driver, tell me, pray,
What figure may that be,
That still white figure standing alone
Beneath the banian tree?” –

“A still white figure – ah, ’tis but
A woman I see there,
A woman waiting for someone
Or saying her vesper prayer.”

A woman, yea, it was, both young
And lovely to behold;
Dressed in an ôll of stainless white
And decked with gems and gold.

Upon this hill no man may drive
But he must needs allow
The panting beasts a breathing space:
So did the cabman now.

She came and sat beside the priest
Without the least ado;
Crack went the whip! And down the hill
Away the horses flew.

So fair and young was she, the priest
Felt tempted – who would not?
But, in his sin, the wretched man
To cross himself forgot.

And woe to such! – what makes him now
Paler and paler grow?
Protect him, Heaven! – he knows not why
The woman’s staring so.

The while each moment she appears
Less lovely and less young;
Oh! – can he trust his eyes? – he thinks
He sees a forky tongue ……

[This item is from Saligao - Focus on a Picturesque Goan Village by J Patrocinio de Souza and Alfred D'Cruz]

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