Ruined Forts and Fortifications of Goa – Rachol
Sanjeev V Sardesai
We often heard the adage, ‘everything that goes up, must come down.’ This is applicable to our soaring egos, as well as fortified tangible structures, when the success of achievements, lead to unacceptability of the existing prevalent circumstances. At times, the famous Goan ‘Sussegado’ (complacent) attitude too, played a very effective part, in bringing such strapping heritage structures and people on their knees.
Such has been the case in most of the fortifications, supposedly about 53 forts and fortifications, which once existed in Goa. During their prime days, these structures played an important part in the history of dynasties, thereby creating allied cultural and tangible heritage of that era, which till date has been an indelible part of Goa’s cultural fabric; brilliantly sewn and intertwined in perfect harmony, amongst its peoples.
Sachin Madge, an amazing sculptor, and an aficionado documenter of the history and heritage of the forts of Goa, informs us: “there were about 53 forts all over Goa, many of which whose trace has been wiped off this earth.” He also states that in many Goan villages, there may be no trace of any fort or fortifications, but the intangible heritage and identities of certain places and locations, clearly give an idea of the existence of a fortification there.
When we seek directions or drive around Goa, we are guided to locations as ‘Kota-kade’, or ‘Kot’tan’. In Marathi, ‘Kot’ means a fortification and could be in the form of just a high wall or a proper fort; and which has led to it being mentioned in history in Marathi language – about ‘Kade’, ‘Kot Pehra’ or ‘fortified safeguards’. In Goa we find many places which are thus named. And if you can understand the topography, nearness to borders, rivers, entry points, etc, during the earlier eras, were where the Kings thought it was apt to construct fortifications to guard such strategic places.
With passing of time, extending borders of their domain and loss of strategic values, these forts and fortifications fell to disuse, and its masonry and wooden materials were re-used by the armies or the locals; populace for alternate housing or other constructions.
One of the best examples of discarded construction materials being used in Goa, is the re-use of masonry items and wooden beams to build the new capital at Panaji, from the abandoned structures in the capital of Portuguese Goa, Old Goa.
The earlier artisans and people knew the worth of raw materials and didn’t allow them to be wasted. It is sad that the attitude of the present population and younger generation is self-centric, completely opposite of the earlier participative, community benefit system. This attitude coupled with an extremely lethargic and lackadaisical attitude of the relevant departments of the local Goan administration, has sounded a death knell to these giant structures, bringing them to mounds of leveled earth and stones.
Disconnect between the people and its heritage is heralding dark clouds and will translate into an adverse effect over many industries, including the tourism industry. Let us now visit many of the structures, about which history talks in glorious words, but these acts may be viewed in darker shades, in present times. One such fortification is the Rachol Fort.
RACHOL FORT RUINS
Rachol is about 6-7 kms from the commercial capital of Goa- Margao, and is easily accessible when you arrive from Panaji, along the bypass road where you take a left turn at the Gogol junction via the famous Chowgule College. You have to pass Sonsoddo, which is always in the news due to its prolonged problems of garbage disposal. However, when you reach this village, all that remains to be laid eyes on, of this once important fort, is just its Entry Gate with the Portuguese Royal Crest in granite, and a few meters of its masonry walls, on either side. Even today the vehicular entry into Rachol Village is through this single portal.
We can see an elongated depression at the front of the gate, as well as a rivulet that enters the village near the Church of Our Lady of Snows at Rachol, which made up the security water moat around this fort. Today, most of it has been filled up and encroached upon.
Rachol was originally identified as ‘Raitur’, from where the ‘Raiturkar’ Goan surname originates. Though the Portuguese conquered Elapuri (Old Goa) on November 25, 1510, the land of Rachol (Raitur) was still under the domain of the Adilshahi King Ismail Adilshah. It was only as late as 1520 that the efforts of the Portuguese and onslaughts of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, that Rachol came under the tutelage of the Portuguese wings.
Rachol had a fort which controlled any advances of enemies from across the river to Ponda Taluka. This fortress constructed by the Adilshahi forces was strategically very important and controlled the access across the River Zuari, as well as transport and trading with the hinterlands. It was in this fort that the Jesuits established themselves to carry out the process of evangelisation in Salcete. However, 1560 onwards, after the establishment of the notorious Grande Inquisition at Old Goa, and illogical destruction of an unaccounted number of Hindu temples, this fort gained a name of notoriety.
It was from this fort that Captain Diogo Rodrigues (first captain of this fort), led his armies to raid and destroy the Hindu religious sites, without notice. Though we can see a few ruins of the earlier temple destruction, these deities were shifted to safer lands, across the river into Ponda Taluka.
However, a visit to this place today shall be an enlightening experience for every individual. This village, which was once within the safe enclosure of the Rachol Fort is host to the prestigious Rachol Seminary; the very place which was visited by Swami Vivekananda, to learn about Christianity, before he travelled to America to attend the Parliament of World Religions at Chicago in 1893. He created history by winning the hearts of all westerners, with his first six opening words: “My Dear American Brothers and Sisters.”
This Rachol Seminary is also known as Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol and its foundations were laid on November 1, 1606. Its interior is a fascination for every visitor. It was constructed with the funds received through donations in the name of the young Prince of Portugal and the heir to the throne D Sebastiao. His name can be seen on the pelmet of the wooden door, as you enter the seminary. It has a beautiful and artistically decorated Church, a wind organ on its Choir Balcony and a huge courtyard with a provision to collect rain water in huge, deep tanks. This Tank has an outlet in the form of a long tunnel, which connects to the river, and acted as a possible escape route. In 1835, when all the religious Orders were expelled from Goa by the Queen of Portugal, it also witnessed the decline of this structure.
Another beautiful aspect within the enclosure of this fort is the Nossa Senhora de Neves or Our Lady of Snows Church, Rachol. It was here that the mortal remains of the five massacred priest at Cuncolim were interred, at the foot of the Altar, and which now lies in a safe in the Sacristy of the Basilica of Bom Jesus. This Church is supposed to be the first ecclesiastical structure in Salcete. The event of blessing of vehicles takes place on the 1st Friday every month.
As the legend goes, this fort being impregnable, the enemy supposedly killed an elephant and dumped its carcass in the moat. This deteriorated and spread epidemics in the village and the villagers were forced to flee and abandon this village and the fort. From then, it is said, that the glory of the Rachol fort started to diminish, and later, materials from the building were whisked for alternative constructions.
Another site that one must visit, within this fort area is the cemetery and burial site of late Fr Agnelo Gustavo Adolfo de Souza (Born on January 21, 1869) also known as Fr Agnelo D’Souza, who belonged to the Order of the Society of the Missionaries of St Francis Xavier, Pilar. He passed away at the Rachol Seminary on November 20, 1927. Today, we can visit a beautiful shrine and mausoleum of Fr Agnelo D’Souza at the Pilar Seminary.
Goa has many such strong heritage sites, which we will visit on our journey.