With over a million tourists visiting every year at Goa destination, this tiny state has its share of modern five star hotels and its famous beaches. Yet, Goa’s charm is still untouched by the fast pace of modern life. Once you arrive, your watches seem to slow down, and time virtually stops.
According to legend, this magical land Goa was created by Lord Parashuram (Lord Vishnu, the Protector, in his sixth incarnation). So beautiful did he make it that the Gods chose it as their retreat in times of stress. Thus, Lord Shiva descended from the heavens for a sojourn in his enchanted land not once but twice. And each time, unable to bear her solitude, his divine consort Parvati followed. Here they met, made their peace and ascended once again to Kailash, their heavenly abode.
Myth apart, Goa’s history goes back to the third century BC when it was part of the Mauryan empire. The Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Silharas and Kadambas ruled during the first millennium till, in the 14th century, it became part of the glorious Vijaynagar empire. During this period Goa’s natural harbours played a very important role in expanding trade with the Middle East. The Bahamani Sultans of Gulbarga and the Adil Shahis of Bijapur held sway in the 15th century.
Meanwhile, in their bid to control the eastern spice routes, as well as to spread Christianity, the Portuguese reached India in 1498. Being unable to get a foothold in Kerala where they had first landed, they arrived in Goa in 1510, found the natural harbours ideal for their purpose, and stayed on. Gradually Goa became the seat of the Portuguese empire in the East and remained under Portuguese rule till 1961 when a political movement, launched in the wake of India’s independence in 1947, led to its liberation by India.
Over a thousand years of Hindu-Muslim rule, followed by almost four centuries under the Portuguese, has left a hybrid of Eastern and Western cultures that makes Goa a unique experience. The large community has managed to neatly balance its Konkani roots with the dominant Christian influence. People speak English, Marathi, and Konkani, Goa’s official language.
Great defenders of their ecology, Goa have, in recent years, campaigned vigorously to protect their land from the onslaught of industrial and commercial enterprises that cause pollution or strain their natural resources. These sentiments are rooted in religion and in the sound precepts taught by the ‘shastras’, the holy books. Thus, eating fish, which was abundant, was not frowned upon even for the vegetarian Brahmins; doing so during the monsoons, the spawning season, was discouraged so that the species would be preserved.
Goa is large-hearted, uninterfering, tolerant, and great at building relationships. And their fun-loving, laid-back attitude is best reflected in the Mexican tradition of siesta that hits the seaside State at lunch-time. This extends even to shopkeepers and market places and it is difficult to buy anything between one and four in the afternoon. Except of course – a good lunch!