In Goa, most old houses have interesting stories. And Heta Pandit, author and co-founder of Goa Heritage Action Group — dedicated to the advocacy of preservation, conservation and restoration of the state’s natural, built and cultural heritage — is well versed in them. Of late, she’s been sharing nuggets via Instagram. For instance, did you know many Goan houses have nicknames? Her property in Saligao is called Goddgodo House. “Goddgodo is the word for thunder in Konkani and apparently the previous owner of the house, Sunny D’Mello, had a booming voice, like thunder,” she explains in a reel. “And even to this day, 28 years after his passing and 18 years after I’ve lived here, people still call it the Goddgodo House.”
Her latest coffee table book, Stories from Goan Houses, takes the storytelling forward. It documents 21 houses, including some well-known properties such as the Figueiredo Mansion in Loutolim, South Goa, which was built in the 1580s and is older than the Taj Mahal. Its owner, Maria de Lourdes, was the first Goan member of the Portuguese Parliament. The house is now a museum, heritage homestay, and home of Maria de Fatima Figueiredo de Albuquerque and her family, the 13th generation of the family.
When a goddess came calling
The book, published by Pandit under The Heritage Network, is beautifully designed with images by photographer Daniel D’Souza and a foreword by writer Vivek Menezes. It comes 22 years after Houses of Goa, which spoke mainly about the architecture of Goan houses.
“What are houses but empty shells without the breath of life in them?” says Pandit, who has been listening to the locals’ stories since she moved to the state 27 years ago. “It is the people that live in these houses that breathe life into them, that allow the houses to tell their own stories and become crucibles of culture and evidence of history.” Stories from Goan Houses reveals many not-so-known facts about local families and their homes.
An interesting one speaks about the legend associated with Casa Dempo in Panaji. It is said that once a woman dressed in a sari and gold ornaments once knocked on the door at twilight. The lady of the house, a devotee of Goddess Lakshmi, realised the woman was the goddess of wealth herself and invited her inside to apply vermilion (to venerate the guest). She then jumped to her death — believing the goddess would stay in the house until she returned. It is said that the Dempo family’s fortunes took a turn for the better ever since.
Another story explains why the family members of Sanvordekar Wada at Sanvordem don’t tread on the second step of their main entrance. Legend says that once when dacoits tried to enter the house, they saw a female figure with open hair, draped in a nine-yard sari and gold jewellery, seated on the second step. It was the vision of Goddess Shri Shantadurga, and the terrified dacoits turned tail.
Restoring a disappearing past
The book celebrates local heroes such as Konkani writer and Jnanpith awardee late Ravindra Kelekar — his house in Priol, near Ponda, is open to all visitors — and the house of Ramchandra Pandurang Vaidya, better known as Dr. Dada Vaidya, who contributed immensely to the field of medicine and education in 19th century Goa.
Pandit narrates how Vaidya cured the Portuguese governor’s son and helped bring Ayurveda back from banishment. He was also responsible for saving many women’s lives. “In those days, women did not visit physicians and were reluctant to give blood and urine samples for testing. Dr. Vaidya found a unique way of collecting samples by allowing them to pass urine in a channel in complete privacy. He was a hero,” she says.
The agrarian community have their place among the 21 too, such as folk artist Lakshmi Vishnu Harvalkar, who is known for her songs sung on a grinding stone. Through her humble home with mud floors and a thatched roof, readers get a glimpse of the lifestyle of rural Goans who are self-sufficient and are custodians of their heritage.
And true to her conservationist heart, Pandit has featured restored spaces in Stories from Goan Houses, such as Casa Guilherme Dias, a family home in Salvador do Mundo, or Neemrana Arco Iris, a 200-year-old house that’s now a homestay in Curtorim. She delves into the passion and challenges in restoring these houses that are fast disappearing from the Goan landscape. But Pandit is hopeful. “There is a future for Goan houses. People will realise that recycling and restoring heritage homes is easier, more economical, and climate-friendly than building new,” she concludes.
The Goa-based freelancer writes on art, culture and ecology.