In the later Vedic period (c.1000-500 BC) when the Hindu epic
"Mahabharata" was written, Goa has been referred to with the Sanskrit
name "Gomantak", a word with many meanings , signifying mostly a
fertile land; but however, it is the Portuguese who gave Goa its name.
Before they arrived on the scene, Goa, or Gove or Gowapura, was the
name only of the port town near the mouth of the Mandovi River. This
was also the same site on which the Portuguese later built their
capital, today's Old Goa.
Mythology and Legend
Legend ( and history to some extent) has it that a section of Saraswat
Brahmins, (one of the sub-sects of Brahmins who eat fish) became the
first wave of Brahmins to settle in Goa. This group of Brahmins were
called Saraswats because of their origins from the banks of the River
Saraswati, an ancient river that existed in Vedic times.
The river Saraswati subsequently dried up and caused large scale
migration of this group of Brahmins to all corners of India. A group
of ninety-six families, known today as Gaud Saraswats, settled along
the Konkan coast in and around today's Goa somewhere around 1000 BC.
They reportedly took the sea route and did not use land routes. These
groups settled in Tiswadi, Salcete, Bardesh, Pernem and Kudal. The
first group of Saraswat Brahmins who settled in the Goa area were
called "Sastikars" because they settled in the eight villages of
Sasti taluka. Today's Salcete taluka derives its name from the
Sanskrit word "Sassast" meaning the number 66, Tiswadi derived from
the Sanskrit word for the number 30, and Bardesh/Bardez derived from
the Sanskrit word for the number 12. Their settlements called as
agraharas set the pace for agriculture and development in the
area in partnership with the local indigenous people, the Kumbhis. The
earliest "Matha" of the Saraswat community was the "Kavle Math"
founded in 740 AD and established at Kushasthali near Keloshi in Goa.
This Math was subsequently destroyed by the Portuguese in 1564 but the
This early land reclamation by the Saraswats also provides the basis
of a very popular theory of origin of Goa, with its basis as recorded
in the "Skanda Purana". It is said that Lord Vishnu, in his sixth
incarnation as "Lord Parashurama" shot an arrow from the top of the
western ghats into the sea. He then commanded the sea or "Lord Samudra"
to withdraw where the arrow fell and claimed that land to be his
kingdom, that exact spot is reportedly "Benali" (in Sanskrit for
'where the arrow landed'), or today's Benaulim, the land around
it , today's Goa. He is also said to have brought the Brahmins from
Trihotra in north India and settled them in Goa. This is considered
today to be more mythology than history.
The Early era
Goa was a part of the Mauryan empire of Emperor Ashoka. It has been
known to other cultures by different names. Some of the names it was
known by in the ancient world are as follows
Aparant, Gomant, Govarashtra, Goparastra, Govapuri, Gopakpuri,
Gopakapattana, Gove. The last four being the names of its capital.
Chersonesus or Nelikinda (Periplus), Nekanidon (Pliny), Melinda or
Tricadiba Insula (Ptolemy), Nincilda (Peutingerian tables), Sibo.
Sindabur, Chintabur, Cintabor.
The Hindu era
The Hindu dynasties controlled Goa for the next 700 years. The
various dynasties that controlled Goa during this period are, the
Scytho-parthians (2nd -4th century AD), the Abhiras, Batpura, and the
Bhojas ( 4th - 6th century AD), the Chalukyas ( from 6th - 8th century
AD) and the Rashtrakutas of Malkhed (8th to 10th Century AD). This was
followed by the Kadambas (1006 AD-1356 AD).
The Kadambas were unique because they were a local dynasty that slowly
came to dominate the scene by forging alliances with their neighbors
and overlords, the Chalukyas. They made Chandrapur (Chandor) their
capital (937 AD to 1310 AD). They subsequently moved their capital to
Govapuri on the banks of the Zuari river, the site of today's
Goa Velha. The Kadambas are credited with constructing the first
settlement on the site of Old Goa in the middle of the 11th century,
when it was called Thorlem Gorem. The period of the Kadambas is
considered to be the first golden age of Goa. The death of the last
Chalukya king in 1198 weakened their alliance and this exposed Goa to
the vulnerability to Muslim invasions that took place continuously
The Muslim era
The invasion of Goa by the Bahamini Kingdom in 1350 brought about
complete destruction to Goa, its temples and its institutions. The
invaders, driven by fanatic zeal destroyed temples, murdered
priests and systematically looted their wealth. Many deities got moved
to safer areas, only one survives to this very day- the Shree Mahadev
Temple at Tambdi Surla. The end of the first period of the Bahamini
rule was following their defeat by the the Hindu Empire of Vijayanagar
(14-15th century AD). The Bahaminis returned again in 1470 and
won and with that victory, Goa became a part of the Muslim Bahmani
Kingdom of the Deccan (15th century). The Bahaminis created a new city
to facilitate trade on the northern banks of the river Mandovi, a city
they called Ela. In 1492, the Bahmani Kingdom split into five
kingdoms, namely Bidar, Berar, Ahmadnagar, Golconda and Bijapur.
One of the kingdoms namely Bijapur (which was the capital of the
territory) included Goa and was ruled by Sultan Yusuf Adil Shah Khan.
The Early Portuguese era.
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, in
present day Kerala in 1498. This discovery and the establishment of a
new sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope gave an
impetus to to the Portuguese who wanted very much to exploit it to
their advantage and profit from it. They soon realized that they had
to have a permanent trading post established to effectively do so.
Repeated attempts to do just that along the malabar coast ( controlled
by the Zamorin of Calicut) of India proved difficult and finally they
decided to try their luck northwards along the coast.
In 1510 under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque they laid siege
upon Goa, then under Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur. On February 17th he
entered the city of Goa for the first time and met little
resistance as the Sultan was engaged with his forces elsewhere. Sultan
Adil Shah soon came after him with a vengeance and and on May 23rd
1510 Alfonso de Albuquerque had to flee the city of Goa.
Determined to win it for good, Alfonso de Albuquerque made another
attempt a few months later with the help of a Hindu Chieftain called
Timoja . This time his timing could not have been more than perfect.
Sultan Adil Shah had just died and the heir to the throne was the
infant Ismail Adil Shah. Ela or the city of Goa was under Rasul
Khan, one of his generals. After an initial attack on the Arsenal and
a quick and bloody battle, Alfonso de Albuquerque victoriously entered
the city of Ela, Goa on St. Catherine's Day, November 25th 1510 .
As revenge for his earlier defeat, he massacred and decimated all of
the city's Muslim population over the next three days. He however
spared the Hindu population and appointed Timoja as his Thanedar. By
1543, the Portuguese were able to extend their control over Salcette,
Mormugao and Bardez, thus ending their first phase of expansion
into Goa. The territories of Ilhas, Salcette, Mormugao and Bardez
formed part of the Portugal's "Velhas Conquestas" or Old Conquests,
and formed only one fifth of the total area of modern Goa. By this
time, Goa became the jewel of Portugal's eastern empire.
By the end of the 16th century, Goa had already reached its peak
and was referred to as "Golden Goa" or "Lisbon of the East". With the
Portuguese, came their religion.
Albuquerque's interests initially was only commerce as a result, the
Portuguese were quite tolerant of the Hindus though the same was not
with the Muslims. From 1540 onwards, with the arrival of the dreaded
"Inquisition" in Goa, Portugal's liberal policy towards the Hindus was
reversed. 1542 saw the arrival of St. Francis Xavier and the Jesuits
to Goa. The saint left a lasting impression on Goa and is regarded
today as Goencho Saib or the Patron Saint of Goa. For more on the
Saint click on Goencho Saib.
The decline of Golden Goa
By the mid 17th century, Goa's decline as a commercial port began to
mirror the decline of Portuguese power in the East as a result of
several military losses to the Dutch and the British. The Dutch
had taken control over the spice trade - the original reason for
Portugal's eastern expansion. Brazil had now supplanted Goa as the
economic center of Portugal's overseas empire.
The war with the Marathas and the New Conquests
The first attack was by Sambhaji, son of Shivaji' defeat was narrowly
averted by the appearance of their rivals, the Mughals on the scene.
The second attack in 1737 was led by King Shahu, grandson of
Shivaji and this ended in a truce. The treaty of may 1739 gave control
of Portugal's northern Indian provinces including Bassein to the
Marathas in return for the withdrawal of Maratha forces from Goa. In
1741, the Marathas invaded Bardez and Salcete and threatened the city
of Goa itself. Fortunately for the Portuguese, a new viceroy,
the Marquis of Lourical arrived with substantial reinforcements and
defeated the Marathas in Bardez. During this period, the Portuguese
slowly expanded their territories which enabled them to extend
their control over Bicholim and Satari (in 1780-1781), then Pernem
later that decade and finally Ponda, Sanguem,
Quepem and Canacona in 1791. These acquisitions known as the" Novas
Conquestas " were quickly integrated with the Velhas Conquestas
consisting of Salcette, Bardez and Tiswadi. This second and
final phase of Portuguese expansion was rather different from their
initial conquests. By the time these territories were added, their
attitude had changed and their zeal for religious conversions had died
down. In a strange quirk of fate they banned the order of Jesuits in
1759, because they believed them to be puppets of the pope in
Rome. By 1835, all religious orders were banned, and the Hindu
majority were granted the freedom to practice their religion. As a
result, the "New Conquests" retained their Hindu identity, a
characteristic feature that persists even today, and this is also why
there is a religious/cultural/language or dialect difference
existing in Goa between the Talukas of Tiswadi, Bardez, Salcette and
Mormugao on one side and Pernem, Bicholim, Sattari, Ponda, Sangem,
Quepem and Canacona on other.