Nossa Bela Casa Is Charm of Goa Most Luxurious House of Goa
This House was built 350 years ago centred around a small hidden courtyard with a shady tree.
ROOTS AND WINGS The somnolent village of Cuelim (Coo-el-im) in which this house resides was named by an enthusiastic Portuguese cleric who had baptized five landed gentry kshatriya (warrior class) families with his own surname – Cunha (Coon-ya) meaning ‘wedge’. Today only two remain. Yet, we can trace back our ancestry to our Hindu fore bearers, who were named Joshi. Cuelim population is largely Roman Catholic kshatriyas as can be seen by the number of crosses and chapels that dot the area.
This house was built 350 years ago centred around a small hidden courtyard with a shady tree. The walls were solid stone, except that the nether regions were crafted out of mud. It had its own chapel which you can see. With coming generations the house burgeoned into one of the 40 baroque style mansions in Goa which came as a surprise to the occasional tourist who ventured into interior Goa because mansions always stood far away from the beaches. Ours was built in several levels, with two reception halls, a dining hall, six bedrooms with niches for exquisite chamber pots, matching water jugs and basins, enclosed by balconies overlooking gardens and a sweet water well which never ever dried up, majestic staircases add to wind your way from the master bedroom to a hall, on the same level, you had to climb two flights of stairs, up ‘n’ down. Lower down were two kitchens, domestic quarters, a cellar and a pantry. The toilets were tucked away at the end of the house. It was a large impressing room; you climbed up several marble steps and found eight round apertures. Those were the days that pigs were the scavengers, and were reputed to do a spanking clean job. The ceiling had ornate plaster-of-paris moulding. The floors were mosaic or parquet in intricate designs. The furniture was ebony or rosewood, all protected with exquisite crochet or embroidered linen. The walls were alive with stern faced ancestors. The mansion was sustained by an estate of coconut groves, cashew plantations and paddy fields.
300 families of Mundkars live in an area called Borsulem, which belongs to us. The system unique to Goa began as a form of feudalism. The landowner allotted a piece of land and a cottage to the laborer, who is paid wages for services rendered on the estate. AN OASIS OF SPLENDOUR When you enter the meandering road that takes you to the village of Cuelim and the Casa de Braganca circle, you will be struck by the Church of St. Thomas, which was built approximately the same time as our house (1581 and then 1632), as part of the Portuguese Renaissance. The towering snow white façade, which literally gleams in the moonlight, and gold alters crafted in the Portuguese Baroque styles gives up images of our ancestors wending their way to mass in their mashilas. The Church was run by Jesuits until 1759, who also founded the Lady of Remedios Chapel on our hill which becomes famous on the Feast of the Three Kings on the 6th of January, when 3 little boys on horses lead devotees into precints. The Church has four alters; the main one is devoted to St. Thomas, and the others to Our Lady of Good Life, Our Lady of Good Death and The Sacred Heart of Jesus. Outside, next to the Parish School, is a statue of Christ the King dressed in red and white robes, and a grotto mimicking the Lourdes. THE BEGINNINGS Antonio Ligorio da Cunha (1841-1902) was a landowner doctor who treated the ailing for free. His brother, Isidore, was a priest, for whom the second chapel on the first floor was built with the statue of Mother Mary imported from France. He also had seven sisters who were married in adjoining villages and produced several children. After which it was time for Ligorio to find himself a wife. HOW WE BECAME BRAGANCA CUNHA. In the village of Chandor, there lived a wealthy landowner named Francis Xavier Braganca, (1815-1881) who had three beautiful and accomplished daughters. He agreed to marry them off only on one condition: that their future husbands would add on the Braganca surname for all future generations, forever and always. In Portugal the Braganca surname is exclusively for royalty, but in Goa, belongs to anybody. The eldest Claudina Stael (1849-1926) was married to a young man Joriano de Menezes (1845-1920) who had to live in the palatial mansion in Chandor, which is reputed to be the best house in Goa, as a ghorzoi (live-in- son- in- law).
With his inheritance the Braganca name came last, so they were Menezes Braganca. Their only son Luis de Menezes Braganca (1878- 1938) was the iconic literate and journalist, who started the first two daily newspapers, which informed Goans about world affairs and made them aware about freedom. The second Adelina (1851- 1927) was married to Felix Pereira (1851- 1908) and their descendants became the Braganca Pereira’s of Uttorda. Their son Antonio Bernardo was a famous agriculturist and writer. The youngest daughter Filomina (1855- 1920) was married to Ligorio Cunha and their progeny became the Braganca Cunhas of Cuelim.
A great many of the Braganca progeny was illustrious and left remarkable legacies. BACK TO THE BRAGANCA CUNHAS Filomena and Ligorio had four famous sons and two daughters, which made for many celebrations, bolstered by an amply stocked cellar. The upstairs ballroom was lit with gleaming chandeliers, with a three piece band and dancing gentleman booked their partners by writing down their names on tine programmes. Tables were laid out in an ‘L’ shaped table for 150, sets with blue and white crockery, sparkling crystal and silver ware for one course. Mesthas (chefs) were hired for the occasion and cooked up a storm in cavernous underground kitchens and housed in trellised meat safes, until they were displayed to the admiring guests. Leaving scraps in your plate, even today is not bad manners, it just means that your appetite has been whetted. Everybody travelled in their own maschillas (palanquins ) carried by muscular young men; the Braganca Cunha minions wore red and yellow livery. Doctor Ligorio was not too impressed with the Portuguese education offered in Goa, and believed the French were superior in culture and intellect. So he dispatched his sons to French Pondicherry to graduate.
An unwritten law among bhatkars (landlords) was that only one son was married so that the property remained unadulterated and evolved to a single heir. The daughters were given substantial dowries to their paternal homes for their confinement. Accordingly all 6 Braganca Cunhas were all born in Chandor. Vicente (1883-1944), the eldest son was somewhat of a dandy. Although there was a badminton court on the ground, he refused to play like his more energetic brothers. His daily exercise was walking from the front door to the main gate a couple of times at dusk. He dressed impeccably, again unlike his brothers ,and was featured as one of London’s best dressed men. And unlike his brothers he married an heiress, Alice de Souza (1894-1954) of Siolim in South Goa and Malabar Hill, Bombay they settled down in Europe, he in London, where he was professor of Portuguese in the London University, and she in the south of France. Their only son Ruy ( note that the spelling of the name was Spanish , not Portuguese) schooled in Fenelon and went on to Toulouse University in France. It was only after Vicente’s death that the mother and son returned to India to tend to the estate and make the mansion, in which her brother-in-law Tristao lived, more habitable. The second son Francisco (1887-1956) lived in Paris as an Ideologist and sported a long beard.
The jewel in the clan was Tristao (1891-1958), aka the Father of Goan Nationalism. An electrical engineer from Sorbonne, Tristao in France , roomed and interacted with Ho Chi Min of Vietnam , Zhou Enlai first premier of China and Romain Roland . He was enthused with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress and conveyed his impressions to the European world. Returning to Goa after 14 years he founded the Goa Congress Committee and affiliated it to the Indian National Congress. In his quiet unassuming way he wrote out Portuguese pamphlets and booklets on a printing machine hidden in this very house, and won a galaxy of followers. In 1946 after addressing a large crowd he was assailed with bayonets and arrested, whisked away to a dark prison cell in Peniche prison in which he was sentenced for 8 years, and came in contact with like-minded political prisoners. He was released after 4 years and put under house arrest, but he escaped to France using a passport with his first name Antonio and the surname Braganca (All Goans have a string of Christian names and the chosen one may come last). T.B.Cunha, as he was popularly called, arrived in Bombay in 1953 because if he had to step foot onto Goan soil he would be rearrested. He ran 2 newspapers, devoted himself to the Goan liberation party, and kept the ‘Goa is a part of Indian’ slogan alive and kicking. He wore khadi and spoke Konkani, cocking a snook at the Portuguese who had banned Indian language and attire. Sadly, T.B.Cunha died without seeing free Goa (which happened in December 1961). His remains lie in the Martyr’s Memorial in Panjim.
He was posthumously awarded the Stockholm Peace Prize. His bust hold pride of place in the Cansaulim market square and a football ground also in Cansaulim is named after him. Placido(1894-1942), the youngest child became a well known doctor in Calcutta. Among his patients was the esteemed politician B.C.Roy. Not a single Braganca Cunha has been buried in the quaint Cuelim cemetery. Another trait about Francis Xavier’s inheritors is that they admired and socialized with one another. So much so that Ana de Braganca Cunha married her first cousin Luis de Menezes Braganca of Chandor. Their son, Fernando (1906-1976) married his second cousin Aida de Braganca Pereira (1917-2012). Interestingly, their three children are all great grandchildren of the of the three Braganca sisters. The ‘de’ or ‘da’ in our surname merelymeans ‘of’. It is silent; like good children, only seen ,not heard. A ‘D’ is an abomination devised by the British in India. GOA BECOMES A STATE OF INDIA Ruy, the scion of the Braganca Cunhas, married Anne, a writer. They had two sons , Ravi and Nikhil.The house had been uninhabited for 4 years, since Alice’s death in 1958, after which Ruy moved to Bombay and the French Trade Commission. Anne was enchanted with the house, petromax and kerosene lamps, primitive sanitary, flying foxes in the roof. The family retainers proudly stated the they had never discarded a thing. Neither had the generations that came before them. Children’s puzzles jostled shoulders with rare porcelain, newspapers settled into rotting piles, drawers bulged at the seams with heavy visiting cards, letters of proposals. school reports (good, bad and indifferent ), property deeds executed in meticulous copper plate; Jamini Roy and a calendar frozen at 1954 presided over the same wall. The years saw sprucing up and septic tanks remodeling and renovation. Anne’s passion passed onto Nikhil, a radiologist in Mumbai, who is responsible for this reconstruction, keeping the intrinsic character intact, with architect Dean D’Cruz as his collaborator. AND NOW……………… In Cuelim time stands still. All around is the sweet smell of things growing in the rich red earth, the coconut tree exploding in bursts of greenery into an incredibly azure sky, the undulating hills. You go to bed to the sound of a ladainha (litany) or a gummot (drum)in the distance. You wake up to the cacophony of birds and church bells. Life revolves around the village square taverns, chemists, market places, craftsmen, bakeries. And once a year, our little village springs to life on the Feast of the Three Kings or Epiphany on the 6th of January, which has been celebrated for 400 years. There is a small chapel built in 1599, on the top of the hillock, donated by the Braganca Cunha’s to the Catholic Church. It overlooks the valley on one side and our rice fields and coconut groves on the other.
On the last day of the Christmas festivities, the chapel and the hillock transform into a magical setting. Three young lads, one each from Cuelim and the sister villages if Cansaulim and Arossim (it is only recently that daughter’s children would participate) are gorgeously attired as kings, put on horses and ride all the way up the fields and up the hillock, with a brass band in attendance. A huge number of tourists witness their triumph to resounding cheers. And finally, do remember Goans are not Goanese, which to us is a dirty word coined by the British, for their domestic staff. Never mind how ‘Japs’ not ‘Japanese’ is considered derogatory.