India's forgotten 1583 uprising in Cuncolim
By Armstrong Vaz, Qatar
Doha August 19: Jhansi, a small city in the northern Indian Uttar Pradesh, celebrates the 150th anniversary of India's "first war of independence" this year. The 1857 war for independence from British rule has been well documented in history books.
Unlike other parts of India, however, Goa, a small state on the western coast, was ruled by the Portuguese from 1510 to 1961. British rule ended in 1947.
An uprising against the colonial Portuguese rulers launched by a small village -- Cuncolim -- some 48 kilometers from the state capital of Panjim in 1583 has gone largely unnoticed.
Madicotto historic chapel
The Portuguese first conquered Goa in 1510 and Cuncolim was the first uprising that the Portuguese had to face in Goa apart from the organized armies and rulers who fought different wars with them over a period of time.
The villagers of Cuncolim, comprised mostly of Khastriyas (a warrior caste) who rendered services for different armies of different rulers, fought the war over forceful conversions and the destruction and defiling of their temples and places of worship.
But the Cuncolim revolt may soon find its way into local history books if the assertions of Shantaram Naik, who is from the village, are reliable. A lawmaker who is a member of Rajya Sabha, the Upper House (India has two houses of parliament) has said the Cuncolim revolt will find its way into the school curriculum.
The revolt took shape as a popular rebellion against invading Portuguese who came to the village accompanied by Jesuits, an order of Roman Catholic priests, and destroyed temples and defiled Hindu religious places.
The villagers retaliated by organizing themselves. Five Jesuits lost their lives along with five laymen.
The five priests have since being canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as martyrs, but the laymen have not received such treatment. (See Catholic-forum.com and Newadvent.org for more information.)
The murdered priests were canonized because their bodies, despite being left in the well for a few days, did not emit any foul smell. Rather, they emitted "special aromas," which was the only factor in their canonization process.
A "martyrs' chapel" was erected, dedicated to the priests and layman killed in 1583. Another chapel, some 500 meters away, which is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa, was the site where the bodies of the murdered priests were dumped in a well.
The well still stands today inside the chapel and is opened for people to view once a year during the feast of St. Xavier, celebrated in the first week of December.
The Cuncolim villagers had to face the fury of the Portuguese for having killed the five priests and five laymen. The Portuguese destroyed orchards in the village and unleashed many atrocities on the local population. More trouble was in store for them.
The village chieftains were invited for talks at a fort in the neighboring village of Assolna, where the church of Assolna stands today. All but one was executed. The one who survived did so by escaping through a toilet hole to swim across the "River Sal" and fleeing to the neighboring Karwar district, which now forms part of the southern state of Karnataka.
As part of the memory of the murdered village chieftains, Cuncolim as recently as five years ago erected a "chieftains' memorial" thanks to the initiative of Vermissio Coutinho, who took the lead in the building of the memorial. The chieftains' memorial stands close to the martyrs' chapel.
The subsequent execution of the chieftains -- cold-blooded murder -- did not diminish the fighting and valorous qualities of the villagers. After the Khastriyas of Cuncolim failed to match the superior armed forces of the colonial rulers, who destroyed their orchards and unleashed other atrocities, the villagers continued the struggle through a non-cooperation movement of not paying taxes to the Portuguese.
Centuries later, Mahatma Gandhi would launch a similar movement of not paying taxes to British rulers.
The villages of Cuncolim, Velim, Assolna, Ambleim and Veroda refused to pay taxes on the produce generated from their fields and orchards. As a result, their lands were confiscated and entrusted to the Condado of the Marquis of Fronteira.
The villagers waged a strong struggle but it was through the efforts of the visionary Dr. Rogociano Rebello, a general medical practitioner who studied law, that they got their land back.
He took their case from the Goa law courts established by the Portuguese to the highest court in Portugal. Finally, it bore fruit.
A truce has been struck but the effect of opposing Portuguese rule has had long-lasting effects, even to this day.
The forceful conversion of the villagers forced those of Cuncolim to move their places of Worship to different places. One of the temples of the goddess Shri Shantadurga Cuncolikarian was moved to the neighboring village of Fatorpa some seven kilometers away.
The villagers rejoice once a year when the same goddess is brought in a ceremonial procession from Fatorpa to Cuncolim. The 12 colorful umbrellas accompanying the deity represent the 12 vangodds (clans) of the village.
Incidentally, this year's yearly zatra (one week festival) falls on Dec. 24. Residents from various part of Goa will come together during the festival to get the blessing of the deity.
The villagers, despite having to convert to Christianity, have confirmed their age-old Hindu customs and maintained their caste beliefs. They also have a 12 vangodd system running the church's affairs.
The Khastriyas (warrior caste) who claim to be the original residents of the village, called Gaunkars (original inhabitants), have carried the Hindu caste system into the Roman Catholic Church and are demanding that they have a hold over the running of the affairs of the Cuncolim church, a view which has not been taken lightly by church authorities.
The Gaunkars claim that the Cuncolim church was built by their forefathers and that they have the right to conduct the religious festivals of the Cuncolim church, compared to non-Gaunkars who belong to the lower caste. No Brahmin families are found in the village of Cuncolim.
The dominant stance of the Khastriyas have seen many a struggle over the last 30 years and even led to church services being suspended for some months in the early 1980s.
Despite all this, the villagers of Cuncolim are braced for a new beginning.
[Armstrong Vaz works as a sub-editor for the Peninsula – largest circulated English daily in Doha Qatar]