RIVERINE RIBANDAR - Corridor Between Past And Present

RIBANDAR, laved by the Mandovi river, and acting as a corridor between the ancient city of Goa and the new one, linked by a long causeway, exudes a rare charm of its own. Captivated travellers of the distant past describe the panoramic stretch from Ribandar to the ancient city as being dotted with elegant buildings, with turrets and cupolas. Today as we drive along the narrow road running between what little is left of the heritage homes, sandwiched between the silvery river and bottle green hillocks, let us have a look at the once elite locality, whose residents now clamour to prefer detachment from the newly formed Corporation of Panjim city and aspire for a panchayat status like any other village.

 Portuguese noblemen found Ribandar a perfect haven to live in, way back when the colonials enjoyed their heyday here. Amidst the spacious villas they formed a coccoon for themselves, away from the prying eyes of the lower section of society, and frequent serandes must have been the order of the day, to earn it the privilege of enjoying the second berth in the three wards that comprised erstwhile Nova Goa and present Panjim, when it was raised to a city by the Royal Decree dated March 22, 1834.

Known initially as Raibandar, a royal landing place, the nomenclature got corrupted into Rabandar, Rebandar to present Ribandar. Insanitation and sickness prevailed in the past too, forcing the Portuguese fidalgos to move to a salubrious and beautiful land when the city and the suburb of Sao Pedro turned unhealthy. The Muhammadans pushed conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque into the Mandovi river on May 23 1510, and retook the city, and raised a redoubt there. But when the Portuguese recaptured Goa amidst unfurled flags and trumpet blaring, a house was built at Ribandar for a Thanadhar, to keep an eye on the goods, which sailboats transported through the river for the purpose of tax collection. There are two pillars at the ferry jetty, which reminds us of its historic past.

Health for all

Leaving Albuquerque, his fidagos and the Muslim chiefs back in the pages of history, we arrive at a Ribandar known throughout Goa as the erstwhile Estado da India’s largest maternity hospitals. It began with the Hospital of the Poor, situated along the Panjim-Old Goa road. When the road hadn't seen neither tar nor traffic, the hospital was transferred there by the Santa Casa de Misericordia in either 1849 or 1851, to a house belonging to Candido Jose Mourao Garcez Palha. Attached to it is a chapel for a resident chaplain to hold regular religious service once. Though equipped with the necessary facilities available then, the hospital probably was never destined to flourish. Right from its inception patronage hailed mainly from the poorer section of the natives of the neighbouring villages of the Ilhas rather than from affluent patients from Ribandar. In course of time only the gynaecology and medicine departments were left and those too downed shutters a few years latter.

Teaching business management

Today the imposing edifice no longer looks after the health of the people but houses the local post office at the eastern end and a bank, while the Goa Institute of Management occupies the remaining part. The Institute already attracts nearly 150 students from various cities in the country. Of course, the bulk of the premises of the former hospital still lies vacant and unutilized. Ribandar has nearly half-a-dozen general practitioners plus a dentist and at the main centre is the popular Mhambre pharmacy. Following the closure of the hospital the locals began realizing the need of a Health Sub-Centre, which eventually materialized last year, on the birthday of local MLA, Ms Victoria Fernandes, but died a natural death almost within a year.

Miracles all

The Church of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (Our Lady of Help), which is situated at a little distance from the hospital, makes up Ribandar's important landmark of all. A legend claims that the church owes its construction to the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary, to save a Portuguese ship which was caught in the eye of a terrible storm at the Arabian Sea. The Virgin Mary herself is said to have stood on the forecastle throughout that fateful night, directing the devil (!) himself to steer the ship to safety. To commemorate the miracle the beautiful church stands where that ship had found a safe mooring, the edifice being just the length, breadth and height of the legendary ship.

Reparing of ships and Ribandar seem to have had a rare relationships for centuries. Among the several Arab settlers in nearby Chimbel, figuered one of the richest merchants named Modamod or Mohamad, who had set up a shipbuilding and repairing station near the Chimbel-Ribandar waterfront. Shasthadeva II, successor of Chatrabhuja or Guhalladeva I, after ascending the throne of Chandrapura in 1005 AD went on a solemn pilgrimage to the Somnath Temple (at Dwarka in Gujarat). While on reaching Panjim, the mast of Shasthadeva’s ship broke. However, he was saved from drowning and his ship was repaired by the rich Taji (Arab) merchant Modamod at his Chimbel-Ribandar ship yard.

The date that's marked red in its long history is March 16, 1554, the day the sacred body of St Francis Xavier was first kept at the Ajuda church after it arrived from Malacca, on its way to a very ostentatious and ceremonial reception in the city. The church was rebuilt in 1711, and provided in 1841 with an altar-piece brought from the Collegio de Populo. Embellished with paintings of some saints on its ceiling, the church possesses four altars.

 Given to so many miracles, the parishioners of Ribandar also believe that the image of or Jesus should not be carried in the customary procession once removed from the cross on Good Friday. So, for years without end they carry another image in the procession. “No parish priest can ever convince us to do otherwise. We blieve in our ancestors warning that if we carry the same image we may invite a terrible storm as had happened once in the distant past,” says one of the parishioners.

Ribandar causeway

Driving from Panjim eastwards, we are welcomed by the long and impressive causeway, with placid Mandovi river flowing to its north and the salt-pans to the South, throwing up sights that charm the eye. The construction of the causeway connecting Ribandar with Panjim was begun by the Viceroy, the Count of Linhares, in 1633, and completed within a year. Some older folk attribute the exceptional feat to the legendary Paulistas or Jesuit priests, who are said to have been endowed with near supernatural power, to construct the 9,542 feet long causeway “eke ratin anim eke vatin” (within one night with the light of a lone lamp).

The causeway rests on three arches on the eastern side, one in the middle, and thirty-eight on the western side. By the alvara of 22 June 1634 all the adjoining land was granted to the Senate or municipal chamber of the city. The bridge was repaired at the expense of the Senate in 1771 during the reign of the Governor and Captain General D Joao Jose de Mello, and again in 1859 during the administration of the Viscount of Torres Novas. Just recently it gave way at the Ribandar end, causing aa lot of anxiety, and even holding up the near unceasing traffic along the National Highway connecting to Ponda, for more than a couple of days.

Demand for Panchayat status

Today, Ribandar is ward No.18 of the Panjim Municipality and comprises Manoswadda, Fondvem, Patto (Chorao Ferry) and Panvel (Sao Pedro where the Divar ferry wharf is). It has a population of around 4,000 souls, a mix of fishermen, artisans, blacksmiths, carpenters, painters, drivers, etc. besides the affluent, some of whom reside in the palatial houses. However, a mere handful may agree to being a part of the Panjim City Corporation, and have been vociferously demanding a panchayat status.

More than 1200 families have given their signatures for reverting to panchayat status. The people rightly claim that they are paying city taxes which are not commensurate with the facilities provided by the civic body. Each flat owner pays Rs.4000 whereas an average house pays a tax of Rs.100 annually. The Milroc housing colony alone contributes about Rs.18 lakh per year in house tax. They feel sleighted because precious little of this revenue is being ploughed back into the development of the area, which Advocate Aires Rodrigues says is literally going to the dogs with an unprecedented increase in the “number of strays” and the ever persistent “mosquito menace”.

Moreover, Ribandar, is not contiguous with Panjim as much as it is with Chimbel and Merces and the Panjim Municipal Council finds it difficult to send workers to clean it. The villagers, therefore, decided to hold a referendum, to decide whether to remain a part of Panjim or opt for a separate panchayat. Subsequent events caused the referendum to be postponed.

 “In between came the Panjim City Corporation Bill, which we have opposed,” says Andrew M D’Souza, a member of the Action Committee spearheading the demand for panchayat status. “Basically, the tax problem worries us most. We certainly desire development but we do not want to be a part of the municipality because for small services one has to travel 7 kms to reach Panjim, for jobs which could have been done easily at the panchayat,” he adds.

Brisk urbanization

The bazaar place resembles a village tintto, with quaint small teashops and fisher women extracting and selling fresh oysters and fish. At Bernado Texeira's highly popular fast food joint, people come all the way from Mapusa for the succulent pork chops. Of course there are several low priced, family-run eateries serving fish-curry-rice along the road. For such a slim slice of land, Ribandar bristles with more than 20 matka bookies, and nearly 20 per cent of women folk patronizing them; it is virtually a doorstep service. The PDA-built market place near the Patto never picked up momentum and serves as lover’s joint.

 If the hospital helped attracted new residents who chose to settle in the vicinity of good health facilities, today Panjim's overflow spills into its outskirts kicking off rapid urbanisation, particularly atop the Ribandar hillock. The hillock overlooking a 360-degree view of the silvery river and its emerald islands, has witnessed the rise of nearly a score of housing colonies, the largest being Milroc with 400 flats.

“Right from the Portuguese time, we had electric power from the electric house at the small patto,” says Subhash Mhambre, member of the Goa State Pharmacy Council and a respected local. He relates that the place was dominated by the Portuguese fidalgos, who used to work in the government and specially at the police station, and that the vestiges of Portuguese culture, like the quest for entertainment and serenadas still persists.

While along the land Ribandar is a corridor for the National Highway, across the azure waters it ferries people past the mangroves to the islands of Chorao and Divar, whose ferries leave from wharves at two different points in Ribandar. Earlier when the movement of less, people had to cross the Mandovi river in a country-craft until the ferryboat was introduced in 1965.

 Heritage Mansions

Like Fontainhas, Ribandar too has a handsome concentration of fairly large and architecturally impressive mansions: Solar Colaco, where they bring tourists via the Mandovi river, Cameleot House (where fashion photographer Ritu Nanda has set up her designer store), Dr Inacio de Sa, Dr Alvaro D’Souza, Ave Gracias, Govinda Panvelkar, etc. Govind Panvelkar and Vaikunt Shetye are the biggest landlords in the area. It is by virtue of its rich residences that Ribandar came to be included in the Panjim Municipal Council. Otherwise, it would have been included in Chimbel when the Panchayat Act was implemented. Ward No.18 starts at Manaswaddo and extends till the house of Kaxinath Camotim, and from Krishna Bandodkar’s house begins Old Goa in the East). Beyond Manasvaddo lies Chimbel in the South.

Hindu section

Shri Devi Bhagwati Chimbelkarin is the gram devi of Ribandar. In the first week of every April the deity is brought to Chimbel from Marcela for seven days and visits every residence at Patto, Fondvem and Panvel. There are four Hindu temples: Ram temple at Manaswaddo, Shri Vitoba Temple at Fornavaddo, Pandurang temple at Fondvem and another temple of the same deity at Sao Pedro or Panvel. The newly constructed Shri Sai Prarthana Mandir at the Kadamba plateau, Ribandar, will be blessed by the presence of Om Chaitanya Gangangiri Maharaj on 15 and 16 May on the occasion of its establishment. The temple is constructed on 2,500 square metres of land donated by Krishnaraj Sukhthankar in the name of his mother. Lucio Miranda is the architect of the temple, which has a unique design, resembling a church, temple and mosque.

Ajuda convent

Viceroy Dom Manoel de Portugal e Castro had ordered the creation of six public schools of three R's in the military quaarters of Panjim, Margao, Mapusa, Bicholim and Ponda and the sixth at Ribandar and ordered that they should start functioning on 7 November 1831. We don't know what happened thereafter. However, among the prominent educationals institutions in Ribandar figures the over-200-year-old Ajuda Convent (now Our Lady of Help Convent), housed in the majestic mansion, which once was called Palacio Julio Nogar. It was handed over the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who extended it to start a teachers’ training course and subsequently a high school. However, in due course, they wound up the school, leaving behind only kinder-garten, and is now a noviate of their order. Closeby stands the chapel of St Anthony, where the aristocracy of the place would come for mass, to avoid mingling with the rest of the population of the area. In education, however, the vacuum has been filled by a fine institution in Bal Bharatiya Vidya Mandir, run by the Manipal Trust.

Goa’s first Syrian church

Driving up the steep road, to the right of the steps leading to the Ribandar cemetery, which leads from the Church to the hillock, one comes across the first Syrian Christian Church which was built in Ribandar in 1973; it was renovated in October 2001. St Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, overlooking the Ribandar causeway that dovetails into Panjim, conducts daily service every day, according to Fr Joshua OIC, who owes allegiance to the Bethany Ashram in Kerala.

Creative and culture

The riverine stretch of around 4 square kilometers is also popular for serenades, which must have come from the presence of the aristocrats in that area. In fact there used to be three serenades: at Patto on December 31, at Fondvem on January 1 and at Chimbel on January 7. Now it is combined in one joint celebration of New Year’s Day. Says Messias Tavares, “The serenade started in Ribandar and everyone joined the bandwagon later.”

Peopled with creative persons excelled in different arts, entertainment and culture comes naturally to these folk. On the third Sunday of January, the village traditionally stages a tiatr, which will complete a centenary next year. Ask anyone in Ribandar or even elsewhere what Ribandar is known for and pat comes the answer: Artists like the famed sculptor Waman Zo besides Charis and others who have been excelling at putting up floats. The float which bagged the first prize at the Panjim Carnival parade this year, was prepared at Ribandar. Going back in time, we are told that the Carnival dance used to be held in the Gracias house.

Portuguese culture lives on in the Carnival and in the serenades. Every year two to three Marathi dramas are being staged by the Hindu community. The Catholic residents of Patto celebrate the Our Lady of Remedios chapel feast on February 2. The main feast at the Ajuda church is celebrated in the second week of January and there is invariably a tiatr in the evening. The place was also known for its traditional feast “Tarvachem Fest” (feast of the sailboat), in November, when a sail boat used to be decorated near the cross where the ancient sailboat is said to have anchored. During the monsoons the people celebrate the “Sangodd”, a floating platform formed by tying two or more boats.

Industry-wise there is nothing to cheer about in Ribandar. In 1980, there were only six bars but today there are nearly 24 bars and that to along the National Highway, resulting into a lot of assorted problems. Hotel Missel and Hotel Seema are the two hotels which have been built along the Panjim-Old Goa road, and being the outskirts of Panjim are fairly well patronised by a large section of guests, particularly from the upcountry domestic section.

The place, where once Ventians, Germans, Castilians as well as rich merchants from Arabia, Aremenia, Persia, China and elsewhere, must have been a common sight, has been peopled by blue blooded Goans, with upcountry folk adding to the population. And Ribandar now aspires for panchayati raj, the hopes rising higher, after Taleigao, which had been inducted into the Panjim Municipal Council, was reverted to a panchayat recently. People of Ribandar have been preparing a ground for their aspiration, which may be fulfilled one day.

Joel D'Souza