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Articles Blog

Filtering by Category: India

Marmagao, India

Karyn Planett

From Bijapur To The Beatles

First, let’s sort out the name. Marmagao is the major port city in the Indian state of Goa. The Portuguese brought the name Goa back to Europe but no one knows for sure where they got it. Then to confuse things further, they named this natural harbor Mormugao instead of Mormugoa, reversing the last two letters (which are pronounced as though you are trying to say “ow” through your nose).

When the Brits arrived they Anglicized the name (as they are wont to do) to Marmagoa, changing the ending again. Since then the generally acknowledged name has been established as Marmagao, which should keep both the British and the Portuguese happy. It’s not known if anyone has asked the Indians how they’d like to say it. So, after that exhaustive explanation, let’s get on with the story of the place.

Vasco Comes Calling

Goa is one of India’s smallest states but one of its richest and best educated probably because its great harbor became the entry point for colonial conquest, civilization, and finally tourism. Panaji (Panjim) is the state’s capital and Marmagao’s city of Vasco da Gama, planned and built in the early 20th century, is its largest city.

Goa’s recorded history begins in the 3rd century BC. From then it was ruled by a succession of sultanates, the last being the sultans of Bijapur in the 1400s. In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first European to set foot on the Indian subcontinent via the sea. The Portuguese were intent on capturing the spice trade ahead of their European rivals. The Ottoman Turks had closed off the traditional land routes.

True to their mission in other colonies, the Portuguese set about converting the local population to Christianity using the Inquisition to give them encouragement. When the British and Dutch arrived to compete for India’s riches, Goa became the main Portuguese stronghold and was granted the same civic status as Lisbon. Incredibly, this Portuguese colony existed for 450 years, one of the longest colonial occupations ever, until taken over by India in 1961.

Portuguese Legacy

In the only Indian state where European futbol (soccer) is more popular than cricket, Portuguese influence can be experienced throughout, but nowhere more spectacularly than the Basilica do Bom Jesus. This basilica contains the remains of St. Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit Order, and a missionary said to be second only to St. Paul in converting people to Christianity. He died on his way to China in 1552 and is buried in a silver casket, which is brought out every ten years for consecration and viewing.

The church is a UNESCO World Heritage monument and the most visited pilgrimage site in this part of the world. It is the best example of baroque architecture in India and features marble floors inlaid with precious stones plus elaborate gilded altars.

In addition to the many churches, mansions constructed in an Indo-Portuguese style still stand in many parts of Goa. The area called Fontainhas in Panjim has been declared a cultural quarter. During its peak, “Golden Goa” was even larger than Lisbon and considered the Pearl of the Orient.

Christmas and Easter Sunday are still the most popular celebrations in Goa. At any celebration large or small, you’ll be served “traditional” dishes with obvious Portuguese origins. Rice and fish are featured in combination with curries, coconut and coconut oil, chili peppers, spices and vinegar. Pork dishes such as Vindaloo, Xacuti and Sorpotel are served for special occasions.

Vishnu And The Beatles

For a complete change of pace from Portuguese Goa, there are glimpses of Goa’s short history as a hippie retreat during the Beatles Era. The object of their worship was housed at the temple of Shri Mahalasa in the town of Mardol. This goddess is considered one of the avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu (supreme god of the Hindus). In a conflict between the demons and gods, the evil demons had gotten the upper hand. Vishnu cleverly took the form of a beautiful woman to befuddle the demons just long enough to defeat them.

This period also gave rise to Goan Trance Music. Its psychedelic roots moved from the beaches of Goa to become popular in Europe in the ‘80s and ‘90s where it was combined with several strains of electronic music and eventually morphed into “psytrance” in the 2000s. For an authentic experience, you may want to download some of it from iTunes before you visit the temple. Then again, maybe a few Beatles tunes will suffice.

                                                                                   Karyn L. Planett

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Karyn Planett

From Tamil Tigers To Asian Tiger

On May 19, 2009, the President of Sri Lanka announced the final defeat of the “Tamil Tigers” and an end to the civil war that had ravaged the country and its population since 1983. Days later, a government economic minister declared, “The victory is great and now we have to win the economic war.” Rarely has a country emerged from so extended a period of conflict with such single-minded purpose.

Barely two years after the end of the separatist movement, three quarters of the 300,000 people displaced by the conflict have been repatriated; billions in local and foreign investment have been committed to rebuilding the country’s shattered infrastructure; in one year, the Sri Lankan Stock Market grew 100%; Sri Lanka has one the best performing economies in Asia after India; and tourism has returned to the beaches of what is being called the Thailand of South Asia.

Nowhere is this new vitality more on display than in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo.

Is This The Emerald City?

Colombo enjoys one of the best natural harbors in Asia and sits astride the major east-west trade route (a fact that attracted interest from the Portuguese, Dutch, and British over the centuries) and is one of the biggest container ports in the region. Defying the worldwide economic slowdown, the port has reached its capacity and is currently undergoing a major expansion project.

The twin World Trade Center towers—South Asia’s second tallest buildings--dominate Colombo’s skyline, but other architectural landmarks speak more to Sri Lanka’s colonial history. The Fort is an area defining the original Portuguese stronghold and still houses the presidential palace. Pettah Market and the Khan Clock Tower lie just outside The Fort and identify a neighborhood of local shops where each street features a single product category. Many of these are still run by Muslim traders, although you may want to make a point of visiting the Tamil-controlled gold market on Sea Street.

The Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is one of the most visited tourist sites in Colombo, but the Galle Face Green is where you’ll find the local population. This mile-long, palm-lined, recently-refurbished promenade is alive with music, food stalls, sports, and strollers—especially on Fridays and Saturdays.

Who Were Those People?

Nearly three fourths of Sri Lankans are Buddhist Sinhalese, or “Lion People.” The Sinhalese originated in northern India and arrived here in the fifth or sixth century B.C. by sailboat. It was they who set about digging a sophisticated irrigation system as well as immense artificial lakes.

The next largest group is Hindus--Ceylon Tamils whose ancestors were Dravidian and came from southern India and Indian Tamils who were brought in less than 200 years ago to work the plantations – coffee, tea and rubber.

This nation’s flag was designed to acknowledge these distinct groups and their proportional representation in the current population. The Lion represents the Sinhalese and commands the largest portion of the flag. The saffron stripe represents the Tamils, and the green is there to identify the Muslims who inhabit this land, descendants of medieval traders.

The first Europeans on the scene were the Portuguese who waded ashore from their caravels in 1505, called the place Ceilao, and left behind Catholicism. The Dutch arrived in 1658, changed the name to Ceilon, and introduced new canal and fort designs. Then the British in 1796, who developed the cinnamon trade, called the island Ceylon, and introduced a society that enjoyed such things as manicured golf courses, private clubs, and the curious concept of adding milk to cups of hot tea.

What Was Wrong With Ceylon?

In 1292, Marco Polo declared this to be the “finest island of its size in the world.” This… spoken by a man who knew many of the world’s finest islands! Ceylon, as it was called until 1972 when the Sinhalese name “Sri Lanka” was resurrected, is a teardrop-shaped island that seems suspended in the Indian Ocean just off India’s southeastern shores. Sri Lanka’s name comes from a Hindu epic, which means “Resplendent Isle.” Two hundred seventy miles from north to south, its 23,332 square miles measures a bit larger than the state of West Virginia.

Whatever you call Sri Lanka, you’ll certainly be dazzled by her patchwork of green countryside, her miles of golden beaches, remnants of Britain’s touch upon this landscape, and her graceful people wrapped in a swirl of colorful saris and sarongs, adorned with golden bangles and nose trills.

High in the cool mountains, from 2,000 to 7,000 feet up, are the major tea plantations. On these slopes, Tamil women carry wicker baskets that are strapped to their heads and climb these terraces as sure-footedly as a gazelle might. They spend their days picking “flush” which are the tender buds with two attached leaves. These “flushes” are then packed off to factories where air is circulated around trays of leaves, causing these leaves to wither and dry up to only 3% of their previous moisture content. These leaves are then rolled, blended, and shipped off to eager customers the world over who await their afternoon plate of sweets and cup of piping hot Ceylon tea.

While roaming about Colombo, you might enjoy a cup yourself!

                                                                                       Karyn L. Planett