Most know the church as Chandor Church. And most know Chandor for the Menezes Braganza mansion that takes up a sizeable length of the church square opposite Luis Antao’s house beside a Government Primary School.
In an open patch of land across the road from the Menezes Braganza mansion a whitewashed Church Cross stands alone on the roadside, aligned with the church entrance. Opposite, in the shade of plants, a gate opens into the Menezes Braganza mansion, its east and west wings stretching outwards from the entrance. A tour of the mansion is a peek into the opulence of the aristocracy of the Portuguese era.
Dating back to the 17th century A.D., the Nossa Senhora de Belem Church, together with the Menezes Braganza mansion, stands as a prominent signpost of the Portuguese era in Goa. The Portuguese were second to none in demolishing Hindu temples and building churches over them. Led by overzealous Jesuit missionaries and an aggressive Church that used violence to ‘persuade’ its conquered subjects to convert to Christianity, Portuguese depredation of Goa is legion.
Before Nossa Senhora de Belem Church came to dominate the village landscape in 1645, a Hindu temple, Sapta Matrika (Seven Mothers) stood in its place until its destruction by the Portuguese a century earlier. Muslim invaders were no different. Together they erased much of Chandor’s Hindu past. Forcible conversions by the Jesuits did the rest, changing the cultural character of the village. The forefathers of the Menezes Braganza family were said to be the Desai, an influential Hindu family from the village before their forcible conversion to Christianity by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Chandor lies on the banks of the river Kushavati, and is made up of the three hamlets of Cotta, Cavorim, and Guirdolim. The city of Margao lies 15 kilometres away.
Sunday mornings in Chandor are relaxed affairs. Dressed in Sunday finery, village folk start for the church early, walking in a single file along largely empty roads. Every once in a while when fancy takes hold, children dressed in brightly coloured frocks prance on the roads before their mothers pull them to the side of the road, their gentle admonishments lost to the breeze. Gents in open necked shirts, some in black coats and crisp trousers, heads held high, make their way in silence. The faces are cheerful and smiles come easy. Colourful umbrellas twirl to the beat of the parishioners gait and lend colour to the blue skies over Chandor.
Occasionally a church-goer will pause to exchange pleasantries with a fellow villager across the road, headed in the opposite direction, voices carrying back and forth before each continues on his way.
Father Saude Pereira is the Parish Priest and is assisted by Father Damaciano Carvalho.
With the gathering of parishioners in the Church, often spilling out into the courtyard, intonations ring out rhythmically, enhancing the village idyll with lyrical cadences.
As we made our way past the railway crossing at Guirdolim the Sun slanted across the road, lighting up brightly coloured tavernas and shops. There was little or no hint of life within. Casa Miranda General Stores advertising Belo Beer was yet to open. It was still early in the morning for the folks in the village and moreover Sundays start with mass at the Chandor Church before it is time for commerce.
Drums lay against the wall partly hidden under the sloping roof and painted red. They were rusted from exposure to the elements. The door was open and I spied a man inside. A bicycle was propped against a tree. He had probably cycled to his shop on it.
We had ridden through Curtorim, passing along the way nests of Baya Weavers and womenfolk carrying cane baskets on their way to paddy fields. It was early November of last year and the threshing of paddy was nearing completion. If we were lucky we would get to see the last of the activities in Chandor that early November day.
The Sunday mass was underway when we reached the church square. Cars, two wheelers, and bicycles lay parked outside the church. A few shops stood across the road from the church. We stepped inside an inn for tea and pao bhaji. The proprietress was busy at the back of the inn when we made our way to the front of the inn and settled down at a table. The inn was empty. I expected it to fill up to capacity once the church dispersed for the day. Until then we had a gentleman for company.
Stuck to the wall behind the counter an envelope announced NO SMOKING. On an open flap of the envelope transgressors were warned of a fine of twenty rupees for smoking. A picture of Jesus graced one corner. Light streamed into the inn, brightening up the counter before losing its way inside.
We asked for pao bhaji before relapsing into silence. At the entrance a Tiatr performance was advertised on a board propped up against a glass case displaying snacks. The samosas had likely gone cold. An old issue of The Navhind Times lay crumpled in one of the shelves.
Two plates of Usal made their way to our table accompanied by pao (bread). As expected the masala used was strong. We ate in silence.
Shortly afterwards the Sunday mass concluded and parishioners filed out of the church and into the village square. The quiet roads now throbbed with people. Some came by the inn. A middle-aged lady came in and ordered for six plates of pao bhaji to be packed for home delivery. Her young son was with her. The proprietress asked after his studies, affectionately berating him to do well on his mother complaining of his lack of interest in his studies.
“He keeps cycling around the village all day or is out playing football with his friends,” his mother told the proprietress. The boy, embarrassed, shifted on his feet, evading their gaze.
“Collect the package in twenty minutes,” she told his mother before exchanging village banter.
Not all parishioners had waited for the Sunday mass to conclude before leaving for home. A few had left just as it was drawing to a close.
From among the rest a few lolled about in the square catching up with friends. Others stepped into shops for provisions to carry home while still others got behind their wheels and backed out of the open parking lot while children cycled merrily along the roads. Behind the church lay the village soccer field. Further up was the cemetery.
At the head of the road that branched off the main road along the church before running by the inn, bisecting paddy fields along the way north, I paused to watch an elderly Catholic couple dressed for the Sunday mass walk lightly home on the deserted road.
A swarm of swallows settled on electricity lines that ran high up along the road. Numbering in excess of hundred they somersaulted in the air before returning to their perches on the wires and basking in the Sun to the east. Oblivious to their presence the elderly couple walked along, their umbrella occasionally bobbing from side to side. She probably held the umbrella open out of habit for, while the morning was warming up in the Sun a pleasant breeze meandered joyously along.
The road ran straight and narrow. Coconut palms rose in the distance, merging in the backdrop of hills that towered over the route to Quepem. The hills of Chandranath must lie somewhere close I thought. Mud dug up to widen the road lay heaped along one side. The red of the mud offered a stark contrast with the green of the grass.
We started down the open road, reveling in the sunshine of a Sunday morning, pausing to marvel at Small Green Bee-eaters show off their acrobatics in the skies above a field abutting a coconut grove. As they zig zagged after prey we let out excited whoops on catching sight of their successful dives.
There was no one around to share our ringside view of the acrobatics except for a Holy Cross sheltering under a tin roof and set off by grass that had turned to a burnished gold in the warmth of a sleepy little village on the banks of an ancient river called Kushavati.
In a moment of sheer joy happiness makes for happy company.