Goa’s Heritage – A Status Report

13th November 2020

About the author of this Report:

Ms Heta Pandit, resident of India and currently residing at Maia Heritage House, 1/98, Grande Morod, Saligao, Bardez, Goa 403511 is an independent researcher and writer on Goa’s heritage. Ms. Pandit has served as Jt. Hon. Secretary, Indian Heritage Society, Bombay (1984-1993). She has served as a Member of the Heritage Conservation Committee appointed by the Municipal Commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay and has played an active role in the drafting and framing of the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay (1993-95). She has played an active role in the listing of properties and sites of heritage value in Bombay (now Mumbai), Poona (now Pune), Nagpur, Nashik, Kolhapur, Panchgani-Mahableshwar and Wai in Maharashtra.

Ms Pandit shifted her residence to Goa in 1995. She co-founded the Goa Heritage Action Group in the year 2000 and has subsequently authored 9 books on Goan heritage: – A Heritage Guide to Kerala, Houses of Goa (co-author Architect Annabel Mascarenhas), Hidden Hands-Masterbuilders of Goa, Dust & Other Short Stories from Goa, Walking in Goa, Walking in Old Goa, Walking with Angels, There’s More to Life Than a House in Goa and Grinding Stories-Songs from Goa Volume I. She is a recipient of several awards including the LEKHIKA 2000 awarded by the Institute Menezes Braganza, Panaji.

Ms. Pandit is considered an expert on Goan architecture and has numerous articles, papers, web series and lectures to her credit. She also translates Goan literature from the Marathi language into English to enable this genre to reach a wider audience. She is currently working on Grinding Stories Volume II and a translation of Mrs Pournima Kerkar’s book Vismrutichya Umbarthyavar, on Goa’s heritage domestic objects and spaces of Goa.



Heritage as defined in the HERITAGE REGULATIONS FOR GREATER BOMBAY 1995 (AS PER Resolution No, DCR. 1090/3197/RDP/UD41, dated 21st April, 1995), those buildings, artifacts, structures and/or precincts of historical and/or aesthetical and/or architectural and/or cultural value (hereinafter referred to as Listed Buildings/Heritage Buildings and Listed precincts/Heritage precincts) which will be listed in notification (s) to be issued by the Government.

Heritage as defined in the HERITAGE REGULATIIONS FOR HYDERABAD “buildings, artifacts, structures, areas and precincts of historic and/or aesthetic and/or architectural and/or cultural significance and/or environmental significance (heritage buildings and heritage precincts) and/or natural features of environmental significance and or sites of scenic beauty.

This regulation will apply to those buildings, artifacts, structures, areas and precincts of historic and/or aesthetic and/or architectural and/or cultural significance and/or environmental significance (hereinafter referred as Heritage Buildings and Heritage Precincts) and those natural features of environmental significance and/or of scenic beauty including, but not restricted to, sacred groves, hill, hillocks, water bodies (and the areas adjoining the same), open areas, wooded areas (hereinafter referred to as ‘listed natural features’) which are listed in a notification to be issued by Government”.


Under Section 15 of the said Act,


1. The listing is not scientifically executed and does not give the Survey Number or Plot Number, neither does it give the ward or proper address of the listed property or site. Since inception, the said list has never been reviewed or upgraded.

2. The listing only mentions the owner’s name and the name of the village. If there is a change in ownership, the listed item is rendered meaningless, null and void.

3. There is no description as to the architectural/cultural/social/aesthetic value of the entry/property as per the Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Guidelines for Listing of Built Heritage, an organisation that is widely accepted as an authority having the expertise on listing, conservation, preservation and restoration.

4. There is no grading of the entries/properties listed in order of their archaeological/architectural/social/cultural/historic/aesthetic value.

5. There is no compensation/benefits/incentives such as TDR offered to the property owners/custodians so as to enable them to preserve their heritage properties/sites.



1. Goa has the unique historical archive of having been ruled by several Indian and European rulers over centuries. This historical fact, coupled by the fact that there was shore trade with other states in India as well as maritime trade with Japan, China, Malaysia, Macao, Persia (now Iran) and the Middle East has brought many social, cultural, architectural and material influences into Goa. The influences on its architecture and cuisine are showcased in the houses of Goa as well as its amalgamated cuisine. The houses encapsulate all these influences, plus materials that have come from all over the world. Thus, Goan heritage houses are a crucible of its culture, evidence of its history.

2. Goan houses reflect the history of the state of Goa. They reflect personal history (journeys, travels for work and studies) of the families that own these houses individually and collectively, therefore reflect the history of the state. They reflect the social position and status of the family and therefore make a statement of the families that own or occupy them.

3. Goan houses reflect the culture of the state of Goa. Some of these houses have religious and cultural significance (such as the Arabo House, Dhargalim, Pednem where a Muslim Urus is celebrated annually in a Hindu home; or, the Shri Damodar Sal in Margao which is a private house and yet its family temple is open to the public). This makes these houses also central to community life and communal harmony.

4. Goan houses are also living memories of historical events. Associations with important personalities or historical events may have taken place in these houses. This itself makes them important. The architecture of these houses reflect such an event and association. For example, the Dada Vaidya house in Keri where three generations of ayurvedic doctors have worked towards saving the lives of many women by devising socially acceptable ways of bringing them out of their homes and to the clinic for treatments.

5. Goa has been consistently and systematically promoted as a state with a Portuguese colonial past. This branding serves in promoting Goa as a tourist destination by recalling its colonial legacy and thereby adding an exotic “value” to the state. However, calling Goan houses “Portuguese” is a misnomer. This branding of Goan houses as being Portuguese is the outcome of the consistent branding of a lot of elements in Goa as being Portuguese for commercial reasons. It serves the tourist industry but does the cultural and social and historic fabric of Goa a disservice. For example, the inside-outside space that is generally known by its Portuguese term “balcão” is actually an Indian feature, commonly seen in Gujarat (where it is called an otla); all along the Konkan (where it is called an ota) and in parts of Goa where there was little or no Portuguese influence (where it is called an ota or sopo or oti). Such architectural features are seen in other parts of India. In fact, most of the houses that we see in the villages of Goa today are built between the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries when Portuguese power was at a decline. These houses are therefore uniquely Goan in execution and expression.They reflect the Goan identity. They may, in fact, be reflecting a defiance against colonialism.

6. The houses that form the focus of this report have been built with organic materials such as local laterite stone, lime and mud. The techniques employed for their construction is Goan, a rich contribution made by the Goan craftsmen and women. Such materials are scarce and the artisans and craftspeople no longer available. This makes the preservation, conservation and restoration of these houses all the more important. Neither the techniques nor the materials can be replicated. Therefore, these houses are unique.

7. The houses are climatically adapted to Goa’s hot and humid climate. A perforated compound wall allows the cool air from the outside into the garden, sweep over the garden and then enter the house. As cool air rises up the steps, replaces the hot air in the house, the hot stale air rises to the roof from where it escapes through a roof that breathes. This is so because the roof is covered in Mangalore tiles that allow the hot air to escape and also has rafters and moulding that is packed with lime that allows the exchange to take place. A raj angan or inner central courtyard further allows fresh air into the house, kitchen gardens to flourish as well as flowering shrubs to grow easily. Thus, the Goan house is not just a house but a living, breathing, living system of perforations, vents and functionality.

8. Goan houses reflect a uniquely Goan social dichotomy. While the private utility spaces of the house such as kitchen, firewood sheds, store rooms, stables for cows and other livestock etc. were never meant to be on display to guests, they had floors plastered in cow dung, wood fired stoves and traditional utensils and objects. On the other hand, the reception rooms, the master’s bedrooms and the chapels or altars or deva chi kudd (family temples) was open to the guests and visitors. These spaces, were lavishly decorated with floorings, railings, objects and pieces of furniture from abroad and from other parts of erstwhile British India. Walls were painted by local artists, tenants and sometimes members of the family and sometimes by actors and performers passing through the village and homes. Thus, these houses are also exhibition halls for art and objects from Goan, all over the world and from other parts of India. Thus, the houses are evidence of a unique lifestyle, a social history, art history and private collections.

9. There are certain architectural features found in Goan houses that are uniquely Goan, not found anywhere else in the world: For example, the scissor roofs of Goan houses are being researched and studied by architects, conservationists and architectural historians all over the world today. These roofs were especially made pointed, like an open pair of scissors, to allow for swift rainwater run off during the four months of the monsoons. The roofs also have cross beams with a supporting vertical member at the ceiling that has a gap in the middle. This gap allows for expansion and contraction when the weather changes. Thus, the roofs of these houses are mobile and completely climatically adaptive. The walls are load bearing walls which by themselves is not a unique feature. However, what is unique is that the walls of these houses are built of laterite stone packed with mud and lime mortar. The mud allows the walls to breathe and the lime acts as an insecticide and protects the walls from dry rot and prevents moisture retention. The doors and windows of the houses are also uniquely Goan. Without metal hinges, these doors have rotating devices at the top and at the bottom that allow the doors and windows to be closed and opened. The covering with the nacre of the mother-of-pearl shell is an example of thrifty architecture. There was a time in Goa’s history when pearls were harvested for ornamentation and for ayurvedic medicine. Oysters were harvested for food. Instead of wasting the nacre of the harvested shell, the nacre was used to cover windows. This is an example of what we call recycling or up-cycling materials today. Goan houses also have a variety of flooring that ranges from cow dung floors, to white cement to red cement floors and tiles imported from other parts of India as well as Europe. Thus, the Goan house is an amalgamation of a variety of eco-friendly, organic material that comes together to form an organic, climatically adapted, environmentally friendly living space.

10. In the absence of adequate regulations, Goa is likely to lose its heritage due to neglect, distressed financial conditions of the custodians, family feuds, legal disputes over ownership, ignorance over the cultural, social, historic, architectural, aesthetic value of this heritage. Once lost, these houses can neither be replaced nor replicated. In the present-day scenario of the scarcity of natural resources, environmental destruction, global warming and climate change, it becomes more imperative to conserve scant natural resources and therefore recycle all resources, including heritage structures that have evolved over decades. But, how do we advocate preservation/conservation unless we take stock of what we have in the state? How do we evaluate unless we document? In the absence of adequate regulations or an official list that offers protection to this heritage, there is nothing that prevents this loss to the common collectively held heritage of the state. The houses may be in the custody of individual families but their heritage value and history is the collective wealth of the state. Therefore, it becomes the duty of the state to afford protection and frame adequate laws to facilitate their preservation for the benefit of future generations.

11. On the one hand, the state seeks to promote hinterland tourism, eco-tourism and alternatives to the much abused beach tourism in Goa. Heritage homes in the villages of Goa are a rich resource that meets the need of this kind of tourism without being over-used and destructive.

12. Conservation of these heritage properties is also part of the larger environmental movement. By conserving existing structures, you are prevented from plundering the countryside for new natural resources and thus saving the environment. Conservation also assures the preservation of the technology and intellectual property (building techniques, low-grade solutions and intelligent use of natural materials) that has gone into the building of these houses. Conservation also revives old eco-friendly building techniques, the use and re-use of building materials and encourages the artisans to return to the field that they have been compelled to abandon due to lack of patronage.

In conclusion, Goan heritage properties are unique because they are

1. Climatically adapted

2. Eco friendly

3. Showcase unique building techniques and use of materials

4. Are evidence of Goa’s long and rich history

5. Are holdings of Goan culture

6. An amalgamation of influences and materials, objects from all over the world

7. A reflection of intellectual property and local craftspeople skills

8. A part of the environmental movement

9. A part of community life (often central to community culture)

10. Evidence of a harmony in architecture in that every element works in conjunction with the other to make a whole