22 Sep 2023  |   03:18am IST

The evolution of Khazans through the eyes of Joe Fernandes

The evolution of Khazans through the eyes of Joe Fernandes

Nilankur Das

Chorao island native Joseph C Fernandes possesses a fascinating perspective on the Khazan lands and even revealed the individual behind the concept. In the Velhas Conquistas, approximately 90 percent of the Khazans were formed through the construction of Bandhs or levees, effectively reclaiming land from the sea to create fields. The ecological characteristics observed within these Khazans were a product of distinct natural conditions that prevailed during low tide, contrasting with those above the high tide line. This phenomenon serves as a confirmation of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, highlighting the gradual processes that span millennia in shaping such transformations.

Joseph Fernandes has dedicated 23 years of his life in conducting meticulous examinations of the Bandhs. He explains, “Around 4000 BC, nature presented three crucial conditions to the early settlers of Divar, enabling them to transform the large silt deposits that accumulated around their island near Old Goa into rice fields during mankind’s transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture. These conditions were shaped by the formation of the Western Ghats approximately 65 million years ago, the return of significant rainfall following the end of the Ice Age between 12500 and 10000 BC, possibly reaching 140 inches annually, and the counterflow of the Mandovi River during the South West Monsoon, which led to the formation of a sandbar at Miramar. Subsequently, these sand deposits were carried by the tides and settled in and around Divar after the rainy season.”

Joseph explained that the Divadhkars decided on a strategy to safeguard Divar by constructing a levee that stretched from Piedade hill to the opposite side of the island, as it was the shortest route. This plan also involved encircling the entire island with a continuous levee. The primary advantage of this approach was the conversion of the silt into fertile fields, which offered a significant benefit over Kumheri cultivation that required relocation every three to four years. Regrettably, this levee faced the full force of the monsoon, which were exceptionally fierce during that period due to the larger surface area and greater volume of water in the Mandovi River. Over time, riverbeds tend to rise as silt accumulates. Consequently, the tide variation at the time must have been around 7 feet, as opposed to today’s 5 and a half feet.

At some point, the levee extending from Piedade to the opposite shore was destroyed, primarily because it faced the full force of the monsoon head-on. During this time, a remarkable individual emerged from among the Dhangar shepherds, along with their goats, or the Kunbi, Zolmis, or Gauda residents. This genius’ name is still passed down through the stories told by Hindu tillers in Chorao. He recognized the importance of positioning the fields between two hills, oriented to face the South West and North East Monsoons. Divar, however, lacked this geographical feature. But from the vantage point of the hill where the Holy Spirit Church is located in Divar, this ingenious individual observed that Pandavaddo village in Chorao possessed precisely the terrain he had been seeking.

For a lasting solution, they undertook the planting of mangroves at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. The evidence supporting this lies in the fact that all the residences in Divar are situated on the protected side of the Bird Sanctuary in Chorao. Due to the harsh storms, the land was divided into two zones: “Borod” and “Morod,” representing areas above and below the high tide line. Construction of houses was prohibited in the “Morod” to mitigate the impact of severe weather conditions.

“We were taught the technique of building the levees by a stranger who came on a white horse. His horse died at Ambarim. He came from the East. His name was Piso Raulo or Ravalnath. The same Ravalnath whose temple is today situated at Marcel, Ponda. For his idea, he was raised to the status of Gramdevta. It is human way of remembering an outstanding achievement. As happened in ancient times, the first piece of land recovered from the lagoon was credited to the God Ravalnath. A temple was built there in his name facing the East. When Raulo proposed the notion of pushing back the sea to create fields, Chodnikar residents couldn’t help but laugh at him. ‘Tum piso zala re?’, thus the name Piso Raulo, an affectionate moniker. Hence, the adjective is conspicuously absent from the name of the Marcel temple,” Joseph explains.

Several years later, another typhoon battered Gomantak, causing devastation to the fields in Gomantak once more, yet those in Pandavaddo remained unscathed. Ravalnath had taken precautions to ensure their survival by constructing the levees in alignment with the direction of the wind. Joseph elaborates, saying, “That’s the reason our Bandhs have endured. He was renowned as the Guardian of the Elements.”

He understood that the conversion of the entire lagoon, spanning nearly 4 kilometers in Pandavaddo, must have taken a minimum of 500 years due to a shortage of labor. The silt required for this project had to be brought through the Manos, the sluice gate. Upon the project’s completion at Gavona, the villagers made reparations by christening the new temple the “Xanno Ravalnath Temple.” Both temples are dedicated to the same deity. The discovery of two submerged cities located 20 to 30 kilometers from Dwarka, carbon-dated to 5500 BC and 9500 BC, serves as evidence that if the aforementioned timeline is accurate, it suggests that at the conclusion of the Ice Age, the sea levels in Goa were approximately 410 feet lower than they are today.

Joseph has analyzed the step-by-step evolution of Chorao’s villages, demonstrating that their planning is even more intricate than that of the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro. He unveiled that the construction of the levees was intricately tied to lunar phases, guided by a poem that provided cues for when to enter and exit the water. This poetic framework starts with “ekadas” (ten plus one), an auspicious number in Hindu culture, and thus, the levees could only be built during a specific six-day period each month. Joseph also disclosed that the construction of Bandhs is no longer feasible due to the unavailability of the “loh,” the impermeable section of the “chicol” silt.

Having gleaned insights from Chorao, the residents of Divar subsequently reconstructed their levees into their current form. By this time, the extensive Khazan fields established in the Velhas Conquistas had mitigated the impact of storms, affirming the genius’s prediction to the shepherds in Chorao that the Elements would be subdued through the reclamation of land from the sea.

As evidence, Joseph highlighted that the origin of the name Pandavaddo can be traced back to the word “Pan,” as in “Pandudu,” the smallest coin. In the records of the Communidade, the village was originally referred to as “Pandivaddo,” which meant “Little Divar.” This nomenclature was later altered by a Chorao resident to “Pandavaddo,” using the singular form since “vadde” signifies the plural. This suggests that residents from Divar relocated to Chorao to assist in constructing the levees. The crisis in Divar following the storm must have been exceptionally dire.

Because of the newly created fields, which were the fruit of their own labor, the villages established Associations to oversee these lands - the Dazaan and Barazaan convened beneath the Vodd and the Maand. This development ushered in a form of democracy at the village level. In contrast, the rest of the world, including the Novas Conquistas, continued to grapple with the feudal system, leading to widespread bloodshed.


Idhar Udhar