26 May 2024  |   04:27am IST

Unveiling the legacy of traditional Goan wells

Wells have been central to human settlements for thousands of years, and various practices and traditions have developed around them. They are not only a source of water but also of cultural and social life
Unveiling the legacy of  traditional Goan wells

Meliston Fernandes

Wells hold significant importance in Goa, serving as vital sources of water and contributing to the state’s cultural and historical heritage. Historically, wells have been essential to Goa’s agrarian communities, particularly under the Communidade system, where they were used to support agricultural activities and meet the water needs of the local population.

In many Goan villages, wells are still a primary source of water for domestic and agricultural purposes. They are essential for maintaining local water security, especially in rural areas where piped water supply may be inconsistent or unavailable. Wells tap into the groundwater, providing a reliable supply of water that is crucial during the dry season when surface water sources may dry up.

During Portuguese time, wells were a common sight in most of the houses in Goa, especially in the South of Goa. Wells in earlier days were either dug in the ground or carved into the laterite rock.  The open area of a well was dependent on the underground source of water, which was like a spring, supplying water continuously. In some places, residents of a ward or village built community wells which were bigger in area and often much deeper. Community wells provided water to several houses. They were often called ‘dha zannachi baim’.

The water from the well tastes much better than the water from the tap. The water that is found in the well near the sea is a bit salty while those near the mountain is sweeter. As it contains a lot of minerals and it is good for the plants. People used to keep the water in a ‘gugurlet’, a rooster shaped earthen vessel to keep the water cool.  

There are wells that hold religious or spiritual significance in various cultures around the world. These wells are often associated with miracles, healing properties, and historical legends. One such well is the Martyrs’ Well in Cuncolim. The remains of the Cuncolim martyrs were put in the well. The bodies of the five priests were thrown into a well, which still stands today inside the chapel of St Francis Xavier, located in Cuncolim. Some wells were blessed by religious leaders to ensure the water remains pure and abundant. Protective charms or rituals were also performed to ward off evil spirits.

“We do the Ganesh visarjan in our own well. Our ancestors used to do it and we have kept the tradition. For me, it’s like a quiet family moment with no much chaos and confusion. It is just the close family that is present. Immersing the idol in our very backyard ensures that the idol is immersed with due respect with no hurry whatsoever,” says Radiya Mahale, from Mala, Panjim.

Wells also play a pivotal role in Goan cultural practices. One of the most famous festivals of Goa is São João, celebrated on June 24. During this festival, young men from the village jump into wells to honor St John the Baptist. This tradition represents the leap of joy St John took in his mother’s womb upon Mary’s visit, as well as a baptismal celebration. The festival is not just about the physical act of jumping but includes prayers for a good monsoon, which is critical for the Goan agrarian community.

“Nowadays, people use motors to pump out the water from the well but during the olden times it was not so. Traditionally either clay or copper pots were used for drawing water. These were purchased from village fairs. The rope that was used to draw the water was made of coconut coir called ‘razu’. The water was drawn with the help of a pulley,” says Joyce Carvalho from Carmona.

Wells were vital community gathering spots. People would come to draw water, socialize, share news, and conduct trade. This practice is still observed in many rural areas around the world. In some cultures, wells are central to festivals and communal activities. During weddings or other celebrations, wells were decorated, and special ceremonies may be performed around them.

Wells in Goa have been central to village life, serving as places not only for drawing water but also for social interactions. Women who used to gather near the well composed and sung local tunes. These songs typically reflect the nostalgia, beauty, and importance of wells in the daily lives of Goans. There were also mentions of the wells in some songs, for example, “Sogli rat baim-kodde, kinni kinni zata kana kode.” The melodies and lyrics reflect the deep connection the Goan people have with their land and the significant role that wells have played in their daily lives.

Various rituals were associated with the well by our ancestors, talking about one such tradition, Agnelo Antonio Andrade says, “Traditionally, brides would visit their maternal uncle about a month before their wedding day, where they were asked to drink a glass of water from his well.” Inacio Fernandes talking about another such tradition tells us, “When the bride came to the husband’s house, she was made to go to the well and draw some water making her familiar with the family well.”

To keep the well water clean and potable each well was methodically cleaned, annually, by emptying the well water and then disinfected by using chemicals like salt and potassium permanganate. Many wells provided water throughout the year. While some dried during the months of March, April and May, but became active once the rains came.

“Traditionally, the most common method used to clean the well was manual. This was done with the help of bindull or kollso. Ropes and pulleys were typically used for this purpose. This would happen during the summer month when the water level was at its lowest, making it easier to access the well walls and bottom.  The cleaners would come by 4 in the morning and the cleaning would end by 12 noon. They were given a resanv (a cup of local alcohol) as an energizer,” says Agnelo Antonio Andrade.

Efforts to preserve and protect wells are crucial for sustaining Goa’s water supply and ensuring the health and well-being of its residents is important. This involves regular monitoring for contamination, maintenance to prevent structural damage, and safeguarding against pollution from industrial and agricultural activities.

Over time, wells can accumulate silt, debris, organic matter, and even harmful microorganisms. Regular cleaning helps maintain water quality and prevent contamination. In Goa, traditional well-cleaning practices often involve community efforts, where villagers come together to clean and maintain common wells, especially before the monsoon season. These practices not only ensure clean water but also reinforce community bonds and shared responsibility for local resources.

There is a famous well located in Benaulim called Moga Baim. Its location is also added on Google maps and also has a bus stop named after it. “The landlord used to organize dances in his house, many people used to come to take part in these dances. Due to the large number of attendees, the dance was held outside near the well. People used to sit on the well after the dance. This place became a meeting place for boys and girls who used to come for the dance. As time passed, this well came to be known as the Moga Baim. Till today it is called so,” says 57 years old Sabino Fernandes from Assolna, who has spent his childhood at Benaulim, listening to the famous stories of Moga Baim from his elders.

Wells in Goa are more than just sources of water; they are crucial elements of the state’s agricultural systems, cultural rituals, and historical village organization, reflecting a deep connection between the natural environment and community life. Overall, wells remain a cornerstone of Goan life, emphasizing the need for their conservation and careful management in the face of modern environmental and developmental challenges.


Iddhar Udhar