26 Mar 2023  |   04:24am IST

Preserving the Dovornem for the next generation

Sushila Sawant Mendes

Ask any young Goan below thirty, it is most likely that he or she has not heard of a Dovornem. Like many heritage structures, it is being obliterated from our memory. Something good has happened; the lost Dovornem has been brought on the table! A book has been released recently with the same title in Romi Konkani in addition to the existing one in Devnagri Konkani.

Dovor in Konkani means “to place on”. These were believed to have been erected to help the tired travellers to rest, by temporarily placing the heavy load off their heads on these platforms unaided. Today these structures are either destroyed or ignored. With the passage of time, the reasons for the existence of these monuments were forgotten. 

  I was introduced to the concept of a Dovornem as a participant of a Heritage Walk, of Arossim, led by Themistocles D’Silva, author of the book, ‘Unravelling history–The village of Arossim’. He took us to the fields to see these stone structures which the local farmers called dohannim (pl.) (dohannem –singular) or dovornem or Dhavani. 

In my village Assolna there is one, after a long stretch of fields on the border of Ambelim and the entrance to Assolna. One such structure can be seen at Bali Char Rasta junction. They were located at strategic places where the roads went in different directions. Near to this is the Datta Talli with fresh water used since times immemorial as an ancient stop over station. Another megalith also in ruins is on the Cansaulim-Verna road, near a pond called Kanthia tolem. Many of these were built nearby a pond for the travellers to refresh. There is a typical dovorem in Camurlim in Bardez. The four megaliths of Arossim, are on an ancient trail passing through the ancient comunidade paddy fields, starting from Arossim to the foothills of Cuelim.

Experts have opined that such megalithic structures resemble dolmenoid cists (box shaped stone burial chambers) or grave markers. These prehistoric structures, erected with dressed laterite stones, commonly found and used in Goa, measuring more than five feet long, normally unnoticed by the villagers, acquire importance once a year on 6th January, the Feast of the Three Kings, held at the Chapel on the hill top at Cuelim. There is a re-enactment of the Biblical story, three boys attired in kingly robes, selected only from among the ganvkar families of Arossim, Cansaulim and Cuelim, walk in separate processions accompanied by a band of musicians, along the ancient trail. 

At the foothill of Cuelim is a fallen dohonnem. The flag bearers stop momentarily and perform a brief ritual of waving the heavy 10 to 12 feet long flag poles in a circular motion at each of the standing and fallen megalithic structures seen along the trail. There was a practice of wetting these ancient stones with alcohol (feni) now discontinued, indicating that these stones have a special significance of honouring their dead tribal leaders, as guardians of the fields. These stones may have survived to this day because they are both honoured and feared by the local farmers. The tradition is kept alive by a tribal clan in Cuelim, (whose ancestors may have built these megaliths) who seem to have an inherited right to be the flag bearers, the parasol holders and the drummers on the feast day. 

Before conversions, it has been suggested that on festive occasions, when Hindu idols were taken in procession at nights, or corpses carried to their funeral pyres, as they walked along the same trail, may have been placed on these conveniently located stones structures along the same trail as taken by the three kings to the Cuelim hill, or even to the ancient Mangueshi temple at Kushatali (Cortalim), across the hills. It was very common for temples to be built on hillocks and foothills as were found in this area dedicated to Santeri, Madheu, Ozinser and Quetrepal-the farmer’s favourite guardian of the fields according to the Foral de Salcete.

 Another small booklet, published almost twenty-five years back, entitled, ‘Goa’s loosing heritage: A dying cadence by Satyavan K  Naik, refers to it as a ‘Head Weight Rest’. He credits the building of these stone structures to King Asoka the Great. Goa was also a part of the Mauryan kingdom. In ancient India, transport facilities were very few or almost non-existent except for the rich who could afford to travel by horses, palanquins and chariots. On lonely roads, if the head weight was unbearable, then it was difficult to keep it down and more so nobody would help him to lift it up again. 

One needs to appreciate the benevolence of the high and mighty Kings who were concerned about the welfare of those subjects who had to depend on themselves to cover long distances and especially the fact that they had to do this while carrying heavy loads. This concern for the common man needs to be emulated by our present de facto Rajas, across political parties! 

Naik locates four dhavanis, two at Akamol and Gaonkarwada in Ambaulim, another at Char Rasta in Bali, and the last at Dhavtewada, Adnem. The last of these is in ruins. Near this, lie two Hinge stone deities, a Goddess known as Kulgati or Rentier, lying exactly below a tree, considered as a vriksha kanya or a nymph or daughter of a tree. Oral history speaks of the connection with the Nandi or the Goni/Ghata bail/boel, bellwether or clad oxen. Palmers or their masters were a typical tribe, who earned their living by begging from alms from village to village and often rested at these dovornems. These tribals also acted as trustworthy guides for strangers and travellers and thus provided community service. 

There is another megalith now in ruins east of the Chapel of St Lawrence, Arossim. Being near holy spaces, these megaliths may have had some bearing to places of cultic devotion. If one accompanies the Sontroi procession  in Cuncolim, one can see many such structures built of stone, cement and motor, in more recent times, built by the Catholics of the area (like the Aguiars) for resting the palanquin of Shanta durga once a year. The rest of the time it could be put to use as a dovornem, which it otherwise is but in honour of a Hindu Goddess, built by Catholic devotees - a perfect blend of cultural syncretism. 

Dovornem is all about ‘keeping’. If this is not kept what else can be kept! It symbolizes all that is heavy and requires to be preserved. We need to, “place on”, the centre stage our rich cultural heritage, when communities rather than individuals mattered.  Dovornems need to be preserved. They may not have any utility value today but they have a lot of heritage value!


(Prof (Dr ) Sushila Sawant Mendes is an Author and Professor in History, Govt College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Quepem)


Iddhar Udhar