06 Jun 2024  |   03:57am IST

Altars of prayer in Goan heritage houses presented in Brazil

In the history of eight editions of the International Colloquium of the research project ‘The Manor House in Portugal, Brazil and Goa’, this is the first time that a Goan presented a paper overseas. Er Alinto Coelho was the only Asian at the colloquium in Brazil recently and he had a presentation on ‘Shrines at Goan houses’ focusing on Prayer and Worship. Delegates from Portugal and Brazil could learn about ten Goan houses and their devotion through the elaborately decorated altars and chapels
Altars of prayer in Goan heritage houses presented in Brazil

Dolcy D’Cruz

Goan houses have their own beauty and characteristic that is found nowhere else in the world. Using the elements found within the state and making the most of the material by adding an artistic touch, these Goan houses still attract the attention of visitors, even centuries down the lane. Now, the altars of ten Goan homes were presented at an international colloquium which only goes to show that there is a growing interest among academicians and researchers to understand the history and culture of Goan architecture. 

Bachelor’s Degree holder in Civil Engineering from the Goa College of Engineering, Alinto Coelho restores heritage structures and also writes about the architecture of Goan houses every quarter for the Bulletin of the Goan Association of New Jersey, USA. He started restoration in 2001, but it was only four years back that he started documenting these Goan houses more earnestly. When the 7th edition of the ‘Manor Houses. Portugal, Brazil & Goa’ was organised for the first time by Fundação Oriente India in 2023, Alinto was instrumental in getting permission from the house owners of several Goan houses to allow researchers to visit the houses. 

This year, Alinto attended the VIII International Colloquium, ‘The Manor House: Interiors' Anatomy at Vassouras, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the month of May where he was the only Asian among 28 Brazilian delegates and 15 Portuguese delegates. However, he was in the company of noted researchers who had visited Goa for the last edition, especially Dr Helder Carita of Universidade Nova de Lisboa. “I was informed in January about the colloquium by Dr Helder invited me to send a proposal of what I will be presenting for the colloquium. I had almost completed my presentation on Shrines at Goan houses and I felt it was appropriate for the theme of ‘The Manor House: Interiors' Anatomy’. It was immediately approved and through the presentation, I distinguish between chapels and altars. This is my four years of research which I have been constantly uploading with photographs on my Facebook feed,” says Alinto, who is just back from the colloquium. 

The projects' selection was made by the Scientific Committee composed by Dr Ana Pessoa, Dr Isabel Soares de Albergaria, Dr José Belmont Pessoa, Dr Helder Carita, Dr Ana Lucia Vieira dos Santos, Dr Antonio Nunes Pereira, Dr Marize Malta and Dr Gonçalo de Vasconcelos e Sousa.

In the previous editions, Goa was also an important part of the discussions, however, it was Portuguese researchers who had studied in Goa that presented papers. Some of the noted researchers include Dr Helder Carita, Dr Isabel Soares de Albegaria, Joaquim dos Santos and Hilda Frias. “Dr Helder Carita who headed the Portuguese team has the distinction of publishing the book ‘Palaces of Goa’ way back in 1999. The Portuguese and Brazilian researchers continue to have interest in researching Goan houses and the cultures and legacies associated with them. Alinto spent sixteen days in Brazil, ten at Rio De Janerio, five days at Vassouras and one day at Sao Paulo. The VIII International Colloquium, ‘The Manor House: Interiors' Anatomy’ was promoted by Fundação de Rui Barbosa and the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. The former editions were held in Lisboa (Portugal), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Porto (Portugal), Pelotas (Brazil), Fafe (Portugal), Belém (Brazil), and the last edition in Goa (India).”

Speaking about the significance of Vassouras as the venue, Alinto says, “The Vassouras edition was co-fostered by the Universidade de Vassouras.Vassouras was chosen to host this Colloquium due to the importance of the architectural heritage of the Vale do Paraíba region, built during the heyday of coffee production in the 19th century, and which today constitutes a privileged cultural and tourist attraction. The estates are named after the patron saint of the family. The estates also had chapels which were open only to the family members and staff. Now, most of these estates are repurposed. One estate is now a horse stable where they entertain guests with a lunch.” The group made technical visits to the historical coffee plantations of Vassouras and Valença. 

The Colloquium was attended by professors from universities in Manaus, Belém, São Luiz, Salvador, Vitória, Rio de Janeiro, Vassouras, Campos, Campinas, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Juiz de Fora, Brasília, Pelotas and Bagé, and researchers from Ibram, Iphan and Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, as well as Portugal, Azores and Goa. 

The presentation on the Shrines at Goan houses was well accepted by the delegates of the Colloquim. However, with few days of research in Brazil, Alitno was certain that there is no similarity between the mansion houses of Goa, Brazil and Portugal. “The Orotario of Edgar Furtado’s house at Varca, Goa caught the attention of the researchers who were simply amazed by the artworks of the religious depictions on the altar and above the entrance door of the house. Only similarity between the houses built in Brazil and Goa is that the houses are built with local materials. Thanks to the Amazon forests, timber and bamboo are found in abundance and the Brazilian houses were built using a lot of timber and bamboos. Timber is used for flooring and as structural members such as beams and columns. Bamboo is used in masonry and for the roofing structure. Heritage houses of Goa are unique and are seen only in Goa. No other place in the world do you see houses with architectural styles and elements as seen in the Goan houses, which make the exceptionally beautiful,” explains Alinto. 

The researchers presented artworks in form of wall paintings, wooden furniture, flooring and false ceilings in the Manor houses of Portugal and Brazil. They also emphasized on the historic legacies of the family who own these houses.  Alinto Coelho also showcased the artworks of religious depictions in the Goan houses.

Alinto is also part of a team of researchers which includes Dr Helder, Joaquim dos Santos and Amita Kanekar, who are documenting Goan Hindu houses. He will also be presenting a paper at the next colloqouim which will be held in 2025 at Azores, Portugal, again taking the beauty of Goan houses to foreign shores.   


Iddhar Udhar