Herald: Curdi amcho ganv An emotional return to their true home

Curdi amcho ganv An emotional return to their true home

02 Jun 2019 05:39am IST
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02 Jun 2019 05:39am IST
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To the outside world that has no connection to Curdi, this is a piece of land submerged most of the year and thus, useless. ABEL BARRETTO travels to Curdi, the village inundated to build the Selaulim dam and met the original inhabitants, for whom this land under water will always be their village

This is the haunting tale of the former denizens of Kishori Amonkar’s ancestral village – Curdi. History is replete with tales of a man giving water to those who are thirsty. Rare, if ever true, however, is the story of an entire village of 600 houses sacrificing their fertile plains; once home to one of the great ancient civilisations of the region, only to discover four decades later that their sacrifices have brought them to a point where they stare at a vast lake of water everywhere but have not a drop for themselves. Uncommonly weird, to the point of disbelief, this is the true story of the villagers of Curdi.

In the 1970s the then Goa government led by Dayanand Bandodkar, came knocking on the doors of the residents of Curdi. An elderly villager recalls how representatives of that government were almost begging them to vacate the land of their ancestors in order to provide water to the majority of South Goa.

Another elderly man says, “We see much lightning in the monsoons. It never strikes us because the Gods are kind. But, our own governments give us bolts of lightning that strike us again and again. This was our ancestral land, the land of our forefathers and they wanted it for water for other people. Now we ourselves do not have water,” said the gentleman.

Yet, the Curdi villagers subsumed silent emotions and attachment to the soil of their very being and voluntary agreement to give up their land for the greater good – to enable the sharing of water with all. The simple villagers saw the request and need as a word of God and hence, their duty was to obey.

What they did they not realise was that this good deed put them alongside unfamiliar neighbours and terrain during the day; only to wake in the dark night to the nightmares of the place now covered with tonnes of litres of water in the rains. And, only once a year does their land make an appearance, for the villagers to line up to say a prayer for the souls of their ancestors.

Agnelo Fernandes, is in his seventies, was born and grew up in Curdi. Recollecting his days in the village, he switches from the present, to a past of a bygone era. He speaks of how he, along with his entire family, would visit the village every year since 1987 when he uttered a last goodbye, turning his head away from the village holding his family history to relocate to a new, unknown home.

Since that fateful day he says, there has not been a single night that he dreamt of anything else but Curdi.

Apolonario Gomes, a retired headmaster who also served as sarpanch of Curdi, accompanied this correspondent to their beloved village along with Agnelo Fernandes on the day of the feast of The Holy Cross, held every year in May; for this is the only time, access to the exposed chapel is possible. The rest of the year, the surrounding area lies submerged.

As the three of us threaded through the dried and baked bed of the village and I listened to the commentary of Gomes and Fernandes, I felt the history and geography of the village flowing before me as if I was watching a documentary on some television channel.

Even after we traversed for an entire six hours in the scorching summer heat over the plains and hills of Curdi, constantly wiping the beads of sweat, there were vast areas that we couldn’t cover. It was like wandering through an ancient and abandoned ruin of a once great civilization.

I saw religious structures, houses in ruins, cremation grounds, play grounds, water canals, wells and everything else typical of a flourishing Goan village, now waiting with open arms calling in silent whispers to welcome visitors to enter and live with them once again as they gasp for air before one of the biggest tides on earth engulfs the deserted village for the next 10 months. It would take days to explore every inch of the village which looks lifeless, barring a few upright dead trees that stand – as if to raise their hand to say a kind hello to visitors.

The purpose of a visit by any stranger to seek answers to the questions in the mind will leave him puzzled and wondering as more questions will arise but for me answers flowed in tandem from Gomes and Fernandes.

While being in their company I could feel the tearless cries of villagers as these two gentlemen, shared their experiences and history of a village which was strategically placed en route to Karnataka from Goa.

Legend has it that Curdi or Kurdi derived its name from a lady who was living at the place where a structure stands as one enters the dam from the Rivona side. This structure, which still stands strong, is hundreds years old. It used to house a Portuguese police outpost, a bar, a provision store and a rice mill pointing towards a flourishing civilisation till the government submerged the village with water.

To the outside world that has no connection to Curdi – this is just a piece of land that is submerged most of the year and thus, useless. To Curdi’s original inhabitants, the Curdikars, forced to relocate, it is still and it will be their village forever and ever. For this is where their soul and the souls of their forefathers roam. 

If you believe this to be an exaggeration of the importance of the ‘civilisation’ of Curdi, there is more that may convince you to believe that this indeed is a civilisational story. More than adequate factual evidence exists to show that the now submerged village of Curdi, in Sanguem taluka (about an hour’s drive from Margao) holds a history of continuum that dates back to the 5th Century BC. Curdi was home to a 2.5 metres tall figure of Mother Goddess (5th century BC). This 16-tonne sculpture has been relocated to Verna. It was never abandoned… till our own government, our own elected representatives, sent the village’s last remaining inhabitants packing.

Another temple dedicated to God Mahadev, archaeologically dated to the 10th–11th century of the Kadamba period, at Kurdi, Angod, was also relocated; this time, closer to a site 17 kilometres away. The relocation was done by dismantling the original temple and then reassembling it at the new location after methodically numbering each stone. The process took over 11 years. If only the government had cared for the people just as carefully.

Strategic politics has played its part in changing the religious and cultural aspect of the village. Curdi, was historically, a hub of activity and a Hindu cultural hot spot. It was also strategically sought by various dynasties due to its proximity to the border of Karnataka.

Curdi may have existed in continuum but, long before the Bandodkar government sank the place for good, it has had more than its fair share of troubles. Being strategically important, and with one kingdom after another coveting the village it has more than paid its dues. The last big historical shift occurred in the early 15th century and it is a reality of so much of the state of Goa. This was when Curdi fell to the Portuguese. When this happened, the majority of the devotees of the still standing tall centuries old Someshwar temple abandoned Curdi, eventually settling in safer places like Karwar. The remnants of this community still come to worship their deity every year. Coincidentally, the feast of the temple and Chapel at Curdi were celebrated on the same day this year

Once the majority of the original inhabitants of Curdi fled their village, in came more risk-taking and enterprising people, largely from Canacona to claim the vast agricultural lands.

And with those people came the Christian converts mostly from Salcete taluka. Thus, Curdi’s denizens, over time have moved from worshipping the Mother Goddess to the Hindu God Someshwar to Jesus Christ since, it is believed, the 15th-16th century. The arrival of Christians brought a cultural and architectural change in the look and feel of the village beyond their religious structures like crosses and chapels.

Fascinating too is the 10-km long canal that winds its way like a huge snake through the village and through the ancient religious structures. This canal is of archeological importance. It is cut through a lateritic stone and over 10 mt deep at most parts. Amazingly, it looks neat and clean, even today – a good 300 have years after it was built.

Historically, the canal water was used mainly for irrigation. The rulers and landowners diverted water through this canal by constructing a temporary bund every year after the monsoon. Finally, around 150 years ago, a bright spark, presumably called Bosle, built a permanent small dam of concrete – and so the Bosle bund put a permanent halt to the annual bund-building activity.

It works like this, as the month of April arrives, bringing the sun at its strongest, the damed water starts receding and day by day the entire village rises like a Phoenix; and once again the village roads appear welcoming all its visitors, the veiled ones as well as the original inhabitants without distinction, till the monsoon arrives in June and the roads are deluged again until the next summer.

Today, the scene has changed in what would have looked like any other village in Goa, if the dam had not to come up at Curdi. When I visited, I found this deserted village enticing young boys and girls who come on their bikes with faces covered, either by a helmet or a veil, as they wander aimlessly amongst the equally faceless terrain of the village giving Curdi a ghostly look. Curdi’s only solace as a once thriving village, comes from the elderly who visit with a purpose, to seek divine blessings for both, the living as well as the dead, at the two religious structures still standing tall amongst the desolation that has triumphed.

On the face of it the villagers of Curdi, who had to relocate following the submergence of their village, got a decent deal. They were rehabilitated in the nearby villages of Valkinim and Vaddem. The affected families were compensated with 400 sq mts of settlement plot and 10,000 sq mts of agricultural land by the government. It sounds great on paper. But, when you move your life and soul from your ancestral land, to a new place that has no infrastructure – for instance the lack of irrigation, due to which the agricultural plots are not really of much use. And, so, in reality, the Curdikars have lost their emotional base as well as a viable, regular, familiar self-sustaining livelihood.

In the midst of valid complaints a delightful little surprise cropped up. In 2017, the remains of a temple dedicated to Ganesha were discovered about 500 metres away from the Shree Someshwar Temple. Prior to the submergence of the village, this temple's existence stayed unknown as it was covered with thick vegetation. And so, yet again, the history of this once bubbling city paints a happy picture of its existence for thousands of years.

Alas! To the outside world the village is submerged by the Salaulim dam, which supplies water to over a lakh households, industries and agriculture in Goa. To the locals, it conveys emotion and a sense of tragic betrayal, as more elders speak of their trauma and blame the authorities for abandoning them. They say they feel like an orphaned child trying to come to terms with a changed world.

Till date, they say, they face problems with healthcare, employment, network coverage and electricity. Most ironically – the village does not receive water from the Salaulim Dam project which stands on the land once they owned and so drinking water and lack of irrigation is a major complaint.

An elderly woman while expressing her grief and angst said that they are left to fend for themselves with not even a note of appreciation coming from the beneficiaries of the dam; while they live one drop of water at a time. She said, “No water, no living.”

This is not the tale of a single old lady but of the entire clan of 3,000 Curdikars some of whom have perished fetching water from the deep wells of the rehabilitation sites at Valkini and Wadem.
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