Welcome to Goa Velha

Before the establishment of Old Goa (then known as Ela) as Goa’s Muslim capital around 1472, Govepuri, clinging to the banks of the Zuari River, flourished under the Hindu Kadamba dynasty. It was only centuries later, long after grand Govepuri had fallen, that the place was renamed Goa Velha by the Portuguese, to distinguish it from their new capital, Old Goa, known to them simply as Goa.

The city, which in its heyday was southwest India’s wealthiest, was established by the Kadambas around 1054, but in 1312 was almost totally destroyed by Muslim invaders from the north, and over the following years was repeatedly plagued by Muslim invasions. It wasn’t until Goa came under the control of the Hampi-based Vijayanagar Empire in 1378 that trade revived, but by this time the fortunes of the old capital had declined beyond repair, due to both its crushing destruction and the gradual silting-up of its once lucrative port. In 1472 the Muslim Bahmani sultanate took Goa, destroyed what remained of Govepuri, and moved the capital to Old Goa.

Just off the main road at the northern extent of Goa Velha is the Church of St Andrew, which hosts an annual festival. On the Monday a fortnight before Easter, 30 statues of saints are taken from their storage place in Old Goa and paraded around the roads of the village. The festivities include a small fair, and the crowds that attend this festival are so vast that police have to restrict movement on the NH17 highway that runs through the village.

The procession has its origins in the 17th century when, at the prompting of the Franciscans, a number of lavishly decked-out life-sized statues were paraded through the area as a reminder to locals of the lives of the saints and as an attempt to curb the licentiousness of the day. Originally the processions started and ended at Pilar, but in 1834 the religious orders were forced to leave Goa and the statues were transferred to the Church of St Andrew. Processions lapsed and many of the original sculptures were lost or broken, but in 1895 subscriptions were raised to obtain a new set, which is still used today, and the procession was reinstated with gusto.

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Goa Velha in detail