Archive for September, 2009

Indian Spiders

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Indian Spiders
Pic courtesy: Sandilya Theurkauf
Cobwebs of deception
In the gathering light of dawn, an orb-web spider sits motionless in the centre of its web. The web is one of nature’s most ingenious traps – woven from at least six types of silks and constructed with mathematical precision. But spiders are so short-sighted that they can barely see their webs. Instead they build them by touch, and instinct guides their every move. Weight for weight, spider’s silk is stronger than steel. Even so, webs soon get damaged and need to be repaired. When the damage gets too great, a spider instinctively knows to give up on repair work, and start afresh. It eats up the old web so that it can digest and recycle the silk. Each kind of spider always makes exactly the same kind of web.
‘Come into my parlour…’
Spiders are generally regarded as predatory. The best-known method of prey capture is by means of sticky webs. Varying placement of webs allows different species of spider to trap different insects in the same area, for example flat horizontal webs trap insects that fly up from vegetation underneath while flat vertical webs trap insects in horizontal flight. Web-building spiders have poor vision, but are extremely sensitive to vibrations. Females of the water spider Argyroneta aquatica build underwater “diving bell” webs which they fill with air and use for digesting prey, molting, mating and raising offspring. They live almost entirely within the bells, darting out to catch prey animals that touch the bell or the threads that anchor it. A few spiders use the surfaces of lakes and ponds as “webs”, detecting trapped insects by the vibrations that these cause while struggling. Spiders (order Araneae) are air-breathing chelicerate arthropods that have eight legs, and chelicerae modified into fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms. Spiders are found world-wide on every continent except for Antarctica, and have become established in nearly every ecological niche with the exception of air and sea colonization. As of 2008, approximately 40,000 spider species, and 109 families have been recorded by taxonomists. However, there has been confusion within the scientific community as to how all these genera should be classified, as evidenced by the over 20 different classifications that have been proposed since 1900.
Spiders are abundant and widespread in almost all ecosystems and constitute one of the most important components of global biodiversity. Spiders have a very significant role to play in ecology by being exclusively predatory and thereby maintaining ecological equilibrium. Many spiders feed on noxious insects like houseflies and mosquitoes which are vectors of human diseases. A large number of spiders are found in agricultural fields and thus play an important role in controlling the population of many agricultural pests. Despite this importance, spiders are largely neglected mainly due to ignorance and fear and the subsequent dislike for them. Although more than 1400 species (quite a number is endemic) have been described from India (and many more to be documented), the study on the taxonomy, biology and ecology of Indian spiders remains neglected.
Anatomically, spiders differ from other arthropods in that the usual body segments are fused into two tagmata, the cephalothorax and abdomen, and joined by a small, cylindrical pedicel. Unlike insects, spiders do not have antennae. In all except the most primitive group, the Mesothelae, spiders have the most centralized nervous systems of all arthropods, as all their ganglia are fused into one mass in the cephalothorax. Unlike most arthropods, spiders have no extensor muscles in their limbs and instead extend them by hydraulic pressure.Their abdomens bear appendages that have been modified into spinnerets that extrude silk from up to six types of silk glands within their abdomen. Spider’s webs vary widely in size, shape and the amount of sticky thread used. It now appears that the spiral orb web may be one of the earliest forms, and spiders that produce tangled cobwebs are more abundant and diverse than orb-web spiders. Spider-like arachnids with silk-producing spigots appear in the Devonian period about 386 million years ago, but these animals apparently lacked spinnerets.
True spiders have been found in Carboniferous rocks from 318 to 299 million years ago, and are very similar to the most primitive surviving order, the Mesothelae. The main groups of modern spiders, Mygalomorphae and Araneomorphae, first appear in the Triassic period, before 200 million years ago. Most known species are predators, mostly preying on insects and on other spiders, although a few large species also take birds and lizards. Spiders use a wide range of strategies to capture prey: trapping it in sticky webs, lassoing it with sticky bolas, mimicking the prey to avoid detection, or running it down. Spiders’ guts are too narrow to take solids, and they liquidize their food by flooding it with digestive enzymes and grinding it with the bases of their pedipalps, as they do not have true jaws.Male spiders identify themselves by a variety of complex courtship rituals to avoid being eaten by the females. Males of most species survive a few matings, limited mainly by their short life spans. Females weave silk egg-cases, each of which may contain hundreds of eggs. Females of many species care for their young, for example by carrying them around or by sharing food with them. A minority of species are social, building communal webs that may house anywhere from a few to 50,000 individuals. Social behavior ranges from precarious toleration, as in the aggressive widow spiders, to co-operative hunting and food-sharing. Although most spiders live for at most two years, tarantulas and other mygalomorph spiders can live up to 25 years in captivity.While the venom of a few species is dangerous to humans, scientists are now researching the use of spider venom in medicine and as non-polluting pesticides. Spider silk provides a combination of lightness, strength and elasticity that is superior to that of synthetic materials, and spider silk genes have been inserted into mammals and plants to see if these can be used as silk factories. As a result of their wide range of behaviors, spiders have become common symbols in art and mythology symbolizing various combinations of patience, cruelty and creative powers.

References: Wikipedia, Spider information

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Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa

An article by Mohan Pai

The Lost Spaces
Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa
“It takes centuries of life to make a little history
and it takes centuries of history to make a little tradition”
– Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan

‘Central courtyard’ -Courtesy Dempo family, Panaji. Pic by Mohan Pai

Traditional Hindu Homes of Goa
The Hindu traditional houses of Goa reflect several millennia old Indian Architectural heritage. Structures created after the devastation during the Muslim and Portugese regime still reveal some of the rich features of the heritage that has survived in Goa, even though they have disappeared in other parts of India.
In spite of the destruction, the local Hindus showed a remarkable instinct for survival and stuck to their beliefs and tradition like a leach. The Goan Hindu is more conservative and more deep rooted in traditions. To quote Romesh Bhandari:
“Goa has a special role in the practice of Hinduism. It was the Aryans who first brought Hinduism as we know it today to Goa. The Hindus in Portugese Goa however remained insulated from what was happening to their co-religionists in other parts of India. The Goan Hindu is therefore of relatively greater purity than Hindus elsewhere. This relates to religious rites, practices and of the observance of customs, rituals and festivals.”
 Goa has had a very long and tradition of Vedic and Sanskritic learning. Goa has the ancient site of Konkan-Kashi (at Diwar Island) considered by the Puranas holier than Kashi itself. The institutions of Agrahara, Brahmapuri and Maths as eminent centres of learning which existed for centuries and the fact that the majority Goan Hindu population still follows Puranic pantheon based on the broad philosophy of Vedanta, all of which is indicative of Goa’s pre-eminence as a nerve centre of ancient Indian Vedic culture.
 Agraharas, Brahmapuris and Maths
 These were the three most important institutions consisting of communities of learned Brahmins whose profound scholarship attracted students from far and near. The Agraharas constituted the real universities of medieval India. Where as Brahmapuris which were the settlement of learned Brahmins in parts of towns and cities differed from the Agraharas.
 The third agency that played an important role in cultural life was the Math. It was a typical Indian monastery with monks, ascetics and students living within its precincts which also served as a free boarding house.The Math tradition of Goa has survived with Goa having three key Maths of Goud Saraswat Brahmin community – Kavale Math, Gokarn-Partagali Math and Kashi Math. In order to enable these institutions to carry on their work, they were richly endowed by Kings, Chieftains and philanthrophic and wealthy citizens.
Historical records of the 11th century AD describe Govapuri “as beatiful and pleasing city, the abundant happiness of which surpassed the paradise of Indra”. The prosperity continued till the arrival of the Portugese in the 16th century. During the Golden Age, the indigenous architect found expression not only in mansions, houses and temples but varied complexes like Agraharas, Brahmapuris and Maths”

Gokarn-Partagali Math, Partagali, Goa

Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguese factor at Cannanore and Cochin in between 1503 and (about) 1517 and had left behind an interesting account on trade and political events of the southeast including Bengal. About Goa, he says:
“This town was very large, with goodly edifices (Temples ?) and handsome streets and squares, surrounded by walls and towers. There is a very good fortress in it, and in the environs many gardens and orchards of fine trees and fruits, and many pools of good water.”
Tom Pires, a Portugese apothecary, who came to India in 1514 after Albuquerque conquered Ilhas mentions in his writings that there was a very large Hindu population and he gives the following description which obviously is that of the Hindu brahmin elite of the time:
“There are a great many heathens in the kingdom of Goa …Some of them very honoured men with large fortunes; and almost the whole kingdom lies in their hands, … Some of them are noblemen with many followers and lands of their own and are persons of great repute, and wealthy, and they live on their estates which are gay and fresh … They have beautiful temples of their own in this kingdom … There are some very honoured stocks among these Brahmins … These Brahmins are greatly revered throughout the country, particularly among the heathens… They are clever, prudent, learned in their religion. A Brahmin would not become a Mohammedan (even) if he were a king.”
Saraswats in Goa
Among the Brahmin communities of Goa, the Goud Saraswat Brahmins have always played a dominant role in religious, social, cultural and economic role of Goa.
According to some sources, the first migration (700 BC) to Goa by Saraswats was directly from the Sarasvati river banks via Kutch and southwards mostly through sea routes. The three main groups who came to Goa were the Bhojas, the Chediyas and the Saraswats and maintained connections with the Kutch, Sindh and Kashmiri Saraswats. The second wave of immigrants settled at Keloshi (Quelessam) and Kushasthal (Cortallim) and were named after those villages as Keloshikars and Kushasthalikars. From here they spread to other villages. The main deities which also came along with them were Mangirish, Mahadeo, Mahalaxmi, Kamakshi, Mahalsa, Shantadurga, Nagesh, Saptakoteshwar besides many others. Gomantak region is dotted with so many Kuladevata Temples of Saraswats which testifies to this fact.
The first group of Goud Saraswat immigrants from Trihotrapura (around 1000 AD) settled in two different parts of the Gomantak region. Thirty families were grouped in one commune and sixty six in other. The first commune was known as Tiswadi meaning 30 villages (modern Tissuary), and the other Shashatis meaning 66 (modern salcette). The Tiswadi commune was migrants from Kanyakubja and Shashatis was from Mithila. There is a view that these settlements together were 96 and referred as Sahanavis (Saha means six and Navi means ninety) and later as Shenvis. Once settled down, they continued in their traditional professions of administration and education and some got royal patronage and positions in governance in due course of time. Some enterprising Saraswats branched out into the practice of trading. The successes of these pioneering Saraswat traders encouraged many other Saraswats to whole-heartedly adopt trading as a main-stream profession.
There is another version of the story that, Sri Parashuram brought 96 families of the Panchagauda Brahmins from Trihotra (in Bihar) and settled them at Panchakrosha in Kushasthali of Goa. Such stories are also narrated about settlements of brahmins in Konkan Kanara Coast. This is considered to be more mythology than history. Legends say that Lord Parasuram, shot an arrow from the Western Ghats in adjacent Konkan and the arrow (Baan) landed at the site of Benaulim town. Benaulim also known as Banavali about 40 km from Panaji and 2 km south of Colva is today a beach resort. Even if the legends are considered only as myths, today a temple of Parashuram exists in Poinguinim village of Canacona Taluka in South Goa.

Sage Parashuram – A painting

Should Indus Valley be called Sarasvati civilisation ?
Recent researches based on the satellite photographs have now established the fact that what was called Indus Valley Civilization or Mohenjodaro-Harappa Civilization should be factually called Sarasvati Civilization. Hundreds of remains of these settlements have been discovered, the depth of the underground flowing Sarasvati determined and voluminous reports on these have been published.The Indus Valley civilization was so named because the first site discovered by Sir John Marshall in the 1920s, Mohenjo Daro or “mound of the dead,” happened to be situated in the Indus Valley. Thereafter, more discoveries were made and eventually as many as 2600 sites were unearthed between Iran in the west, Turkmenia, Bactria and the Pamirs in the north, beyond Delhi into western UP in the east, up to the Godavari in Maharashtra in the south, encompassing over one million square kilometers.
The culture goes back to around 7000 BC in Mehrgarh (Pakistan), which shows evidence of a strong agricultural economy and the presence of granaries for storing surplus grain. In its mature phase, this culture spawned the great cities of Mohenjo Daro, Harappa and Lothal, around 2600 BC.

Location map of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization

The more recently discovered Dholavira created elaborate stone gateways and water harvesting structures, and is deservedly renowned for creating the world’s first sign-board in the Harappan script. Lothal had a port with a dockyard and granaries. Yet by1900 BC, the Indus-Sarasvati cities were being abandoned and an eastward shift in population took place. This is reflected in the Sanskrit literature, with increasing importance bestowed upon the Ganga and Yamuna. Saraswat Brahmins preserve a tradition of their southward migration, while Goud Saraswat Brahmins say they came South via Gaud (Bengal) after the Sarasvati disappeared.

Human settlement patterns have always been closely intertwined with the fundamental economic activities that they support. Thus in the prehistoric period the pattern was migratory, moving with the growth seasons and the animal herds, and the house form corresponded to those needs. It was mobile, light, simple, and protective. A fundamental change in the economic system–the advent of the agricultural revolution, wherein early humans discovered that they could intervene in the reproductive cycle of edible plants and thus control and manage their food supply–brought a corresponding change to the human settlement pattern. No longer was a migratory pattern desirable. Instead, a more sedentary, more permanent form emerged. As agriculture developed further, human groupings were able to produce a surplus of food, and from this single fact grew division of labour and ultimately towns and cities.

Did Central Courtyard architecture originate in the Indus Valley ?
 These changes occurred most rapidly in very specialized climatological areas. The first urban agricultural centers emerged in areas blessed with benign and year-round growing seasons combined with the ready availability of rivers for irrigation purposes. Major permanent concentrated populations arose and probably originated in the Thar Desert crossed by the Indus River in what is now India that gave birth to Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan civilization which now dates back to 7,000 BC. where the Central courtyard architecture may have originated and subsequently spread to other regions like the Tigris Euphrates region of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt of the Nile. Iran and China also had adopted courtyard architecture as far back as 3000 BC. In all these arid-region urbanized agricultural centers, the courtyard house emerged as the basic house form. Today, throughout the arid regions of the world, the courtyard house remains a sensible, satisfactory, and preferred solution. A wide range of courtyard house solutions emerged in such cities as Monenjo-Daro, Ur Kahun, and Athens, which formed the essential prototype that spread ultimately from the Spain of the Moors on the west to the valley of the Yellow River on the east. With Columbus’s voyages from Spain to the new world, the house form continued further west.
It should be noted that the courtyard house emerged as both an urban and rural prototype. Its key characteristic, however, is not its context but rather that it represents a fundamentally different conception of space. In the courtyard house, outdoor space is captured and included in the residential volume and ultimately becomes the heart of its morphology. This is an arid region concept that serves its climate well.
 Courtyard Houses in India
  The first courtyard houses, according to historical evidence, appeared to have originated in India probably around 6500-6000 BC. Evidence of the earliest village is from Mehergarh (6500-6000 BC). The settlement consisted of an irregular scatter of mud brick houses and the material for house construction The idea of settlement planning was well established at Harappa at a very early phase, Kot Diji (prior to 2600 BC). The basic overall layout of the settlements is distinguished by the orientation of the streets to cardinal points.
Most private houses had rooms arranged around a central courtyard. Doors and windows opened out into side lanes. Stairs led up to the roof or the second storey. Windows had shutters and latticework.
 Sir John Marshall describes the courtyard houses as follows:
“To the right of the porter’s lodge a short passage led to the central courtyard of the house, which was open to the sky and provided light and air to the rooms grouped about it on both the ground and upper floors. And here, let me say parenthetically, that the principle of the open court encompassed by chambers was just as fundamental to -planning at Mohenjo-Daro as it was throughout the rest of prehistoric and historic Asia, and as it has continued to be in India until the present day.”
Sir Johh Marshall in ‘Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization’ (1929).
Courtyard house architecture in India was not just an architectural style. It was a way of lifeCourtyard style architecture which eventually spread from north to south India is called by various names – haveli, wada, deori or nalukettu. If we look at the courtyard houses of India, they are indigenous and matched the climatic requirements. The spatial and formal elements fell into a wonderful introverted blueprint. It reflected the society of its times. Even the simplest courtyard homes have an air of elegant character. The Indian courtyard houses was a remarkable form of residential architecture. The courtyard was this style’s quintessence and its relevance to the home was apparent as well as subtle. It was the structure’s core.
The courtyard ordered other spaces by context in an abode where space was not rigidly fixed but could be adaptable depending on the time of day, season and exigency. It obliquely controlled the environment inside and served the needs of its inhabitants. Its mood changed with varying degrees of light and shade, and with them the ambience of the abode. Centrally located, it imprinted the domain of the dwelling like a visual anchor. Around this courtyard space the rest of the structure seamlessly coalesced by the play of peristyles and gallery spaces. It was the spatial, social, and environment control center of the home. The courtyard ordered other spaces by context in an abode where space was not rigidly fixed but could be adaptable depending on the time of day, season and exigency. It obliquely controlled the environment inside and served the needs of its inhabitants. Its mood changed with varying degrees of light and shade, and with them the ambience of the abode. Centrally located, it imprinted the domain of the dwelling like a visual anchor. Around this courtyard space the rest of the structure seamlessly coalesced by the play of peristyles and gallery spaces. It was the spatial, social, and environment control center of the home.

Haveli of the northern India

Sri Chakra is the Yantra of the Cosmos. It is believed that the Angan represents the four corners of the Universe.

This form of architecture met with the requirements of the traditional joint family system as well as the climate. The courtyard functioned as a convective thermostat and gave protection from extremes of weather. A dust storm could pass overhead with little effects on the inmates. The courtyard moderated the extreme effects of the hot summers and freezing winters of the Indian sub continent , and averaged out the large diurnal temperature differences. It varied from being a narrow opening to a large peristyle one in the interior zone of the house, with perhaps another or more near the entrance and the rear section. The total number of courtyards in one residence could sometimes be five to six. The courtyard house in India was not based on blind conformity and there was tremendous innovation over the intervening centuries.

Chettinad central courtyard house

Traditionally Nadumuttom or central open court yard used to be their in bigger houses of Kerala.They is an open area usually square shaped in the exact middle of the house dividing the house in its four sides. Due to this four side division of the house by having a Nadumuttom. Houses with one Nadumuttom used to be called as Nalukettu house. Similarly there was Ettu kettu and Pathinaru kettu which are quite rare.
Central Courtyard Houses of Goa
 The Hindu heritage or traditional houses of Goa that have survived today, have a backdrop of millenia years of history, starting with Mohenjo-Daro and Hararppan civilization and settlements. Most of the surviving Hindu traditional houses are central courtyard houses, the origin of which lies in the Indus Valley Civilization. The Indus valley Courtyard architecture which probably originated as far back as 6500-6000 BC spread gradually not only to the other parts of India but also to other ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is matter of conjecture, with some basis, that the Central Courtyard Culture was probably adopted and brought to Goa by Saraswat Brahmins when the first wave of their migration settled down in Goa around 700 BC and the subsequent waves of migration. The Central Courtyard design dominates the architecture of the Hindu traditional homes of Goa. Considering the highly traditional, conservative and custom bound way of life, Saraswats who migrated to Goa, continued the ancient architectural style of residence for their residence in Goa, especially since the Central Courtyard (Angan, Rajangan) with Tulasi Vrindavan was considered a ‘sacred’ space by the householder.
 Goan domestic architecture is a combination of biodegradable building material and an exposure to the elements may have been responsible for the collapse of older constructions. The main stock of houses that have survived appear to be those built or refurbished between the middle of the 18th and the 20th centuries, a period when the region was under Portuguese governance. The year 1750 was a turning point in Goa’s political and social history. It is this turning point that was also responsible for the exuberance and ostentation in architectural wealth that we see in the houses of Goa built subsequently.

Illustration: courtesy Mario Miranda

 During the middle of the 18th century the gold rush in South America had begun a few years into the reign of King João V and following this wealth came into Goan hands. The proclamation by the powerful Marquis de Pombal, Prime Minister to the King, declaring all colonial subjects to be Portuguese further emboldened Goans. They began to express themselves (and their Goan identity) through music, dance, sculpture, painting, food and folklore. It was around this time that Goans first began to use their homes as vehicles of this expression.
 Hindus of Goa also began to use their homes to display personal wealth, unthinkable after the arrival of the Portugese. Most grand houses that we see today are the homes of Goan Christians. A few may belong to Hindu families as well but these are town houses originally built for the entertainment and luxury of European guests who could not be entertained in the more tradition-bound country homes where religious taboos disallowed the serving of prohibited foods and where women followed seclusion regulations. Conversion to Christianity turned ‘inward-looking’ houses into ‘outward’ looking ones. Small windows (rarely fronting the street), blind walls and open courtyards in the interiors of Hindu homes were transformed to create ornamental homes with balcaos fronting the street where men and women could sit together and ‘see and be seen’. Homeowners who claim that their homes can be dated to before the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa have refurbished their homes to such an extent that it is difficult to find evidence of their antiquity.
The courtyard house of Goa harks back to a long tradition of dwellings with a central space open to the skies circumscribed by rooms on all sides, a model as much functional in keeping the house cool in the hot climate, as of sacred inspiration. Along the famed Konkan coast, we find references to courtyard houses from the later medieval period onwards. Indeed, in order to find a suitable precedent to the patio house of Goa we need look no further than the domestic and monumental architecture of Vijayanagar. While the churches and sacred buildings of Goa have been the focus of a majority of studies on the built heritage of Goa, in more recent times, there has been increasing awareness that the resplendent houses of Goa are as deserving of careful attention.

‘The Chowki’ – Courtesy Sawakar family, Borim, Goa. Pic by Mohan Pai

 The architecture of Goa is a combination of Indian, Mughal and Portuguese styles. Since the Portuguese ruled for four centuries, many churches and houses bear a striking element of the Portuguese style of architecture. Goa was also under the Mughal rule and thus one finds monuments built in the typical Mughal style complete with the domes. By the end of the 18th century, there was a change in the style of the buildings of Goa. Though the Portuguese essence remained, there was an overdose of colors and usage of tiles increased. Blue and red turned out to be favorite colors with many houses being painted in bright blues and the roofs being covered by red tiles. The houses are usually large and have spacious rooms with windows for ventilation.

The height of Goa’s glory was mutually linked with the Portuguese, but the Goan grandeur predated the Portuguese. Chieftains, kings and a host of Indian dynasties had made this little jewel glitter with royal pomp. The inscription of around A.D.1000 (when Shashtadeva of the Goa Kadamba dynasty sat on the throne), describes the early splendor of the capital: ‘Gardens on every side. White plastered houses, alleys, horse stables, flower gardens, markets, harlots’ quarters, and tanks.’ In his son’s reign, Goa is reputed to have commanded a powerful fleet and traded with fourteen foreign lands. In essence, it was a coveted land with the most sought after port in India before the arrival of Muslims and Portugese.

The elaborate entrances and openness of Catholic houses, the best of which retain the courtyard, combine Indian tradition with new European influence both in structure and lifestyle within. Most of these houses came into existence during the later part of the 18th century after the Marquis of Pombal brought in the changes in the Portugese outlook of its colonies.
Ancestral Hindu houses in the town are plain, closed structures which conceal the illustrious tradition of the inhabitants. A step or two lead into quiet entrances, with small windows opening out on to the street. The house reveals its beauty only indoors – rooms converge on to the courtyard with ‘Chowkis’ which is the centre of family activity; light flows in hidden from the public gaze. It is a protective and private space.


Naik Mansion, Margao – Courtesy Naik family. Pic by Mohan Pai

The Rajangan or just Angan was a large space with internal court open to the sky; roofs from all sides of the house drained into it. The focal point of the central courtyard is the Tulasi Vrindavan in the centre. The four sides were open like an internal verandah (Chowki), quite often with special ornate columns, brackets, beams, etc. Column and their brackets are pre-Portugese features that depict the progression of the architectural style in ornateness and refinement. The Puja room is always located on the left side of the house. Apart from being a place of activity and the centre of the house, ‘Chowki ‘served as a dining area on festive occasions, for large number of guests.
Sopo, a cowdung finished mud masonry in the houses of lower class and lower middle class people, figured in upper-class homes as a built wooden or masonary seat and as a stylised balcao in the house of a Christian landlord. Though commonly termed as an Indo-Portugese feature, balcao or Sopo is very much an indigenous concept.
Goan traditional Hindu houses have the following standard features:
Rajangan or Angan (courtyard with a Tulasi Vrindavan)
Deva kood (a place for daily prayer and other rituals)
Saal (a hall) Raanchi kood (a kitchen with a door which is called Magil daar)
Balantin kood (A room special meant for pregnant and nursing mothers.)
Kothar (store room)
Pooja Hall (A hall specially meant for celebrating Ganeshotsav)
Vasri (Dining Hall)
Gotho (Goshala)
Manne (Bathrooms located next to the well)
It is very difficult to assess the age of the old Hindu houses that have survived. One can only put together information available from bits and scraps.
The grand Hindu mansions like that of Kundaikar, Gaunekar and the Dempo house in Santa Cruz were built much later during late 18th and 19th century retained the introspective character but added a couple of chandeliered salas and western furniture in keeping with their status as leaders of the Hindu community within the Portugese colony.
Among the few pre-Portugese surviving houses, the oldest is perhaps the Pundu Camotim’s house located about 3 km from Old Goa. It’s a vast house and according to its present owners it is at least 580 years old. The family appears to have lived in the house even before the Portugese arrived at the beginning of the 16th century. Filipe Nery Xavier , administrator and historian has recorded the grandeur of the house of Rucuminim Camotim as the first of three most important business houses of Goa in the first quarter of the 18th century.
The next house is that of Mhamai Camotim at Panaji next to Idalcao Palace which is a late17th century house built after they returned to Goa. The earliest detail relating to Mhamai Camotim family is a loose document found by Teotonio de Souza who was perhaps the first to trace their history. When the Mhamai family moved to Panaji it was partly inhabited by Portugese fidalgos and Goan merchants as a suburb of Old Goa.
Mhamai Kamat Mansion, Panaji. Courtesy Mhamai family. Pic by Mohan Pai
The age of Malbarao Sardesai’s ancestral house in Savoi Verem is uncertain. But it is a vast and sprawling construction with as many as 3 inner courtyards. The house has an elaborate gateway and a flight of steps leading into a large porch with sopes, long seats, to lie or sit on.
Casa Dempo, Panaji. Courtesy Dempo family. Pic by Mohan Pai
Casa Dempo in Panaji, the second house of Dempos was built after they returned to Goa and when the capital was shifted from Old Goa to Panaji during the mid-eighteenth century. This house has been partly refurbished over a period of time. Their first house was located in Panvelim near Old Goa when they returned to Goa in the late 16th century. Dempo house in Santa Cruz was built much later and markedly different from the older house in Panaji. 
References: ‘Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization’ by Sir John Marshall (1929), Raj Chengappa ‘The Indus Rddle’ in India today, ‘Goa – A daughte’s story’ by Maria Aurora Couto, Houses of Goa (Architecture Autonomous)


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(Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa)

Vanishing Species: Indian Otters

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Indian Otters
Photo: courtesy: K. Pichumani
Playful creatures, a group of Otters is called ‘romp’, being descriptive of their playful nature.
Otters are semi-aquatic, fish-eating mammals. The otter subfamily Lutrinae forms part of the family Mustelidae, which also includes weasels, polecats, badgers, as well as others. With thirteen species in seven genera, otters have an almost worldwide distribution. They mainly eat aquatic animals, predominantly fish and shellfish, but also other invertebrates, amphibians, birds and small mammals.An otter’s den is called a holt or couch. A male otter is a dog (otter), a female a bitch (otter), and a baby a whelp or pup. The collective nouns for otters are bevy, family, lodge or romp, being descriptive of their often playful nature, or when in water raft.
India is home to three species of otters: the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), the smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillata) and the small-clawed otter (Amblonyx cinerous). Just 50 years ago, the smooth coated otter, also referred to as the smooth Indian otter, was widespread in the country while both Eurasian and the small clawed otter (earlier called the clawless otter) were absent from central India, but found in broad bands in the Himalayas and the ghats in the south. It is essentially an otter of cold hill and moutain streams and lakes. Today, these elegant creatures are confined only to protected areas and zoos. If there are any unknown pockets outside, they are unlikely to survive.What happened to otters was quite simple. Found in rivers, lakes and other wetlands, they competed with human beings for fish, their main diet, and lost. Pollution poisoned their food and habitat. Lakes and wetlands were drained for agriculture. In fact the trade of otter skins has been going on for hundreds of years in South East Asia. According to a wildlife trade survey done in Thailand, an otter skin can be sold for $90-$100 to leather factories and considered the best leather to make jackets. It is also believed that otter fat was good for rheumatism, and dried otter penis can fetch up to $50 per inch in Mandalay, and in Myitkyina in the Kachin state. A researcher from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore, V. Meena, found nomadic tribal herb collectors from Haryana trapping otters in the Palani hills of Tamil Nadu to sell the oil and skin and of course, eat the flesh, while they were at it.
Otters have long, slim bodies and relatively short limbs, with webbed paws. Most have sharp claws on their feet, and all except the sea otter have long muscular tails.They have a very soft, insulated underfur which is protected by their outer layer of long guard hair. This traps a layer of air, and keeps them dry and warm under water.Many otters live in cold waters and have very high metabolic rates to help keep them warm. In summer, in the Himalayas many otters go up the streams and torrents ascending to altitudes of 12,000 ft or more. Their upward movement probably coincides with the upward migration of carp and other fish for purposes of spawning. With the advent of winter they come down to the lower streams.For most otters, fish is the primary staple of their diet. This is often supplemented by frogs, crayfish and crabs. Some otters are expert at opening shellfish, and others will feed on available small mammals or birds. Prey-dependence leaves otters very vulnerable to prey depletion.Otters are very active, chasing prey in the water or searching the beds of rivers, lakes or the seas. Most species live beside water, entering it mainly to hunt or travel, otherwise spending much of their time on land to avoid their fur becoming waterlogged. The sea otter does live in the sea for most of its life.Otters are playful animals and appear to engage in various behaviors for sheer enjoyment. Different species vary in their social structure, with some being largely solitary, while others live in groups – in a few species these groups may be fairly large.

Range map of Otters (IUCN)

Major Threat(s): The aquatic habitats of otters are extremely vulnerable to man-made changes. Canalisation of rivers, removal of bank side vegetation, dam construction, draining of wetlands, aquaculture activities and associated man-made impacts on aquatic systems are all unfavourable to otter populations (Reuther and Hilton-Taylor 2004). In South and South East Asia, the decrease in prey species from wetlands and water ways had reduced the population to an unsustainable threshold leading to local extinctions. The poaching is one of the main cause of its decline from South and South East Asia, and possibly also from the North Asia. (IUCN Red List)
References: Wikipedia, IUCN Red List, S. H. Prater (the book of Indian Animals), Aniruddha Mookerjee in the Hindu.


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Vanishing Species: Peregrine Falcon

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus

Nature’s dive-bomber that attains an incredible speed of 324 km per hour in its swoop.
Rocketing down to catch its prey, no other creature on earth can move as fast as the peregrine falcon. A peregrine stooping is not really flying; it’s coming out of the sky like 1 kg feathered rock. These falcons get higher than most before they dive, so they reach higher speeds. Presumably they need the altitude and resulting speed because their prey itself is so fast. Pigeons for example, a staple peregrine food, can have a cruising speed of 50 km/h and bursts of about 100 km/h which is the top speed for a cheetah.
Painting of subspecies babylonicusBy John Gould
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), also known simply as the Peregrine, and historically as the “Duck Hawk” in North America, is a cosmopolitan bird of prey in the family Falconidae. It is a large, crow-sized falcon, with a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and “moustache”. As is common with bird-eating raptors, the female is much bigger than the male. Experts recognize 17–19 subspecies, which vary in appearance and range; there is disagreement over whether the distinctive Barbary Falcon is a subspecies or a distinct species.
The Peregrine’s breeding range includes land regions from the Arctic tundra to the Tropics. It can be found nearly everywhere on Earth, except extreme polar regions, very high mountains, and most tropical rainforests; the only major ice-free landmass from which it is entirely absent is New Zealand. This makes it the world’s most widespread bird of prey. Both the English and scientific names of this species mean “wandering falcon”, referring to the migratory habits of many northern populations.While its diet consists almost exclusively of medium-sized birds, the Peregrine will occasionally hunt small mammals, small reptiles or even insects. It reaches sexual maturity at one year, and mates for life. It nests in a scrape, normally on cliff edges or, in recent times, on tall human-made structures. The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species in many areas due to the use of pesticides, especially DDT. Since the ban on DDT from the beginning of the 1970s onwards, the populations recovered, supported by large scale protection of nesting places and releases to the wild.
The Peregrine Falcon has a body length of 34 to 58 centimetres (13–23 in) and a wingspan of around 80 to 120 centimetres (31–47 in). The male and female have similar markings and plumage, but as in many birds of prey the Peregrine Falcon displays marked reverse sexual dimorphism in size, with the female measuring up to 30 percent larger than the male. Males weigh 440–750 g, and the noticeably larger females weigh 910–1500 g.

Peregrine range map

Ecology and behavior
The Peregrine Falcon lives mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, coastlines, and increasingly in cities. In mild-winter regions, it is usually a permanent resident, and some individuals, especially adult males, will remain on the breeding territory. Only populations that breed in Arctic climes typically migrate great distances during the northern winter.

The life span in the wild is up to 15.5 years. Mortality in the first year is between 59–70%, declining to between 25–32% in adults. Apart from anthropogenic threats like collision with human-made objects, the Peregrine may be killed by large eagles or large owls. The Peregrine Falcon is host to a range of parasites and pathogens. The Peregrine Falcon feeds almost exclusively on medium sized birds such as doves, waterfowl, songbirds, waders and pigeons. Worldwide, it is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 bird species (up to roughly a fifth of the world’s bird species) are predated by these falconsThe Peregrine Falcon hunts at dawn and dusk, when prey are most active, but in cities also nocturnally, particularly during migration periods when hunting at night may become prevalent. Nocturnal migrants taken by Peregrines include species as diverse as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-necked Grebe, Virginia Rail and Common Quail. It requires open space in order to hunt, and therefore often hunts over open water, marshes, valleys, fields and tundra. It searches for prey either from a high perch or from the air Once prey is spotted, it begins its stoop, folding back the tail and wings, with feet tucked. The air pressure from a 200 mph (320 km/h) dive could possibly damage a bird’s lungs, but small bony tubercles in a falcon’s nostrils guide the shock waves of the air entering the nostrils (compare intake ramps and inlet cones of jet engines), enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving by reducing the change in air pressure. To protect their eyes, the falcons use their nictitating membranes (third eyelids) to spread tears and clear debris from their eyes while maintaining vision. Prey is struck and captured in mid-air; the Peregrine Falcon strikes its prey with a clenched foot, stunning or killing it, then turns to catch it in mid-air. The Peregrine will drop it to the ground and eat it there if it is too heavy to carry. Prey is plucked before consumption.

The Peregrine Falcon is sexually mature at the end of the first year of age but in healthy populations they breed after two to three years of age. The pair mates for life and returns to the same nesting spot annually. The courtship flight includes a mix of aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives. The male passes prey it has caught to the female in mid-air. To make this possible, the female actually flies upside-down to receive the food from the male’s talons. The Peregrine Falcon is territorial during the breeding season; nesting pairs are usually more than 1 km (0.6 miles) apart, and often much farther, even in areas with large numbers of pairs. The distance between nests ensures sufficient food supply for pairs and their chicks. Within a breeding territory, a pair may have several nesting ledges; the number used by a pair can vary from one or two to seven in a 16 year period. The pair defends the chosen nest site against other Peregrines, and often against ravens, herons, gulls and (in ground nest) mammals like foxes, wolverines, bears and wolves. Both nests and (less frequently) adults are predated by larger-bodied raptorial birds like eagles, large owls, or Gyrfalcons. Peregrines defending their nests have managed to kill raptors as large as Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles (which they normally avoid) that have come close to the nest.

The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species because of the use of pesticides, especially DDT during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Pesticide caused to build up in the falcons’ fat tissues, reducing the amount of calcium in their eggshells. With thinner shells, fewer falcon eggs survived to hatching. In several parts of the world, such as the eastern USA and Belgium, this species became extinct as a result.

The Peregrine Falcon was used in falconry for more than 3,000 years, beginning with nomads in central Asia. Due to its ability to dive at high speeds, it was highly sought-after and generally used by experienced falconers. Peregrine Falcons are also occasionally used to scare away birds at airports to reduce the risk of bird-plane strikes, improving air-traffic safety, and were used to intercept homing pigeons during World War II.

Falconry in India.
The sport of falconry which spread throughout the world was especially popular with the Indian nobility. Falconry, a sport among kings, princes and nobles started way back in 2000 B.C. in China. It started not as a sport but simply out of a necessity for food. From China it spread to Japan, India, Persia, Arabia, Turkey and finally to Europe. By 700 A.D. falconry was well established as a sport. By the middle of the 18th century there were hawking clubs all over Europe. Many tapestries and paintings all over the world depict battle scenes of kings and nobles with their favourite falcons as falconry was also a form of relaxation during long battles. King Richard, Coeur de Lion, took his hawks with him to the crusades. The kings Frederic and Henry VIII of England and the Emperor Napoleon were all keen followers of this magnificent sport. Among the ladies, Mary Queen of Scots loved to be out hawking and Empress Catherine of Russia had her favourite falcon, Merlin.
The Mughals in India were also keen falconers. The sparrow hawk was the favourite of Emperor Akbar. He often used these remarkable birds for hunting. They also added splendour to his court. For them many mansabdars ( commanders), ahadis (single man) and other soldiers were employed. The birds were fed twice a day and towards the close of each day they were fed on sparrows.Falcons are birds of open country, solitary in habit and prefer to fly freely scouring the countryside with their acute sight and pausing in their majestic flight to stoop down at a hundred miles an hour on their unsuspecting prey. The peregrine falcon, the finest bird for training in India, migrates along the east coast of Bhavnagar in Gujarat on the boarder of the Gulf of Cambay. Other falcons found in Bhavnagar are the desert falcon known as the lugger and goshawk or baz which can be trained very successfully.In Bhavnagar, the royal family continued to cherish the sport of hawking till the 1940s. the late Maharaja, Shri Krishna Kumar Singh’s two brothers, Maharaja Nirmal Kumar Singh and Maharaja Dharam Kumar Singh were very enthusiastic sportsmen. They each had their own trainers and falcons. The falcons were caught off the coast of Bhavnagar or brought from Punjab. After it is caught the falcon is securely bound in a handkerchief and its eyes are sealed. This is done by slipping a needle through the lower edge of the eyelid and putting the thread over the head. Apparently the falcon shows no sign of pain. In this manner the eastern falconers seal the eyes of their hunting birds. This keeps them quiet for the rest of the training days and prevents them from becoming excited and scared. The bird also gets used to the human voice and touch. Buying a hawk is like buying a horse. The colour phases, marking, shape, size of beak and middle toe, spirit, age and weight are a few points worth considering. Indian falconers would never buy a falcon whose eyes were not sealed. Sealed eyes were an indication that the hawks had not been trained. The new hawk never leaves the gloved hand of its trainer for four to five days. Day and night they are handled carefully by speaking to them softly and stroking them gently and constantly for only then can these wild birds be trained.

As soon as the hawks lose their fear and become docile, their eyes are unsealed and the training days begin. The trainer swings a lure at the end of a short stick and the falcon stoops but the bait is jerked away before the bird can strike. After 40 to 50 attempts the falcon is permitted to strike and bring the lure down to the ground. It is indeed a wonderful sight to see these hawks starting to respond to their trainers. After this lesson the birds are hooded and well fed. Before a contest or a hunt the birds are given secret Indian drugs to stimulate them to have the utmost powers of speed, courage and endurance. Falcons, being good hunters with keen eyesight, can bring down big birds like ibis, cranes, big heron and among animals, hares. When the game rises, the falconer throws the hawk to catch its prey just like an athlete hurls a goal forward. But vigorous training is absolutely necessary to teach the little fighters how to chase such a quarry. In game hunting, pointers and setters are used and not until the game is found the falcon is unhooded.
In India falcons and hawks constitute two thirds of all species of birds or prey. The uncommon goshawks and the perennial favourite, the peregrine span the Indian sub-continent.However, the sport of falconry has been fast losing popularity not only due to the expenses involved but also due to wide criticism and an increasing awareness of preserving nature and wildlife. There has been a dwindling of the species. In fact the king of falcons, the bullet-headed, steel grey peregrine became almost extinct due to excess DDT in the environment causing the bird to lay eggs with fragile shells leading to greater pre-hatch mortality. However, people were quick to champion this much loved bird and save it from imminent peril.

Peregrine in philately

References: Wikipedia, Falcon & Falconry

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Sapt-Konkan – Parashuram Shristi

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Hello friends,

Good morning. This morning’s topic is Sapt-Konkan, the coastal ecoregion of the Western Ghats, defined by the Purana’s as Sapt-Konkan or “Parashuram Shristi”. And there is a legend about it.

The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, have a fascinating geological history. They are the most important feature of the landscape of the southern peninsula and in these same hills we confront our future. Unfortunately they continue to suffer drastic degradation due to human pressure.I have been writing about these mountain ranges for quite some time now. My book “The Western Ghats” was published in 2005. Most of the writings could be accessed in the links given below:For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:

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For biospoheres & bioregions of the Western Ghats please log on to:

Very best wishes,

Mohan Pai

The Emerald Country

Honda, Sattari, Goa – pic by Mohan Pai

‘Parashuram Shristi’
Konkan, Goa & Karavali

The precise definition of Konkan varies, but most include Maharashtra’s districts of Raigad, Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, the state of Goa, and the Uttar Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Sapt-Konkan is also known as ‘Parashuram Shirsti’; according to the legend, Lord Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu stood atop the Sahyadri and shot an arrow into the roaring sea and beyond and created the coastal tract. The Sapta-Konkan as depicted in Skanda-purana stretches from Maharashtra to Karnataka . This is actually logical since there are a lot of similarities in the food-habits (rice and fish), crops cultivated (rice, mangoes, cashews and jackfruit) and the physique (tall and well-built) of people dwelling in this area. Konkan Division is also one of six administrative sub-divisions of the state of Maharashtra, comprising of its costal districts.

Sage Parashuram, a painting

Konkan Ecoregion

An ecoregion is defined as a large area of land or water that contains geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that
a) share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
b) share similar environmental conditions, and;
c) interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long term persistence.
Based on these criteria, Konkan division of Maharashtra, Goa and Karavali region of Karnataka form one homogenous ecoregion. Biodiversity ignores national and other political boundaries, so a more relevant conservation planning unit is required.

From the Imperial Gazeteer of India (1907-1909)

Konkan.— A name applied to the Marathi-speaking lowland strip along the southern portion of the Bombay Presidency, situated between the Western Ghats and the sea. The term has no very distinct ad- ministrative signification, and its former geographical limits have become less strictly defined than of old. The coast strip, to which the word is now applied, is a fertile and generally level tract, varying from 1 or 2 to about 50 miles in breadth between the sea and the mountains, with an area of about 12,500 square miles, and, approximately, a population of 3,800,000. It is watered by hill streams, and at parts intersected by tidal backwaters, but has nowhere any great rivers. A luxuriant vegetation of palms rises along the coast, the cocoa-nut plantations forming an important source of wealth to the villagers. Splendid forests cover the Ghats on its eastern boundary. The crops are abundant ; and owing to the monsoon rainfall being precipitated upon the Ghats behind, the Konkan is peculiarly exempt from drought and famine. The common language of the Konkan is Marathi. Kanarese is spoken in the southern part, and a little Gujarathi in the north of Thana. In a geographical sense, the Konkan forms one of the five territorial Divisions of the Bombay Presidency, the others being the Deccan, the Karnatik, Gujarat, and Sind. It includes the town and island of Bombay, the three British Districts of Ratnagiri, Kolaba, and Thana, the three Native States of Jawhar, Janjira, and Sawantwari, and the Portuguese territory of Goa ……The Konkan is bounded by Gujarat on the north, by the Deccan on the east, by North Kanara District on the south, and by the Arabian Sea on the west. The history of the Konkan will best be gathered from a perusal of the historical portions of the separate articles on the included States and Districts. The earliest dynasty connected with the Konkan is that of the Mauryas, who reigned about three centuries before Christ; but the “evidence of the connection rests altogether on vol. viii. T 290 KONKAN, an Asoka inscription discovered at the town of Sopara in Thana District. The dynasties that succeeded were the following, in their order, so far as order is ascertainable : — The Shatakarnis or Andrabhrityas, with their capital at Paitan in the Deccan ; the Mauryas, descendants of the elder house ; the Chalukyas ; the Silaharas, whose capital was perhaps the island of Elephanta in Bombay Harbour ; the Yadavas, with their capital at Deogiri, the modern Daulatabad ; the Muhatn- madans (Khiljis, Bahmanis, Bijapur chiefs, Mughals, and Ahmadabad kings) ; Portuguese commanders (over a limited area) ; Marathas ; and British. The principal incidents in the annals of the Konkan are of modern interest. The Konkan coast was known to the peoples of Greece and Rome, and both Ptolemy (150 a.d.) and the author of the Periplus (247 a.d.) afford evidence that Greek traders from Egypt dealt with the Konkan ports. Many of these last are named by the Greek geographers ; and while the modern representative of the ancient town has been in many instances identified, in others the ingenuity of conjecture is still employed. To take one or two examples, it is yet a matter of uncertainty whether Byzantium is the Konkan pirate fort of Vijayadrug ; whether the word Chersonesus refers to Goa, or whether the term Heptanesia relates to the islands that stud the modern harbour of Bombay. The arrival of the Beni-Israel and the Parsis from the Persian Gulf and Persia are important incidents in Konkan history. The Beni-Israel, whom high authority has not hesitated to call the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, are found all over Bombay Presidency. The descendants of the first Parsis, who landed in Thana about the 7th century, now crowd the streets and markets of Bombay, engross a large part of the city’s wealth and principal trading operations, and have their agents in all important provincial towns.

Vasco da Gama landing at Kappad.

The Portuguese reached Malabar in 1498, and fixed the head-quarters of their naval dominion at Cheul or Chaul. In 1510, Goa was seized, and from this time until 1630 the Portuguese shared the rule of the Konkan with the Muhammadan kings of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur. The rise and fall of the pirate power of the Angres, who fixed themselves in the island strongholds of Kolaba, Suvarndriig, and Gheria or Vijayadrug, and from 1700 to 1756 harassed English, Dutch, and native shipping alike, mark a disastrous period of Konkan history. Since the British administration was set up in 1818 on the overthrow of the Marathas, the peace of the whole area, if some disturbances in Sawantwari in 1844 and 1850 be excepted, has remained unbroken. The great city and harbour of Bombay are situated about one-third down the length of the Konkan from the north. The Portuguese territory of Goa used to form its southern limit ; but the District of North Kanara has been transferred from Madras to the Bombay Pi and now constitutes the southernmost District of the D as the Konkan.

Imperial Gazetteer map of Konkan

Physical Aspects, Natural History, and Geology.- -The folio paragraphs have been condensed from a short mon< physical features of the Konkan, by Major J. II. Lloyd, the coast of the Konkan from seaward, the traveller sees him a wild-looking country consisting of a confused mass of hills exhibiting every shade of brown, red, and purple ; in some far down to the sea, in others receding and giving space along the for tracts of rice cultivation, or belts of cocoanut and palm. In the foreground the sea beating on the rocks sets off the picture with a fringe of surf, interrupted at intervals where the coastline is bf by the mouths of creeks and rivers, and far in the background there rests on the line of Ghats, blocking the distant horizon with a long cession of peaks, bluffs, and domes — cool and grey in the morn, misty and indistinct under the glare of noonday, and glowing with pink and violet as the great trap precipices catch the rays of the setting sun. As regards its geology, the Konkan is a country, broadly speak u stratified primary rocks. The hills are composed of layers of trap varying in composition, and capped by a stratum of laterite, while the alluvial soil of the valleys is the result of the disintegration and decomposition of these rocks carried down by drainage from the hills. On the shores of the salt marshes, locally known as Khar, and along the tidal portion of the rivers which empty themselves into the Arabian Sea, the soil is a stiff blue clay which, when red from the action of the sea, is capable of being converted into considerable value. The narrow strip of sand along the i on what geologists term littoral concrete, which bears the vari- • of the palm tree, date, and palmyra in the north, cocoanut and nut in the south. The annual rainfall of the Konkan is estimated over 100 inches; and this rainfall added to the enormous water thrown off the face of the Western Ghats during the the whole traversing the region to the sea, accounts for the numerous rivers and streams in which the Konkan abounds. The face of the country presents throughout the dry months parched and barren appearance ; but this air of sterility is higher ground is reached. In the open cultivated tracts are sun-baked rice-fields, dried-up streams, and occasional groves with their denizen cattle egrets, noisy koels, and active squirrels. In the loi are found forests of teak (Tectona grandis), ain (Terrain tosa), kinjal (Terminalia paniculata) …

Climate & Vegetation

The climate of the Sapt-Konkan shows two rainfall gradients.

The West-East Gradient
The west-east rainfall gradient is determined by the effect of Ghats’ escarpment. The reliefs of the Ghats act as a barrier to the eastward movement of the cloud masses brought by the summer monsoon rain-bearing winds of the south-west monsoon.
These masses bring prodigious amount of rainfall over the western slopes of the Ghats. For instance in Agumbe (height 645 m) which is situated at the edge of the Ghats, the mean annual rainfall is 7,460 mm, and in some years it exceeds 12,000 mm in only 130 rainy days. Overall the western slopes receive 2,000 to 7,500 mm of rainfall.


Once this obstacle is crossed, the rainfall decreases rapidly to < 800 mm towards the interior plateau of the east within a distance of 7 to 60 km from 7,500 mm to 4,000 mm within 15 km, and to 2,000 mm within 50 km. Further north towards the latitude of Goa, the decrease is even more drastic: 25 km after the summit of the Ghats the rainfall is insufficient to support the evergreen formations. Moist deciduous forest prevail here, and 30 km further east they are replaced by dry deciduous formations. This decrease results in the isolation of moist formations which are confined to humid regions with a rainfall of generally more than 2,000 mm, i.e., in a narrow belt between the coast and 20-40 km beyond the Ghats’ edge. However, in some cases, edaphic compensation (specially better moisture holding capacity of soils) enables the maintenance of evergreen formations even when the rainfall is somewhat lower – the ‘kan’ forests of Karnataka plateau are an example of this phenomenon.

The South-North Gradient
An important feature of the Western Ghats is that they form more or less continuous chain of hills with a latitudinal extent of almost 12 degrees. This has few parallels in the tropical world(eastern part of Madagascar and Queensland in Australia). The monsoon, the very pulse of India, adds yet another dimension : the duration of the dry season gradually increases from two months in the southern parts of the Ghats to over eight months north of Mumbai. This gradient is determined by the arrival and withdrawal of the summer monsoon.
The monsoon generally arrives towards the end of May at the southern tip of India, in the first week of June at Tiruvananthpuram, five days later it reaches Karwar, in another five days it has already crossed Mumbai and by middle of June it is beyond Kutch. Thus it takes only 10-15 days to cover the Indian peninsula from 80 N to the Tropic of Cancer.
The monsoon begins to retreat by the end of September in north India but it takes nearly 15 days for the front to withdraw from Kutch to Ratnagiri which it reaches in the beginning of October, in another 15 days it covers 400 km, the distance separating Ratnagiri from Coondapur. The front passes through Mangalore at the beginning of November and Kozikode in a fortnight, and reaches Kanyakumari only in early December. Thus the withdrawal is spread over a period of nearly two and a half months. The advance and specially the gradual withdrawal of the monsoon leads to a reduction in the rainy period from south to north and consequently a concomitant lengthening of dry season. This gradient is one of the key factors for understanding the variations in the floristic composition along the Ghats.

Vegetation Types 

Wet Evergreen Forests
Wet evergreen forests are mostly confined to the windward side of the Ghats where the rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm. The deep valleys on the western windward side nurture closed canopy, stratified evergreen forests. These are arranged in a series of tiers. Each tier receives a different amount of light; the tallest trees are bathed in perpetual sunlight, smaller trees and shrubs receive dappled light. The forest floor is almost in complete darkness. The canopy is supposed to be closed because the contiguous crown of tall buttressed trees merge to form a veritable roof. Occasionally, giant trees termed as emergents push through the canopy to obtain dominant position. Light, temperature and humidity differ at different heights beneath the canopy. Two or more strata of shade loving trees find the appropriate level at which light intensity and relative humidity are best suited for their metabolic activities.
The density of growth in these hot and humid jungles is so great that over 70 tall trees can exist in one hectare. These trees may be 35-45 m high and have evolved small narrow leaves to minimise moisture loss through evaporation. The lower growing plants have larger leaves in order to maximise the benefit of the little light that manages to penetrate. At every level, leaves tend to be narrow with drain-like tips so that the monsoon water flows off efficiently. This makes it possible for the leaf to remain relatively dry and ‘breath The forests are in leaf throughout the year and hence termed evergreen. These trees shed their leaves at a slow and steady rate throughout the year, which results in continuous decay and decomposition on the forest floor which is full of leaf litter and decaying wood on which mushrooms, lichen and fungi thrive. In the relative gloom of the forest floor herbs are frequent with good representative of gingers and orchids. Climbers and lianas supported by sturdy trees, spiral towards the canopy in search of better light and fresh air..

Dry Evergreen Forests
The steep eastern slopes of the Ghats where the rainfall is less than 1,500 mm harbour dry vegetation types. However, in the relatively moist valleys and along streams, forests are evergreen and distinct in floristic composition with its counterpart on the western side. Physiognomic structure of these forests varies according to moisture level of the soil. Generally they are short forests, with a canopy seldom higher than 12 m, and with two strata.

Moist Deciduous forests
Moist deciduous forests, which are in primary nature, are found in the rainfall zone of 1,500 mm to 1,800 mm; as a transition between wet evergreen and dry deciduous forests. Large extent of these forests occurs in the Wayanad, Mysore and Karnataka plateau. Moist deciduous forests also occur within the potential area of wet evergreen formations, where the rainfall is more than 2,000 mm. Its very presence in the zone indicates their secondary nature after a possible degradation of original wet evergreen forests. On the leeward rain shadow side as well as on the coastal lowlands there are fairly long dry periods. Moist deciduous trees survive the rigours of the dry months by shedding all their leaves simultaneously to avoid loss of water through transpiration.
During the leafless period the trees carry on their reproductive cycle by spectacular flowering followed by abundant fruiting. With the pre-monsoon showers, a flush of fresh leaves appears to herald the beginning of a fresh annual cycle. A number of good timber trees are found in these open canopy forests.

Climatic Variations and Endemics

The high degree of endemism in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats can be attributed to the isolation of the Ghats from other moist formations and the prevailing drier climatic conditions in the surrounding areas. This isolation seems to have facilitated the process of speciation (formation of new biological species) leading to the phenomenon of vicariance between sister species derived from a common ancestor, one of which thrives in the evergreen forests of the Ghats and the other in the adjacent dry regions (for example Diospyros assimilis in the moist evergreen forests and D. Ebenum in dry forests).
South of Kodagu, the Western Ghats are comprised largely of high ranging hills with several enclaves which formed ideal refugia for certain species when the climatic conditions became drier . Within the Ghats, the variation in the degree of endemism is mainly determined by
a) the increase in the number of dry months from south to north and
b) the decrease in the temperature with increase in altitude. These two gradients also explain the numerous cases of vicariance encountered within the evergreen continuum. Local topographic variations add another dimension to the floristic diversity and endemism.

CASHEW APPLE: The nuts are first removed andprocessed and have a large local as well as exportmarket. The cashew apple is first smashed, and then fermented to be made into the famous liquor- the Cashew Feni.

Traditional Horticulture

The main crops of the traditional horticulture of the region are Coconut, Betel nut, Cashewnut, Banana, Jackfruit, Mango, Bhirand or Kokum, Pineapple and a variety of gourds.
The Kadambas (1000-1350 AD) and later the Governors of Vijayanagar promoted mango orchards in this region. Although crude methods of grafting were already known in India, the Jesuits helped perfect the art of mango grafting in Goa.

Seaside Vegetation & Mangroves

The marshy areas, the swampy places where the sea comes in high tide, or where a river finally empties itself into the ocean, these are the places where many kinds of fish come to spawn. Often these areas are very large; trees do not grow here, for salt water washes over them, or floods them regularly; the loose muddy sand shifts easily, and the only plants which can take hold are mangroves with their long spreading roots. The mangrove bushes prove their worth during a storm, for they break its force; in a rough sea the mangrove belt acts as a ‘buffer’ and prevents erosion and keeps the coastline in tact. The mangrove vegetation has to survive on the scorching, shifting and saline sands. Trailing stems, fleshy leaves, salt excreting glands are some of the aids for their survival. The mangroves in the slushy estuaries have special features to overcome the difficulties of their habitat. The mangrove trees and shrubs anchor themselves against the push and pull of the tides by stilt roots. Air in the marshy soil is meagre. The trees often turn their breathing roots upwards in search of fresh air. The seedlings of mangrove trees remain attached to the parent plant until they have a chance of surviving on their own. They fix themselves like darts in the marshy saline slush to avoid being washed away by the sea until they have a chance of surviving on their own. If we remove the mangroves, the coast is exposed to the danger and damage from storms and rough seas.

A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural run off and industrial effluents are some of the factors. Most of the surviving mangroves are now confined to West Bengal and the islands in the Bay of Bengal. Some of these have been responsible for the protection of certain endangered species of turtles, crocodiles and the rare fresh water sponge.

Sacred Groves and Sacred Trees

Many traditional societies all over the world revered and worshipped nature and considered certain plants and animals as sacred. India has a long tradition in protecting nature – both plants and animals considered as sacred. Forests have been the lifeline for tribals and other forest dwelling communities since ages. Communities all over India followed the practice of setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped.
The forest deities are generally of a primitive nature. Sometimes in the form of unshaped stone lumps smeared with red paint – Kalkai in the Konkan, Kenchamma in South Kanara. They are amongst the fiercest of deities; and breaking even a dead twig in a sacred grove is sure to invite the wrath of the deity. Sacred groves are to be found all over the country and abundantly along the Western Ghats and the west coast. Sacred groves ranged from 50 hectares or

A sacred grove in Goa

more to a few hundred square meters. Some sacred groves have remained in tact till recent times as in the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka. These pockets have contributed to the preservation of tropical biological diversity, for several new species of plants which have disappeared from everywhere else have been found to be preserved in the sacred groves. Sacred groves in different areas are locally known by different names. In Maharashtra, they are known as Devarai, Devarakavu in Kodagu, Kavu in Kerala and Kan in Uttara Kannada. In spite of the depletion of forests, some sacred groves still remain in-tact. The sacred groves have contributed to the conservation of nature though in a small measure. There are also sacred ponds attached to temples in many parts of India.

Severity of Threats
The major threats to this ecoregion stem from agriculture, mining, hydroelectric projects, and urban expansion. All of these overarching threats are widespread throughout the bioregion. Most of the commercially valuable trees in this ecoregion have already been harvested (IUCN 1991), and ironically, logging is not a significant threat. The paper pulp, plywood, and fiber industries and sawmills were the major consumers of timber and bamboo in the past. Mining for iron and manganese ore are now large contributors to habitat destruction.
Tree frog
Many of the valleys that supported large stands of species-rich forests have been submerged by reservoirs created by the construction of hydroelectric dams. In addition to this inundation of large areas, the secondary activities associated with dam construction, such as road building, access and encroachment into the intact forests, settlements, and fuelwood collection, have exacerbated habitat loss and degradation. The important riparian habitat is the first to be lost during these development enterprises. Many of the remaining forest patches that harbor endemic species are being converted to rubber, areca, and coffee plantations.Fuelwood and fodder collection, grazing, and collection of nonwood forest products are intensifying as rural populations grow. The grasslands of this ecoregion are highly vulnerable to fire, and frequent fires retard the growth and regeneration of shola forests. The degraded habitat is then colonized by the exotic Lantana camera and Eupatorium odorata, which inhibit regeneration of native vegetation.The prevalence of guns, used for crop protection among the people, encourages widespread poaching.

Gavali tribal woman

The West Coast south of Surat runs parallel to the great escarpment of the Western Ghats for its entire length of about 1,600 km culminating at Cape Comorin. The Sapta-Konkan approximately occupies 900 km of the entire Ghat’s coast. The straight looking coast is however quite jagged, marked by a large number of coves (small sheltered recesses in the coast) and creeks(small tidal inlets or estuaries of small streams). A large number of small streams descend from the precipitous Western Ghats and flow through the narrow coastal plain to open into the Arabian Sea.

A typical view of the Konkan, consisting of white-sand beaches and palm trees (mostly coconut and betel nut).

Although the streams are small, some of them have formed spectacular waterfalls. The Konkan coastal plain is cliffy and there are several shoals, reefs and islands in the Arabian Sea. Mumbai was a large island but parts of the sea have been reclaimed in recent years to connect it with the mainland. There is a submerged forest near Mumbai which suggests that the sea level rose on the Konkan coast not long ago. The coastal plain is dotted with flat-topped hills. Transverse flat-looped spurs come down almost to the shoreline from the edge of the plateau and dip into the sea at Karwar, the northern part of Karnataka. These appear to be abrasional platforms, now dissected by the west flowing streams.

Mahadayi River at Sonal, Goa – pic by Mohan Pai.

Although the Ghats run parallel to the coast, the width of the coastal lowland varies. At Konkan it is about 50 to 60 km wide. From Goa to Kozhikode, the width of the coastal zone is more variable than in Maharashtra.

The Sahyadris dip into the Arabian Sea at Karwar

It is about 40 km wide at the latitude of Goa and then suddenly narrows near Karwar where the Ghats almost meet the sea. To the south of 140N, the coastal zone now called Dakshina Kannada, widens once more to almost 80 km south of Mangalore. The coastal region after Kodagu, known as Malabar, is not more than 30 km wide up to the latitude of Kozhikode. From here it widens out to about 60 km near Palghat Gap.
Satodi falls, Karavali

A Coast of Maritime Legends

The maritime history of the West Coast of India predates the birth of Western Civilisation. The world’s first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2,300 BC during the Harappan civilisation near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast. Even before Alexander, there were references to India in Greek works and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantities of gold from Rome, in payment for much sought exports such as precious stones, skins, textiles, spices, sandal wood, perfumes, herbs and indigo. It was the lure of spices that attracted traders from the Middle East and Europe to the many trading ports in Sapt-Konkan.

Memorial to Vasco da Gama, Kappad

From the earliest times, the West Coast had developed a considerable shipbuilding industry, specialised in building large vessels. There are several accounts of such activities including that of Marco Polo who has described the Indian built ships. European interest in India has persisted since classical times and for very cogent reasons. Europe had much to derive from India such as spices, textiles and other Oriental products. When direct contact was lost with the fall of Rome and the rise of the Muslims, the trade was carried on through middlemen. In the late Middle Ages it increased with the prosperity of Europe. Spice trade was not solely a luxury trade – spices were needed to preserve meat through the winter (cattle had to be slaughtered in late autumn through lack of fodder in winter) and to combat the taste of decay. Wine, in the absence of ancient or modern methods of maturing, had to be ‘mulled’ with spices. This trade suffered two threats in the later Middle ages. There was the threat of Mongol and Turkish Invasion which interfered with the land route through Egypt, and there was the threat of monopoly shared between the Venetians and Egyptians. The Arabs controlled the spice trade with India since the end of the 12th century AD. During the 15th century Spain and Portugal, the then main maritime powers of Europe initiated a series of expeditions with Royal patronage. While one such voyage led to the discovery of West Indies by Columbus, another voyage brought the Portugese to India, the El Dorado.
Fisher women at Britona, Goa -pic by Mohan Pai

Political divisions

The Konkan division is an administrative sub-division of Maharashtra which comprises all the coastal districts of the state with a coastline of about 500 km. The region starts with Damanganga river in the north and extends to Terekhol river in the south.Area: 30,746 km² Population (2001 census): 24,807,357 Districts: Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Thane.

History of administrative districts in Konkan Division
There have been changes in the names of Districts and has seen also the addition of newer districts after India gained Independence in 1947 and also after the state of Maharashtra was formed.In 1961 the Konkan region became a part of the newly formed state of Maharashtra. Prior to this it was a part of Bombay province which was split to form Gujarat and Maharashtra. Creation of the Sindhudurg from the southern areas of the Ratnagiri district. The erstwhile Kolaba district was renamed as Raigad. A proposal to carve Jawhar district out of Thane District is being considered on account of its high tribal population.

Water sports – pic by Mohan Pai

Goa encompasses an area of 3,702 km² (1,430 sq mile). It lies between the latitudes 14°53’54” N and 15°40’00” N and longitudes 73°40’33” E and 74°20’13” E. Goa has a coastline of 101 km (63 miles).The Mormugao harbor on the mouth of the river Zuari is one of the best natural harbors Goa has more than forty estuarine, eight marine and about ninety riverine islands.
Idalcao Palace, Panaji

The total navigable length of Goa’s rivers is 253 km (157 miles).Most of Goa’s soil cover is made up of laterites which are rich in ferric aluminium oxides and reddish in color. Further inland and along the river banks, the soil is mostly alluvial and loamy. The soil is rich in minerals and humus, thus conducive to plantation. Some of the oldest rocks in the Indian subcontinent are found in Goa between Molem and Anmod on Goa’s border with Karnataka. The rocks are classified as Trondjemeitic Gneiss estimated to be 3,600 million years old, dated by the Rubidium isotope dating method.


Karavali is the geographical area covered by sea-coast of Karnataka. This region is also called Canara. Karavali forms the sourthen part of the Konkan Coast and comprisesthree coastal districts of Karnataka, namely Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. The length of this region, from north to south is around 300 Kms and width varies from 30 Kms to 110 Kms.

Om Beach, Gokarna

The region is characterised by swaying palms and swift brooks running towards the Arabian sea.Even though many languages are spoken like Tulu, Konkani and to some extent Kannada there are many common factors in food, culture, rituals, traditions. Rice, fish and coconut oil are commonly used ingredients in the food of the people of Karavali region. Spirit worship (Bhuta Kola), Serpent worship (Nagaradhane), Buffalo race (Kambala), Yakshagana are some of common traditional rituals followed.Major ethnic groups are the Tuluvas and konkanis.The main languages spoken in this area are Tulu and Konkani. The northern half is predominantly Konkani and the southern half is predominantly Tulu. The majority of the people follow Hinduism. Other religions practiced include Christanity and Islam. While the Tulu speakers are exclusively Hindus, Christians are almost exclusively Konkani speakers. This region has many sites of Hindu pilgrimage including Kollur, Dharmasthala, Udupi Srikrishna Math (Temple), Kateel, Murdeshwara, and Gokarna. The main occupation of the natives is farming and fishing. Fish is the staple diet of the people living in this region. Coconut is used generously in all the dishes. The region has abundant rainfall, recording average annual rainfall among the highest in India.

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