The Brahmin and Chardo manor house

The Brahmin and Chardo manor house

Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India


In the area of civil architecture with erudite roots, scattered throughout Goa's territory, even in the smallest interior villages, are luxurious country houses with handsome verandas surrounded by exuberant palm groves and verdant fields.

Most of these were built during a later period, from the second half of the 18th century through the 19th century, corresponding to a house model promoted by Brahmin and Chardo families. Almost all the large palaces put up by Portuguese nobles disappeared with Portugal's economic decline in the Orient; the Archbishop's Palace is today an isolated case in the panorama of Goa's civil architecture heritage. It must be emphasised, however, that while this period does correspond to a time of Portuguese economic decline, it was also a time of hegemony and consolidation, both economic and social, for the Goan upper classes.

As it evolved, this Goan Brahmin-Chardo house model gradually blended the spatial structures of Hindu tradition with the values of Portuguese architectural culture. The two- story manor house model promoted by major Portuguese noble families in the 16th and 17th centuries was gradually abandoned in favour of buildings with only one floor arranged around a patio, demonstrating a return to the old canons of Hindu tradition. The main façade (and sequence of corresponding rooms) with a tendency to develop lengthwise was adopted, marked by broad full-length verandas which became the dominant feature. During this gradual adjustment to the climate and to a culture in which the house played a greater role in social life, these large verandas functioned as the social area, besides providing fresh air and protection against the sun.

The main façades were a privileged show element and therefore concentrated all the adornment efforts, with the Indian tradition of fabricating rigid plaster work giving way to the most varied forms. The late-baroque decorative grammar prevailed, but with formal variations of clearly Indian exoticism introduced little by little.

The structure of rooms linked to the veranda was connected to a group of core spaces, based clearly on Hindu tradition, which faced inward and were arranged around a patio, organising the house's most intimate and domestic area.

This patio, which in the 17th and 18th centuries often appears as a semi-open space at the back of the house, tended to close over the course of the 19th century, becoming a central element which generated the interior arrangements. They rarely took the initial rag angan form of the traditional Hindu home, though in certain cases such as the Miranda de Revora or Loyola houses, its traditional form with columns was approximated. One of the features of this space in Indian culture was the surrounding gallery, the chouki. In the Miranda de Revora house this colonnade is clearly present, distancing itself slightly from the Hindu traditional model only by the introduction of a low seating wall which joins the column bases.

In any case, the patio is always maintained as the interior domestic hub, generating around it a number of rooms and services supporting the household, arranged as an independent unit vis-à-vis the body of the main façade, whose large rooms open onto the representative veranda, in turn an autonomous second architectural unity. From the entrance, a narrow hallway links the porch to the dining room, the former vasary of the Hindu house, establishing an axis connecting these two bodies. The vasary comprised a long narrow room; it ended up functioning as a transitional element between the living spaces along the main façade and the house's private area in back and around the patio.

But the most characteristic element of the Brahmin and Chardo house model is doubtless the entrance porch or balcony, as it is called in Goa. This Goan 'balcony' is of Portuguese origin and gained significance and importance, spreading to the middle and petty bourgeoisie and becoming a singular and notable element of all Goan architecture.

It is historically documented that the palaces of the viceroys and archbishops had porches with large staircases. For example, the palace-fortress preserved until the 19th century a porch with large columns. The Archbishop's Palace of Goa, next to the Cathedral, still has two porches that give access to the main floor, one connecting to the palace's chapel, the other to the antechamber and audience hall. The formal square structure topped by a steeply- sloping hip roof in the scissor-truss tradition, along with the balcony projecting from the exterior form, here appear in an ultimate evocation with clearly aristocratic connotations.

While these 16th and 17th century porches do fulfil a social function, providing a stage for the sumptuous rituals developed by the Portuguese in India, the Goan balcony in turn acquired special relevance by associating those symbolic values to a room function, whereby it was used as an antechamber that protected inner privacy. In a society marked by concerns over purity of blood and with a certain phobia regarding caste contact, the balcony, as a semiexterior space, became an important meeting place while still preserving the intimacy and purity of the house's interior.

Introduced (in typological terms) by the Portuguese, the Goan balcony eventually played a significant role in ensuring a more socially oriented Goan house. As a new element not codified by Hindu tradition, it served to develop new contacts between castes, becoming an innovative humanist element that fostered social relations between different social strata.