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The Sancoale Non-Dispute – By Radharao Gracias
Thursday - Nov 24, 2022
The Sancoale Non-Dispute – By Radharao Gracias
Villages in Goa were formed as caste-based clans moved in, and settled down, dividing the land among themselves, retaining the surplus in common ownership. The original settlers came to be called Gaonkars. Records show, that Sancoale village was settled by Gaud Saraswats who were divided into fourteen vangors. Other residents were either gawdas or shudras. As there was no concept of Hinduism as a collective faith, the Portuguese called the local believers Konkne after the Konkan. The temples belonged to the Saraswats, into which shudras and gawdas had no entry. No such thing as a Hindu temple existed.
The Saraswats followed Advaita Vedanta of Adi Shankara referred to as Shaivism (adve). The arrival of Madhav Acharya in the thirteenth century created a division among the Saraswats, a majority of whom renounced their old faith of Shaivism and embraced the new faith of Dvaita Vedanta called Vaishnavism (ube).
It is only the Saraswats of Cortalim, Quelosim and Divar who stuck to the original beliefs. The other Saraswats converted to the new faith and those who refused migrated, many of them to Karnataka where they set up a mutt at Chitrapur. This schism has lasted ever since, with the Shaivites and Vaishnavites refusing to interact with each other; however, the relations thawed in the twentieth century, though differences have remained. It was something akin to the conversion of a large group of Catholics to Protestantism in the sixteenth century, with similar fallout.
 It was a Vaishnavite Saraswat, Mhal Poi from Verna along with Thimaya Nayak who convinced the Portuguese to take over Goa and thus precipitate another religious crisis. The arrival of the Portuguese had a similar but deadlier effect on the Saraswats as did the arrival of Madhav Acharya. Once again, the Saraswats were divided, many as earlier, chose to embrace the faith brought by the newcomers; others chose to flee with their deities to lands beyond Portuguese control. The Saraswats and non-Saraswats who embraced the Catholic faith had no more use for a temple; thus, encouraged by the missionaries, they built a church for themselves dedicated to Our Lady of Health in 1606. This church was destroyed by fire in 1834 and a chapel having a similar invocation in the same village, was elevated to the rank of a church. The old Sancoale church, reduced to ruins with only the façade standing has been declared Protected Monument by the Department of Archives and Archaeology Goa. A small chapel behind the façade still serves the local religious needs.
The other Saraswats took their deities, Shri Shantadurga and Shri Laxmi Narayana, moved to Veling in Ponda and installed their old idols in the new temples erected by them; their descendants continue to be mahajans till today, with no rights whatsoever to the shudras and gawdas, as in the past.
The land where the frontispiece of the ruined church stands, is now sought to be made the centrepiece of a controversy by known communal elements demanding a temple be constructed in its place, on the specious claim that it has been built at the site of an old Hindu temple.
Is that really so? Let us examine. In answer to a question in the Legislative Assembly raised by MLAs Vijai Sardessai and Altone D’Costa on the July 21, the CM has unequivocally stated “List of religious/heritage sites destroyed by the Portuguese is not available with Archaeology Department.” If a vehemently Hindutva government says so, how then do we conclude that the church was built in place of a temple? Besides, can a protected monument be demolished at all, even if built on the site of a temple?
The right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in a court is called a locus standi. It is undisputed that temples in Sancoale had belonged to the Saraswats, so rights if any to the temple, however tenuous, rest with them. But the Saraswats have sensibly raised no claim to demolish the church to build a temple. Evidence shows that along with a large section of the Saraswats all the shudras and gawdas of the village willingly embraced the Catholic faith; their descendants are now quite comfortable with that decision. So today there is no non-Catholic shudra or gawda who can have a claim to any demolished temple. Besides, the devotion is not to the land but to the deities, which lie in the reconstructed temples at Veling. The mahajans of the temples at Veling cannot back the false claim of the non-Saraswats, because if they do so, then the same elements may next claim the Veling temples, on the same logic!
But mere locus is not sufficient; the claim must be backed by ownership. From all records the land is owned by the Church. No dispute on this aspect has ever been raised. Any fresh claim now would be barred by the law of limitation, as action whether under Portuguese or Indian law has to be brought up, not later than 30 years after the cause of action has accrued.
And does THE PLACES OF WORSHIP (SPECIAL PROVISIONS) ACT, 1991 not expressly prohibit conversion of any place of worship and provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto?
All those raking up the issue come squarely within the directions issued last month by Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy of the Supreme Court. The bench directed the police to ensure that “immediately as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as Sections 153-A, 153-B, 295-A and 505 of the IPC suo mottu action will be taken to register cases. We make it clear that any hesitation to act in accordance with these directions will be viewed as contempt of this Court and appropriate action will be taken against the erring officers”. Will the Goa Police take note?

Comments (1)
Thursday - Nov 24, 2022
As I stated in another article, this temple rebuilding propaganda isn't for the benefit of Goans (almost all the natives of those villages in the Velhas Conquistas became Catholics) but for ghantti poseurs. Also, the original chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Health in Sancoale was built in 1560.
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