A village in the south-eastern hinterland of Goa was completely submerged under water when the state’s first dam was constructed in 1986. Every year, in the month of May, the water recedes to reveal its remnants. During this time, the original inhabitants of the village, now settled elsewhere, come together to celebrate their home and their places of worship. This is their story.
By Supriya Vohra
The original version of this story was published in the BBC on 9th June 2019
To the ignorant eye, entering Curdi is like walking into a wasteland. Cracked earth, stumps of trees, eroded remnants of houses and religious structures, broken remains of household items, wells, water canals in ruins, and miles of barren ground criss-crossing with water bodies.
“When you bring the original settler here, this places is brimming with life,” says Venisha Fernandes, a sociologist based in Goa. “When they start pointing at places, remembering what structures represented, they recreate the place,” she tells me over the phone.
Curdi (Kurdi) was once a thriving village. Located in the hinterland, in the south-eastern part of Goa, it was nestled between two hills near the Western Ghats, with the Salaulim river, a tributary of the Zuari, one of the major rivers of Goa, running through it.
It had approximately 20 wards, with a population of about 3000, making it a large village. The land was fertile, most of the village folk lived off it, tilling paddy fields surrounded by coconut, cashew, mango and jackfruit trees. Hindus, Muslims and Christians lived together. There was a main temple, several smaller temples, a chapel, and a dargah. They had a primary health centre, a primary school, and a large meeting point. It was also the birthplace of the renowned classical vocalist and Padma Bhushan recipient Mogubai Kurdikar.
The village also holds historical significance. A 2.5 metre tall figure of Mother Goddess, dated 5th century BC, a 16 tonne megalithic image, was found in the village. An ancient Hindu temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva), archaeologically dated to the 10th–11th century of the Kadamba period
formed an important part of the region’s history.
In the late 1960s, a few years after Goa was liberated from the Portuguese in 1961, and became a Union Territory of India before receiving statehood in 1987, the state’s first chief minister Dayanand Bandodkar visited Curdi. He wanted to inform the people about the construction of the state’s first
75-year-old Gajanan Kurdikar has vivid memories of the meeting. “I was around 15 at the time. Bandodkar ji gathered all of us around the local temple. He told us about the proposed dam, and how it will benefit all of south Goa. He was seeking our agreement on the project. He told us it will
drown our village, but our sacrifice will be for the greater good. He told us we will be shifted to other villages, and will be given land and compensation. I remember him putting his hand on my shoulder, and reassuring me that we will all be fine.”
The project was ambitious. Built on the banks of the Salaulim river, it was called the Salaulim Irrigation Project. It was a state project, conducted by the Water Resources Department, and proposed to provide water for drinking, irrigation and industrial purposes to most of South Goa.
The Salaulim dam was built to be a composite earth-cum-masonry dam of 42.7 metres height with a water spread area of 24 square kilometres, covering the entire village of Curdi. It was planned to provide an irrigation potential of
approximately 14,000 hectares, and 400 MLD of water per day to the citizens.
Curdi was chosen because of its ideal location. “A dam needs to be near a river, preferably between two hills with good rainfall and a good catchment area,” says Mr. Dattaprasad Borkar. Mr. Borkar is the former chief engineer of south Goa’s Public Works Department. At the time of the construction of the dam, he was an engineering student involved in the project.
According to the local newspaper archives, the foundation stone of the dam was laid in 1973, by VV Giri, the then President of India, and construction began in 1975.
Gurucharan Kurdikar was ten years old when his family shifted in 1986. The 42 year-old recalls, “I faintly remember my parents very hurriedly putting everything in a pick-up truck. I was also packed up in the truck, along with my brother and grandmother. My parents followed us on their moped.”
His mother, Mamta Kurdikar remembers it more clearly. “We left in 1986, I think we were the last few families left. It rained heavily the night before, and the water from the fields started entering our house. We had to leave immediately. I couldn’t even take my flour mill with me,” she says.
Although the construction of the project took several years to finish (early 2000s), the impoundment was built in the early 80s. By 1986, the village was completely submerged, and till date it remains under water for about 11 months.
The megalithic structure of Mother Goddess was relocated, and the ancient Hindu temple of Mahadev was also relocated at a site about 17 km away from the village. The relocation was carried out by the Archeological Survey of India, done by dismantling of the original temple and then reassembling it at the new location after methodically numbering each stone, over a period of 11 years.
The inhabitants, comprising of over 600 families were rehabilitated to the nearby villages of Valkinim and Vaddem. They were given 400 square metres of land for the house, 10,000 square metres of agricultural land, a loan of INR 13,000 along with wood and cement at subsidised rates.
However, it took them almost five years to build their houses. “When we came to the new village we had absolutely nothing,” recalls Inacio Rodrigues, 50. His was amongst the first few families to shift, in 1982. They had to stay in makeshift homes till they could build their own home from scratch.
Ironically, the water from the dam never reached the villages of Valkinim and Vaddem.
“The tap system did not come through to all villages of south Goa as promised,” says Gajanan Kurdikar. “So we do not get our drinking water from the dam. Our local administration (panchayat) drilled borewells, but they went bust a few years ago,” he said. The village then fixed pumps into two large wells in the village. It meets their drinking water needs. However, in the months of April and May this year, the wells have been running dry, and they get one hour worth of water every day. They have to depend on government tankers for their drinking water needs.
The water they receive for irrigation is also insufficient, according to the village folk. They grow paddy and sugarcane, both water guzzling crops, along with coconut, cashew, banana and betel trees. “Things get better in the
rains but we still need more efficient pump system for irrigation,” commented Mr. Kurdikar.
When the water recedes during the month of May, the original inhabitants visit their lost homeland, Curdi. There is an annual Chapel feast on the fourth Sunday of May. Since 2015, there has been an annual temple feast on the third Sunday of May. Starting from a strength of 30 in 2015, the feast witnessed 7000 people this year. Every year, people throng to pay their respects at the dargah.
Apart from the inhabitants, tourists have also started visiting
the place, to get a better understanding of the place and its history.
“Today it is very easy for us to pack up our bags and move,” says Venisha. “But for the people of Curdi, their identity was based on their land. They were closely and directly connected with it. That is perhaps why they remember it keenly, and keep coming back to it.”
Ms. Fernandes did her Masters dissertation on the subject “Remembering the past, place and memory after displacement” based on the incident of Curdi. Her father, originally from the village, left when he was 16. The dissertation went on to inspire the creation of a documentary film in 2016 called “Remembering Curdi” by filmmaker Saumyananda Sahi and produced by the Films Division of India.