Arabó is a tiny ward of the village of Dhargal on River Chapora in north Goa. The name, a Goanized form referring to “Arab,” furnishes a clue to its past. Arab merchants sailed here in their dhows in mediæval times trading goods with the locals. It is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of place, a sleepy outlier not yet (thankfully!) listed on any map or travel brochure.
Arabó piques contemporary interest on at least two counts. One is the subject of this post – the Desai House, unique in the state. Arabó is also the birthplace of the great music composer, the late N. Datta (Datta Naik), whose collaboration with the poet Sahir Ludhianvi gave us many enduring film melodies (see the end of this post).
The Desais are among the earliest Gaud Saraswat Brahmin families of Goa, and were for some time feudatories to the Bhonsales of Sawantwadi. The Desai House presents an incongruous sight with its striking exterior of exposed laterite and turrets on either flank. The original house belonged to a Muslim merchant who sold it to the Desais. The structure seen today dates back to around 1890 when the Desais gave the house a makeover.
These photographs were taken over a span of several years. During the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi in 2007, I was invited by the Desais for a private tour of their home.
Notice the holes punched in the laterite to accommodate gun barrels.
The interior layout hews to a traditional Goan Hindu design with its characteristic Rajangan (quadrangle).
To this day the Desais accord space and reverence to the Islamic flagpole left behind by the earlier Muslim owner. Every year on the occasion of the Moharram festival, the local Muslims are guests of the Desai family.
This sketch, reproduced in Ethnography of Goa, Daman and Diu by A.B. de Bragança Pereira (Penguin Group, 2008), depicts the original house. The tree is still there (see first image above).