Quaint Mazgaon gaothan’s legacy stands tall amid modern highrises

Starting today,Newsline kicks off a fortnightly series to rediscover some of the lesser known facts of the city’s splendid heritage

Written by Alison Saldanha | Mumbai | Published:November 19, 2013 12:51 am

There is more to the sweetness of Matharpacady villagers than meets the eye — their Portuguese-influenced bungalows in Mazgaon goathan were constructed in the late 1800s using sugar and jaggery.

“Our grandparents did not seriously answer us when we asked them. Perhaps it added kick to the adhesive in the mortar,” says Dennis Baptista,65,president of the Matharpacady Residents Welfare Association.

This is one of the many lesser known factoids of the 300-year-old village that has 61 bungalows and is home to 160 families. “The mango trees from Ambawadi,which was once an adjoining part of the precinct,flowered twice a year. There are documents to show that the mangoes from this neighbourhood were transported to the court of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan,” said Pankaj Joshi,executive director of the Urban Design and Research Institute. Joshi had carried out research on the predominantly Roman Catholic East Indian neighbourhood in 1993-1995.

“Here we find the lineage of Koli fishermen,the Bhandari Toddy Tappers,and the Kundi Agri farmers who converted during the Portuguese persecution and were later employed by the East India company. Along with them,members of various Goan clubs from Goan villages made this space their home,” Joshi said. “The year of origin is not documented,but we know the well in the area has always existed; the village seems to have come into existence over 300 years ago. Still,it was only in the late 1800s that villagers constructed the pucca houses we see today,” said Baptista.

A Burma teak cross that stands at the centre of the village was erected by residents in 1875 as thanksgiving for the end of the 1870 plague. “Our ancestors put up a cross and an adjoining small chapel in the hope for protection against the plague that was brought to Bombay by migrants. Now every year,we hold a novena and a feast on the occasion of the Catholic Feast of the Holy Cross in May,” said Tyronne Concescio,68,a resident.

Pre-dating the cross,a 70-ft spring well near the Brahmin Chawl portion of Matharpacady on the east side is said to be thriving even today. “Recently,the civic body emptied the well to clean it out but within a few days,it was filled to the brim again,” Concescio said.

Nestled in the heart of Mazgaon atop an old hillock,Matharpacady was home to the city’s first Indian mayor Dr M U Mascarenhas. The Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy Mansion,which now functions as the Sales Tax office,was built adjacent to the village for the country’s first Indian Baron. “At first,the area was home to the wealthy and famous of Bombay. The village’s history is even richer than precincts like Khotachiwadi. However,this declined as the who’s who moved to other parts of south Mumbai,” Joshi said.

The name ‘Matharpacady’ stems from the Sanskrit word ‘Mathara’ which means ‘wise one’,he said. “This is what the Portuguese called their arbitrators who were known as ‘vereodores’. In return for their services to the Portuguese government,they were given parcels of land; Matharpacady was one such land given to an arbitrator in the 1820s.” Other stories suggest that it either stems from the Marathi meaning of the words Mathar and Pakkadi that are used to describe a ‘cluster of dwellings on the forehead (hillock)’,or the Portuguese meaning of ‘oart’ meaning “garden of orchards”.

Along with its unique ambience best experienced during Christmas,Matharpacady has an active residents’ association fighting hard to salvage one of the few remnants of Old Bombay. “The first house to undergo redevelopment belonged to freedom fighter Joseph Baptista or Papa Baptista in the late ’60s. In the last 10 years,redevelopment has greatly impacted the village. Earlier,we had 82 bungalows. We have managed to retain 61 mostly because the residents want to save the neighbourhood. We want the government to see the potential for heritage tourism here,” said Baptista.

alison.saldanha@expressindia.com

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