Goa’s Windows: A Heritage of Shell Work

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Window Modeling: Shells (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Goa's Sandy Beaches

Goa is best known for its scenic beaches that attract tourists. Its citizens often object to this one-dimensional presentation of their state, wanting the world to acknowledge that it carries a rich and eventful history with many diverse expressions of it still very much alive.  In fact, the local name was originally Gomantak, “owners of herds of cattle”, which indicated a pastoral lifestyle. Fishing communities existed alongside.The name is traced to its Sanskrit origin, an era far before concepts like holiday tourism. 

For 400 years harvesting oyster shells for windows was a traditional occupation for the fishing community in Goa and a thriving business for traders who exported them to
Brazil.

A few oyster shells are found on Sridao beach and Chicalim bay at the estuary of the River Zuari, but rising environmental consciousness has stopped harvesting of shells for commercial use. Shells crushed underfoot provide quality to the sand.

Window Modeling: Shells (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of an iridescent oyster shell of the kind used to embed into window frames in the days of Portuguese occupation.

The flat part of the shell is cut to fit into wooden window pane frames traditionally used in Goan homes. Window-pane oysters take about 4-5 years to mature fully when their muddy brown shells turn translucent white.

Window Modeling: Windows of Goa (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Abandoned Heritage Homes

Most communities made homes out of local materials and the nature of the people was such that there was a strong tradition of building skills in the region. When the Portuguese arrived and during their period of conquests from 1510 till 1750, Goa’s houses became copies of European architecture, combined with the ingenuity and traditional skills of the local people. Being on the coast, much of the lime used for house building was mixed with ground oyster and sea snail shells.

Window Modeling: Windows of Goa (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An abandoned house in the Saligao area shows how some later renovation involved replacing damaged shell windows with plain glass ones.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Abandoned houses with shell window facades evoke the mixed cultural heritage of Goa.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An old home, abandoned without care, is still probably owned by persons who have migrated to other countries and is a part of a never-ending title dispute.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The detail of a shell window at an abandoned house shows how small look-outs within the translucent shell window allowed a peek on to the street.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Many old houses are put on the market for sale like this one. Often the real estate agent offers renovation services.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The detailing in Goa’s old architecture as seen in this abandoned home refers to grander times of its original occupants.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

This old Goa home is well maintained by its occupants who live in Saligao alongside derelict houses.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

In some homes in Saligao local caretakers can be seen holding on to properties for their owners who have settled in Portugal.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An old abandoned house in Saligao has a cross fixed into the boundary wall.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An empty house with damaged shell windows and doors, and typical built in balcao furniture stands testament to the older, more leisurely ways of living in Goa.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Goa's Shell Windows

The use of shells in making windows is unique to Goa as it shows how historically, some techniques are replaced with local alternatives and substitutes more suitable to the local climate. Oyster shells, or nacre, were innovatively used instead of glass in windows as they were translucent and let in enough light without being transparent, contributing to the coolness of a room.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

This home shows newly glazed windows and old shell ones together. The property lies disputed by three brothers while a temporary caretaker cleans up occasionally.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The damaged shell windows and an elaborate wrought iron gate of an abandoned home in Saligao evokes ghosts and memories of better times.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Every shell window has a slightly different design at its upper portion, depending on the architect and its owners from another century.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The frontage of a home would have small ‘look out’ windows within the shell doors or windows to see who is outside.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The old weathered shell window has discoloured shells which then provide a completely different hue.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The owner of a home in Saligao removed one shell section from the window and replaced it with glazed glass. The other remains with its original shells broken

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of shells embedded between slats of an old window.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A new house has adopted the shape of an old window but has used glass and no shells. This indicates an attempt at modernisation or
an absence of craftsmen who know how to craft a shell window.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The little lookout peephole windows within a window add extra utility and charm.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A fairly elaborate old house in Saligao displays an interesting upper design.

Large ornamental windows with stucco moulding are eye catching features of Goan houses. They are decorative, ornate and expressive.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of a peep hole opening within a shell window.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An old home in Fountainhaas has been patched up by later occupants who consider occupancy more important than aesthetics.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Lived in Homes

Taking a tour of Goa’s windows is a charming journey into a part of heritage architecture, craftsmanship and refined aesthetics. The windows have gone through changing times with environmental degradation and climate change,but interesting paths are taking root for alternatives and renewals.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Hotel Lar Amorosa is a Portuguese styled hotel in Sangolda.

Boutique hoteliers revive facades while retaining usable shell windows and adding glazed ones because of the absence of skilled persons to make shell windows now.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Some old homes have been kept well and many have occupants. This home is in Saligao and can be seen from the street.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A stately mansion of old times in Saligao continues to be occupied by well-to-do householders.

Shells were plentiful, cost less and since they cut the view while letting in light, they were considered better than curtains.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An elderly occupant of an old home in
Fountainhaas hides the absent section of his shell window by hanging a cloth.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The owner of an old house sits with a friend.

Its elaborate shell door and windows are intact. She says no one makes them this way anymore.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Houses of Goa Museum established by Gerard da Cunha in Porvorim displays a window, in which the shells have not lost their iridescence.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Fontainhaas,  Panaji

Panaji, the state capital was at one time a fishing village with communities of fisher folk, basket makers, toddy tappers and artisans well-versed in indigenous building skills. Today it is a bustling city with well-preserved old public buildings and private homes. The new Hotel Mayfair in Panaji occupies an old building with existing shell windows but all else is renovated.

The new Hotel Mayfair in Panaji occupies an old building with existing shell windows but all else is renovated.

Its charm lies in the strong personality of the shell windows that make the hotel distinctive and charming.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Close up of the old shell windows at Hotel Mayfair, near Mahalakshmi temple, Dr Dada Vaidya Road in Panaji.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Viewing the light from Goa’s unique shell windows from the inside of Hotel Mayfair.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The elaborate frontage of Hotel Mayfair shows pride in the old architectural heritage of Goa.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Window in the Fontainhaas area, like the Latin Quarter of Goa’s capital, Panaji.

Window Modeling: Goan houses (2019)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Fontainhaas is distinctive for its strong Portuguese architecture and cultural influences, including its lifestyle.

Crafts Maps of India - Goa (1993-2010) by Jimmy DevasiaDastkari Haat Samiti

Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jailty
Photography: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Artisans: Kavita Singh, Swarupa Kamli,
Ground Facilitator: Ankit Kumar, Sharda
Documentary Video: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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