‘Heavenly Islands of Goa’ review: An overview of the state’s biodiversity and heritage

Did you know Goa hosts 482 of the total 1,360 endemic and migratory bird species found in India? Thanks to the colony of mangroves that has created an ideal and isolated habitat for birds they’ve made Goa their home. These mangroves in the Zuari and Mandovi rivers have in turn given rise to the Riverine and Estuarine islands which are a distinctive feature of the Goan landscape. 

It will amaze many Goans to know that there once existed a Fort of Naroa, just across the road from Holy Spirit Church, very close to the Naroa-Narve ferry crossing. Today, just a high masonry wall of this fort remains.

“It might also be interesting to know that Estevao Island, one of the bigger inland islands of Goa is also known as the ‘Island of the Dead’. It has to do with the battle between the Adilshahi forces and the Portuguese, when the latter having massacred most of the soldiers from the Adilshahi army left their bodies to rot all over the slopes of the island hillock.” This and much more interesting trivia and anecdotes are peppered in the latest book, Heavenly Islands of Goa, penned by P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, Governor of Goa. 

The book was launched on April 20 and thereafter the next day, five more books written by him were launched, thereby taking the total number of books he’s written so far, to over 220. As all of these books that were launched pertained to Goa’s historical past, its natural heritage and abundance, the launch marked an important milestone at the Raj Bhavan in the state. The book, Heavenly Islands of Goa, was launched at the hands of Sri Sri Vidhushekhara Bharati Sannidhanam. 

In the book, Pillai, the author, talks about the island in great detail, beginning with the etymology of its name to its heritage, caves and forts, temples and churches, biodiversity, tourist attractions, accessibility and testimonials of those who’ve been there. 

It has high-resolution images of the Governor’s visits to most of these islands, but to those which he could not personally visit “due to time constraints” the governor “ensured that the pictures of the islands were captured by the Raj Bhavan photographer and writing material gathered from books and experts. 

The book, in the form of a monograph, aims towards facilitating and highlighting the tourism potential of the state with regard to its lesser-known facets. 

“Through this, the governor has tried to get a closer look at the nine small and big islands in Goa and understand their flora, fauna as well as socio-cultural diversity. This will make readers want to explore the lesser-known Goa,” writes Pramod Sawant, Chief Minister of Goa in the foreword. 

About a year ago, Pillai announced that he would publish a trilogy related to Goa’s natural heritage, Bonsai (art of potted trees), and its beautiful islands. The first two aspects culminated in two books viz, Heritage Trees of Goa and Discovery of Vaman Vriksha Kala, respectively, the third aspect on the beautiful islands of the state got covered in his latest book. 

With this, the trilogy that the governor set to complete has been achieved. His latest book on islands “contains ten islands, of which four are big ones while the rest are small in size. All the islands have now been connected by modern-day bridges except a coupe that can only be accessed by ferry. One of them is Divar. Interestingly, the Diwadkars have openly declared that they do not want a bridge and that way they have so far managed to keep tourists at bay. A remarkable feature of most of these islands is the existence of a dense mangrove ecosystem that envelops them. 

Speaking about the book to THE WEEK at the Raj Bhavan in Goa, Pillai said, “Goa is known for its sand and sea but not so much for its vast treasure of natural heritage. The role of rivers and islands in Goa in their present topographical conditions, with the challenges they face, calls for comprehensive research, a thorough anthropological study and detailed biodiversity documentation. This book addresses the unique island settlements, distinctive biodiversity and their habitats and the amazing traditional and cultural practices on these inland islands.” 

On April 21, four more books penned by the Governor, were launched at Raj Bhavan in the backdrop of a symposium on the traditional trees of India that took place at the Raj Bhavan. The books titled, Icons of My LiteratureCuncolim (Based on the Cuncolim revolt), Kaavi Art (Based on the ancient Goan art form), Vikshit Bharat, and Canacona, (about his experience at Canacona Taluka) were launched at the hands of Dr Kumud Sharma, vice president, National Sahitya Academi, New Delhi. 

In attendance at this book launch were distinguished guests – Professor Harilal Menon, vice-chancellor, Goa University, C. Achalender Reddy, chairman, National Biodiversity Authority, Paipra Radhakrishnan, ex-secretary, Kerala Sahitya Academi and others who presented research papers on trees of India from the ancient to the modern. 

From time immemorial, our motherland expounded that plants are sentient beings, though their faculties are dormant, dull and stupefied. The Rig Veda and Atharva Veda note consciousness in plants. 

Speaking on the subject of the symposium, ‘Traditional trees of India,’ the governor said, “After I took charge as governor in July 2021, I had to visit Partagal Mutt in Canacona taluka. There I saw this 1,000-years old Banyan tree. It was then that I decided that one day I would return to Partagal Mutt to worship this great Banyan tree.”

“About a year later, I began the Saimik Daiz Yatra (journey to learn about heritage trees of Goa) and that’s when I learnt about 30 more heritage trees all of which were between 100 and 500 years, spread out over the length and breadth of Goa. Some amazing trees I discovered were ‘Shidam,’ ‘Satvin,’ ‘Baobab,’ and more. These trees constitute an integral part of people’s socio-cultural association with nature and environment,” he said.

His yatra resulted in the writing and publication of Heritage Trees of Goa which was released by the governor of West Bengal last year.