Azulejos in Goa
Text and Images by Sneh Hazra, CLLB Batch of 2016
The state of Goa in India was a Portuguese colony for over four hundred years. Along with spices and potatoes the Portuguese brought with them a craft which is still a very important part of Goa’s architecture be it on the breathtaking monuments or the recent residential and office complexes. It is the craft of Azulejos. No architectural creation in Goa is complete without a hint of Azul(as they fondly call it).Azulejos is found on the interior or exterior of churches, ordinary houses, schools, restaurants, the central library, the public parks, sometimes at random corners of the street and at times, kilometres at a stretch in Taleigão. The most common sight of Azulejos is the name plates outside almost every Goan home. Each home has its customised nameplate done in their choice of colour and design.Such is the love for it that even the most humble of homes will have a two tile Azul nameplate outside them. During the Portuguese era the wealthy would afford to have Azulejos nameplates. Even today Azulejos is a symbol of affluence. Azulejos is a craft of hand painting tiles to create murals and intricate wall ornamentations.It involves the technique of ‘on glaze painting’, on an opaque white glaze background. Traditionally the colours used in Azulejos were yellow,green ,blue and white.This tradition later evolved into thematic and legendary depiction in two colours, blue and white. The brush strokes formed when the tiles are pained by hand are visible even after firing but it is taken as a beauty than as a flaw by the artist and customer alike as it is a subtle way which communicates about the anonymous artist and the tools used. Also though this craft is two dimensional but this style of painting on the tiles shows depth and layers and the big murals on the walls is usually done in perspective.The elaborate water flow patterns(also a very Portuguese element), a very common motif is probably inspired from sea, this design fits well into the Goan landscape as both countries rest by the Sea.
The craft of Azulejos is originally from the Arab which spread to Spain during the Moorish occupation and later in the 15th century, Lisbon the capital of Portugal became a major centre for practicing Azulejos.They were not only used as an ornamental art form but also had a temperature regulation effect in homes. Many Azulejos chronicle major historical and cultural aspects of the Portuguese.Like the Braganza hall at Panaji gloriously depicts Vasco De gama’s voyage to India. The Portuguese brought along with them these tiles initially to decorate their homes, religious places and institutions in Goa. They are installed on walls,floors and even ceilings. The Azulejos practiced in Arab and Moorish occupied Spain was devoid of representation of any living form in the craft,The motifs used were simply repetitive forms with a combination of geometric and organic patterns,examples of which can been seen at the Augustine complex,Velha Goa. When Azulejos came into practice in Portugal. They used it for an entirely new form of depiction; depicting their courageous voyages , mythological stories and scenes from the bible.From a very geometric,repetitive carpet like ornamentation on the walls it became a vivid imagery that spoke of courageous voyages,scenes from the bible and other stories.Which can been seen at The Braganza hall,Panjim and the Father Agnelo church, reconciliation chapel in Pilar. Azulejos has developed itself to match the contemporary context.The more contemporary form of Azul can be seen on the streets of Taleigão where the sidewalks, the village roundabout and the footpath leading all the way upto the village church is lined by ‘hand painted’ Azulejos.
As Azul became popular, it’s patronage did not remain limited to the Goan catholics, The Hindu population of Goa too started adoring it , thus leading to newer subject matters of depiction,at times Hindu Gods and Goddesses. There is a clear distinction between the preferences of patterns and colours by the two communities harmoniously coexisting in Goa.The Hindus in Goa prefer more of ornamental designs and Colour schemes which are distinctly different from the traditional colour schemes preferred by catholics. The Goan catholics and Portuguese prefer the combination of blue and white as they relate to the tiles in the old Portuguese homes which were in a similar colour scheme.They also prefer the traditional floral and water flow designs for their name plates and for decoration panels outside their homes. The craft is customised for it’s users.till date the craft practice involves the customer approaching an artists studio, discussing the possibilities of colour, patterns and sizes and getting a wall ornamentation that is a reflection of their individuality. Azulejos unlike most crafts has constantly reinvented itself to keep in context to the changing times,thus never losing its popularity. So have the artists practicing Azulejos, where they have evolved techniques that also allow mass production of these hand painted tiles with constant experimentation with motifs mediums, glazes and firing techniques yet never losing out on the essence of the craft,hence, ensuring that the craft remains a favourite throughout.
The ruins of Augustine complex
Use of Azul in public spaces
Hindu and Catholic patronage of Azul
The colour schemes and motifs preferred by the two communities differ, thus contemporary Azul artists accommodate the preferences and likings of the both the communities without losing out on the essence of the craft.
Source: Sneh Hazra, CLLB alumna and winner of the The Best Project award, spent much time touring the city of Goa and visiting the local Azulejos artists resulting in a beautiful documentation of the craft much celebrated in Goa.