Central Goa culture
The Goan attitude is best summed up by the word susegad, which means a laid back approach to life, enjoying it to the full. It comes from the original Portuguese Socegado, literally 'quiet'. No one in Goa ever seems in too much of a hurry, and the custom of an afternoon siesta, inherited from the Portuguese, is still much in evidence.
Goans are generally open and friendly people, and are well used to the tourists who have been pitching up on their beaches since followers of the hippy trail discovered them in the Sixties. However, just because the Goans seem so tolerant of western ways, it doesn't mean visitors should ignore local customs.
Goans, especially the women, do not go in for revealing too much flesh on the beach, so although normal swimwear is fine, nudity and topless bathing are off bounds. The dress code for visiting towns and cities means dressing reasonably conservatively (beachwear is out of place, as are revealing clothes for women or bare chests for men), and a trip to a Hindu temple requires covering both shoulders and legs.
Kissing and embracing in public are not normal by Goan standards, since this is regarded as part of sex. Tipping is usual, although you're not expected to give large amounts, and people like taxi drivers and staff at cheaper hotels and restaurants often don't expect anything - although it will always be appreciated. Giving money to the disabled (there is no social security support in India) is also common.
While some parts of India have struggled with the problem of inter-faith strife over recent years, Goa is known for its religious tolerance and freedom of worship.
More than four centuries of Portuguese rule has left Goa with a long tradition of Roman Catholicism, and even today around 30% of the people are Christians. The Portuguese flooded Goa with missionaries after their arrival, and from 1560 to 1812 the Inquisition persecuted Hindus, Muslims, Jews and non-Catholic Christians throughout the region. Hindus were publicly burned at the stake in ceremonies known as auto da fé ('act of faith') in the square outside the cathedral in Old Goa.
Christianity is now strongest in the central districts of Salcete, Mormugao, Tiswadi and Bardez, where the might of the Portuguese army was felt most fiercely. However, by the time the Portuguese reached the New Conquests territories of Ponda, Bicholim, Pernem, Satari, Sanguem, Quepem and Canacona in the 18th century, their power was declining, and the people were allowed more freedom of worship.
Consequently, Hinduism is the predominant religion in these more outlying areas, accounting for 65% of all Goans. Muslims and other religions make up the remaining 5%, but all are left to practice their faith in peace, with Christians and Hindus even sharing each others' places of worship and festivals in some instances.
The church gables and dilapidated villas that punctuate the Goan landscape are a reminder of its strong links with Portugal. Goa was under Portuguese rule from 1510-1961, and it is this heritage, plus its remoteness in being cut off from the rest of India by mountains and a vast alluvial plain, that has given the state its unique character.
Goa's history stretches back to the third century BC, when it was part of the powerful Mauryan empire. A succession of dynasties then came and went before Goa fell to the Muslim Sultanate of Delhi in 1312. Harihara I of the Vijayanagar empire wrested control in 1370, making his capital at Hampi (one of the region's top sights), and there were two following dynasties before the arrival of the Portuguese.
With the Ottoman Turks having closed off the traditional land routes for the European spice trade, the Portuguese established Goa as a trading colony, making their capital first at Velha Goa (Old Goa) and then moving it to Panjim in 1843. Portugal prized its Indian enclave, encouraging its citizens to settle there and marry locals, but hordes of Goans in fact fled to neighbouring states to escape forcible conversion to Christianity.
Even after the British Raj ceded its Indian territories in 1947 and the country became independent, Portugal refused to let go of Goa. The Indian army eventually invaded in 1961 and after only a day's unrest, Goa became a centrally administered Union territory, being elevated to India's twenty-fifth state in 1987. India's takeover of Goa is still commemorated yearly on 19 December, Liberation Day.
Goa is India's smallest state by area and fourth smallest by population, being home to 1,347,688 people. But despite its size, it is also India's richest state with a GDP per capita two and a half times that of the rest of the country, and one of its fastest growth rates. Perhaps surprisingly for such an apparently rural region, nearly half the population lives in urban areas.
The people are mostly Aryan Marathas, and are closely related to the Maratha people of the neighbouring Sawantvadi region. This was a former princely state and is often referred to as Goa's sister-region. The other two major ethnic groups are Goud Saraswat Brahmins from Bengal and Christians.
The caste system is still very much in operation in Goa, both among Hindus and Christians, although the divisions are not as rigidly enforced as in some other Indian states. Goans are born into one of four varna, equating to a social class, and this will affect what kind of job they can do, where they can live and whom they can marry. At the very bottom come those who do 'polluting' jobs associated with dirt or death, formerly known as Untouchables but now called Harijans.
The official language of Goa is Konkani, although Marathi is also widely spoken, as is Hindi, India's national language. English acts as a second language for Goans, and is pretty much understood everywhere, especially in tourist areas.