The Goud Saraswat Brahmins who converted to Catholicism

My parents and my brothers at my Christening. Sacred Heart Church, Santa Cruz, Bombay. 1971

Image and Narrative contributed by Wanda Naomi Rau, Mumbai

This was an image taken at my christening at the Sacred Heart Church in Santa Cruz, Bombay (now Mumbai). My father had invited 100 people to celebrate that I, a girl was born nine years after two boys. My brothers even got the day off school.

It was tradition in Goa to have at least one son carry the family name and another follow priesthood. My father José Luis Alvaro Remedios, from Saligao, Goa was to become a priest, since his older brother Hubert had moved to Bombay to pursue his Masters at St Xavier’s College. Hubert, unfortunately died of Typhoid around the 1940’s and my father had to leave the Seminary. However, The Seminary takes you through a tough academic route which covers both main stream subjects and theological studies. Perhaps his significant learning was that of Latin, which I regret I did not learn from my Father. However I think my love for history, academia and music is inextricably linked to my father’s genes.

My father moved to Bombay to look for a job. He began working with Reserve Bank of India, and held the job for 38 odd years until he retired as the Asst. Financial Controller. He met my mum, Maria Aida Bertila Silveira from St. Mathias, Goa, through a formal proposal. My Mum was 30 years old and he was 35 when they got married. They lived in Byculla for the early years and then moved to the Reserve Bank Quarters in Santa Cruz. My Mum was a home maker and raised two boys my brothers, Hubert and Ralph, and a girl, me.

My father’s best kept secret was that he was keenly interested in our own family’s past and actively pursued to construct a family tree for almost 25 years. His research was so thorough that it would have certainly gained him an M.Phil in Historical & Contextual Studies, even though everything is documented in a narrative fashion. He traced the history of our family to 1500s and found that we belonged to a community called the Goud Saraswat Brahmins; and had the family name ‘Shenoy’. It is between the 1500s-1700s that from ‘Shenoy’ the family changed its last name to ‘Tavora’ and from ‘Tavora’ they converted to Catholicism with the Portuguese last name Remedios during Portuguese India reign. My parents too were born during the Portuguese rule. Their generation and the generation that follows; of my relatives, all live in Goa, apart from the few who moved to Lisbon, Portugal. They speak impeccable Portuguese, and can be more Portuguese than Goan at times, which is amusing.

During a short posting to Delhi, my father decided to change our surname from Remedios to Rau because he was exasperated that everyone there called us either Ramdas, Ramdeo or Ramlal. He also felt that having an Indian last name would stand us in good stead in a Hindutva nation. So while I was born Wanda Noemia Remedios, he changed it to Wanda Naomi Rau. Naomi is the English name for Noemia; which is Portuguese.

BECOME A PATRON : Work on Indian Memory Project takes time, money and hard work to produce. But it is necessary work because parallel views on our histories matter. If you like the project, admire it, and benefit from its knowledge, please consider awarding us an honorarium to make the future of this project robust and assured. You can support Indian Memory Project for as little as Rs. 500 or more


This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Viyen Azavedo

    Great research done by your father. I am a catholic Brahmin from Benaulim Goa, my Surname is Azavedo,I am interested to know what was my surname before my ancestors were converted.

  2. Cyri

    Interesting! Thank you for documenting this!

  3. Bosco Sequeira

    My dad was born in Goa. He hailed from a small hamlet called Madel ,oillo vaddo ,Thivim which is in Bardez taluka. I too was trying to just out of curiosity find the caste I belonged to.I am a Sequeira. My parents never loved discussing caste as we Christians did not believe in this concept neither do I. One of my acquaintances from Mangalore told me that I belonged to the Brahmin caste. I just shrugged him of.Could it be really true?

  4. Gilbert Anthony Lawrence

    Many issues on this topic of conversion can be gleamed in “Insights into Colonial Goa” by two USA based Goans. – Philomena Lawrence and Gilbert Lawrence.
    Published by Kindle and Amazon as e-book and paperback

  5. admin

    From Richard Lobo

    I am a catholic. I learnt from my dad that my Grand father used to add Shenoy after Lobo while in document. I did some research of my own and also did my DNA analysis. I belong to social category of GSB and traces my Ancestry to Anatolia and some trace to Indigenous Aborigine.

  6. Vasoo Kamulkar

    The father of Ms Wanda Noemia Rau must have been a remarkable man. As he had successfully researched the origin of his family, I wish that perhaps she had preserved all his research-papers. As presently the history of the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins in Goa–Maharashtra is rather illusive, perhaps his research-papers related to 1500 AD would be of much historical importance. Perhaps, she could think of assisting the Bharat Itihaas Samshodhak Mandal with his valued Papers.

  7. Conrad D'Cruz

    Ms Rau, I would be extremely interested looking up at the history traced by your father. Interestingly, I live in a ward in Saligao called Tabrawaddo and have maternal roots in this place, rather popularly known as a corruption of ‘Tavorawado’ and a great many families here go by the surname of ‘Remedios’. It seems as if there is a great possibility that what we have here is, a corruption of the pre-conversion surname ‘Tavara’, not ‘Tavora’.

    Conrad D’Cruz

  8. Deepak Rau

    Dear Naomi,

    I dont know whether its your First name. i have always been fascinated by

    history you already have a site I am also planning to make the family tree.

    I live in Mumbai and if it pleases you like minded people could meet.

    We should explore about Konkani language, culture and a complete history which I

    feel could be rich and Interesting. I wish you could have given your email then

    I could contact you immediately.
    Deepak Rau,

  9. divya

    hi naomi…i would like to know how ur dad did the research,i mean which ppl helped him and which places and stuff???
    because m trying to do a similar thing about my family tree

  10. Savita

    I had a Goan classmate in school whose surname was Pinto. It was the first time I heard that Goan Hindus had been converted to Christianity. I remember how amused I was to hear her say she was a Brahmin, albeit a Pinto!
    India is such a treasure-house of seeming contradictions which pull along fairly well most of the time! :)

  11. Joe

    Wow…. to go back 5 centuries and get the exact information is really great. Reminds me of the book “Roots” by Alex.

  12. Nisha Khot

    My grandfather, Dr. Samant, a pharmacologist, also a GSB from Goa during the Portuguese rule, said that when the Portuguese were to leave Goa, they offered the locals a ‘better life’, in exchange for converting to Catholicism. This included a new surname, respect in the then caste-ridden society, and a Portuguese citizenship.
    This did seem like a better life to many (still sounds good to me!), considering Goa was highly strife-ridden at the time. Not all those who converted migrated to Portugal, though.

  13. ruchi

    Did you get know why so many conversions happened? Specially from Brahmin to Tavara (? what social class/caste/religion does it fall in?). Also do you know if you guys moved geographically?

    Curiosity and research of your father is commendable.

    1. Shenoy

      The Portuguese were brutal towards the Hindu population. Most converts from GSB’s were forced to do so. Many were killed and others had to flee like my ancestors. It is a very sad past and I feel horrible thinking about the dire straits my people had to face in the hands of the Portuguese marauders.

    2. M Kamath

      My ancestors were among those who lost all their land and money and opted to migrate towards south exactly during these days. After all, it was such a pain and distress they underwent after people were left with no choice but to convert or die.

      Their whole social system that was around the temples got destroyed, when Portuguese turned brutal and started forced conversions. The laws and prohibitions of the inquisition in 1736, over 42 Hindu practices were prohibited (Newman, 1999). They were implemented through the eradication of indigenous cultural practices such as ceremonies, fasts, occasions such as marriage (Robinson, 2000). People were even forced to die without food, when they stayed adamant to their practices. Methods such as repressive laws, demolition of temples, properties belonging to Hindus, destruction of holy books, fines and the forcible conversion of orphans were used (Mascarenhas-Keyes, 1979).

  14. shreya

    very interesting read! your father did some serious back tracing!

  15. Naina

    So interesting. The history of Christians in India is diverse and often ancient.

  16. Wanda Naomi Rau

    My Father’s docs; a Cardiologist, a Pathologist and an Opthalmologist are Hattangadi, Nayampalli and Narvekar respectively. ( all GSB’s as one would say). I don’t know if he consulted them also because they would have enough data to help him trace his roots. As he aged and I accompanied him to the docs, every consultation would take a couple of minutes, but the discussion thereafter about his research would take much longer. Both doc and patient were equally involved in the conversation. It provided him with new leads, links, publications and perhaps even eased any problems for which he sought the docs advice.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.