Sreesha Shetty, founder, Shop Lune revisits a legend close to her home and heart—and comes back inspired.
Text By Sreesha ShettyWith our Dona Paula Bubble Heart collection inspired by Goan folklore, I wanted to explore a legendary story from the heart of Goa—a story rife with tragedy, love, sacrifice and drama; a story so close to every Goan, loved by everyone from tourist guides to local fishermen.
I grew up really close to the Dona Paula jetty, a place that’s particularly beautiful on full moon nights. The location, with beautiful sculptures high up on the jetty and the endless ocean beyond is a setting so scenic and fitting for a love story.
Dona and Paula are commonly thought to be the names of a man and a woman. The story also makes an appearance in popular culture—in the 1981 film Ek Duje Ke Liye, Rati Agnihotri quotes the tragic love story, before jumping into the ocean with her lover—just like a version of the tale. The movie's premise is inspired by the story—and not unsurprisingly, the legend gained even more popularity after the release.
But how much truth is there to this urban legend? I decided to explore by turning to Professor Prajal Sakhardande—who not only teaches history at Dhempe College of arts, Goa, but is also an authority on the subject. Having spent many years researching the different facets of Goa, his book, ‘Goa Gold Goa Silver: Her History, Her Heritage from Earliest Times to 2019’ has a chapter on the folk tale and he explains to me what really went down.
There are popular stories around Dona Paula—some say she was an adulterous woman, some say, she was a lonely widow. There are also numerous ghost stories about her. If urban legend is to be believed, on moonlit nights at the stroke of midnight, Dona Paula rises from the sea wearing a string of pearls and nothing else. Let's take a look at some more popular myths.
Myth no. 1
According to one of the stories, she was a lady-in-waiting for the Portuguese Governor Generals wife—and the Governor was enamoured by her. The Governor’s enraged wife stripped her off all clothing except the pearl necklace (which was a gift from her unfaithful husband), bound her and pushed her from the cliff.
Myth no. 2
Another story—and perhaps the most popular version—describes Dona Paula as a Portuguese viceroy’s daughter who fell in love with a local fisherman. At the time, the match was unacceptable and Dona Paula chose death over being separated from her lover in life—and hurled herself over the cliff.
Yet another legend points to Dona who married Paulo, a fisherman. One day, he ventured to sea and never returned. Sadly, the dutiful wife waited for him at the cliff for the rest of her life and turned into stone.
Myth no. 4
Gasper Dias, a nobleman is also considered one of her lovers. It is believed that he betrayed her and married someone else. The heartbroken Dona Paula jumped from the cliff. Her ghost appears at night to look for the nobleman and exact her revenge.
With so many different versions, I turned to Professor Sakhardande who explains what actually happened.
The sculptures at the jetty
The statues atop the cliff are of philosopher Robert Knox and his wife and were sculpted by Dutch sculptress, Baroness Yrse Von Leistner who was in awe of him. They have no relation to Dona Paula. These statues were gifted to Goa in 1967, through the will of the late Mrs. Robert Knox. In fact, these details are mentioned on the plaque on the sculptures.
Dona Paula, the woman
Dona, according to Portuguese customs is a title given to married women. Dona Paula's real name was Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior. The lady was the daughter of the Portuguese Viceroy of Jaffnapatnam, Sri Lanka. Her family is said to have arrived in Goa in 1644. It is here that Paula married a Spanish Fidalgo, Dom Antonio Souto Maior in 1656. He is said to have owned land from present-day Raj Bhavan (Governor’s palace, formerly known as Cabo Raj Niwas) to Caranzalem in Goa. Dona Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior passed away on 16th December, 1682.
Credit where credit is due
During her adult life, Dona Paula is said to have done a lot of charitable work in the village and worked towards its betterment. She lived closely with the locals and in honour of her memory, the village previously known as Oddavell was renamed, Dona Paula. Her grave exists in the chapel situated inside the Goan Governor’s residence.
Most roads and villages in Goa are named after men. This led me to ask professor what made her so different from any other woman in Goa. Is it because she has the wrong story attached to her? “Affluent women of the time were aloof and Dona Paula was popular for her charity work. She mingled with the fishermen and was so revered that an entire village was named after her,” was his reply.
I wish she is remembered just for that. Dona Paula is actually a story of a woman who used her position to help others and was loved by the villagers. We call many relationships love stories even though they involve tragedy and celebrate them. I wish a false love story didn’t cloud her identity and legacy for so long.
I think being so loved by an entire village for her good work, so much so that they renamed the village after her, feels like a love story of kindness I’d indulge in.