The Madikar Cross of Bhuigaon Village.
Behind this stainless Steel cross in the western quarter of Bhuigaon Village lie most of the 40 Bhowkals or large irrigation wells maintained by the women of the community. These wells surrounded by trees with roots that bind the soil from falling into the well, irrigate the vegetable, hybrid banana groves, flower plots and regulate the standing water for growing paddy during the heavy Monsoon.
The cross is the local equivalent of the Gaondevi. The protector and the territorial marker for a large extended family who belong to the Kupari community and go by the surname of Marti.
The history of the Martis is the history of this ancient part of Mumbai. Actually, this is one of the oldest parts of the Mumbai region. Sopara was a prosperous port and religious centre, centuries before Mumbai surfaced on any map out of the sea. Close by, in the neighbouring village of Nirmal, you will find remains of the urban settlement buried under the fields.
The link this Kupari community of Martis have to these ruins is the community tag they maintain - they call themselves Samvedi Christians, derived from the Sam Veda. Probably the only community that has names derived from two religious symbols - Veda and the Bible.
The Samvedis trace their roots to Orissa on the Eastern Coast. They were originally entertainers and not bhumiputra agriculturists. They probably provided entertainment in the local court and temples. However, the history of the region and the Marti clan changed with the coming of the Portuguese.
This region was under the control of Portuguese from 1534 to 1739. It was their second largest colony after Brazil. It was during this time that a section of the Samvedi community settled in the region converted to Christianity. The Martis are among them. It's believed that it was the church that gave this community this land that they developed for agriculture by building a network of wells that controlled the flooding during monsoons and stored water for the long rainless period that mark the rest of the year in this part of the West Coast. These fields now provides Mumbai's fresh vegetables and fruits needs.
Their language is also a link to this regions history. They speak a language called Samvedi and have their own dialect, called Kadodi or Kupari. It's a mixture of their original tongue, Marathi, Konkani and a sprinkling of Portuguese words. It's supposed to be different from the dialect spoken by the Vadval community in neighbouring Vasai, according to a local.
Correspondence and the local community magazine are in Marathi.
This is an example of a typical front door of a Samvedi Christian home in Bhuigaon. The cross symbol here is used just like how people use the Gaondevi or other Hindu symbols in this part of Maharashtra.
I would like to come back and see this cross in about 10 years time. If the urban sprawl of Mumbai has made even a small progress, it should have devoured the wells and the fields behind this cross. But the cross should remain. Like the many Gaondevi temples and the crosses in Mumbai proper, it would be an urban shrine with a different set of worshipers. It will make a nice landmark and next to it will be an auto stand with a paanwallah squatting next to it.
Read more about the wells of Bhuigaon here.