[Text of Isabel de Santa Rita Vas' address at a meet on Abbe Faria, in Panjim, on 31st May, 2004]


by Isabel de Santa Rita Vas

Dignitaries and Friends,

Today is the birthday, the birth anniversary, if you will, of a remarkable Goan, a remarkable man of science, a remarkable man. Jose Custodio de Faria was born in Candolim on 31st May 1756. Abade Faria, as he was later known, researched the human mind and deepened our understanding of it. Numerous texts on psychology, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy today make mention of the man and his discoveries.

A well-known present day Russian psychiatrist, Dr. Mikhail Buyanov, writes of Jose Custodio Faria. "He was great, because he had no fear and fought for truth rather than for his place at the vanity fair. His mystery lies in his talent, courage and quest for truth. His mystery was the mystery of someone who was ahead of his time and who blazed a trail for his descendants due to his sacrifice." Sadly, to us, his fellow Goans, Jose Custodio Faria is a stranger. It is true that a few metres from here in this city we have a statue of Abade Faria. On a picturesque spot by the Mandovi river, next to the historic Adil Shah palace, close to the ancient Mhamai Kamat residence, stands the striking figure of Abade Faria bending over a woman at his feet.

Who is he? Why is he there? Few people know, even fewer care to ask. The man who was a pioneer in the science of the mind is all but forgotten in the noise of the traffic.

If we are to reclaim Jose Custodio Faria to living memory, we need to retrace our steps a couple of centuries. Jose Custodio was the son of Caetano Vitorino Faria of Colvale and Rosa Maria de Sousa of Candolim. His early childhood was spent at Candolim. His parents' marriage did not work out, and the two separated. With permission from the Church, Rosa Maria entered the Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa, and Caetano Vitorino joined the Seminary to complete his training to the priesthood which he had interrupted. The boy was looked after by relatives, and his father continued to be his guardian. Perhaps the father was an ambitious man; perhaps the treatment of native Goans as inferiors by the Portuguese in Goa was the major irritant. Or perhaps a little of both: Caetano Vitorino Faria complained bitterly that native priests of great merit were ignored for promotions in favour of the Portuguese clergy. His rebellious temperament gave him no peace. Taking his fifteen year old son with him, Caetano Vitorino left the shores of Goa for Europe. To cut a long story short, Jose Custodio, the son, became a priest in Rome, took his doctorate in theology at the age of 24. At this young age he preached on Pentecost day at the magnificent Sistine Chapel in Rome with the Pope in attendance. Back in Portugal, we are told, he preached at the Royal Court. Most of us have heard our parents relate that well-known story--- the Kator Re Bhaji story. The young priest, we are told, goes up to speak before his royal audience and finds himself tongue-tied. His father, sitting below, calls out in a loud whisper in the mother-tongue: Kator Re Bhaji! ( It's as easy as cutting vegetables, this is simple stuff!) The phrase energizes the young man, who delivers his address without a flaw.

The two Farias are made of the same rebellious fibre. Faria Senior supports the so called Conjuracao dos Pintos, a revolt by local priests and other Goans in Goa against the discrimination by the Portuguese authorities. The revolt is discovered and aborted and the rebels are severely punished. Faria Senior is disgraced and imprisoned and dies in obscurity.

Faria Junior moves to France. Amidst his teaching jobs, we discover Abbe Faria leading a neighbourhood battalion against the French Convention. There is a belief that he is temporarily imprisoned in the Bastille. Which brings us closer to our main point of interest. From a co-revolutionary, Abbe Faria learns about the theories of the famous magnetizer Franz Anton Mesmer, who had mesmerized Europe with his idea of what he called animal magnetism. Faria begins to study and research the human mind and behaviour. Over a period of years he researches more than 5000 subjects. His research points in a direction quite different from that of Mesmer. Faria puts forward his new theory of Le Sommeil Lucide or Lucid Sleep or Suggestion or Hypnotism. There is an undocumented story that says Mesmer and Faria were locked in a hypnotic duel-- and Faria won. Perhaps this is just a colourful story. But Faria was certainly at the centre of many such colourful stories. His sessions were hugely attended, he came to be quite famous in Paris; of course fame attracted public ridicule too. His rivals mocked the dark-skinned pioneer mercilessly and disgraced him professionally. But Abbe Faria knew he had discovered something true and valuable. He began to write down his theories for posterity. Of the projected three volumes, he managed to publish one: De La Cause du Sommeil Lucide. Soon after the publication, Faria died of a stroke in 1819 at the age of 63. Except for the publication of his book, Faria's work would probably have vanished without a trace. It was a student of his, a General Noizet who popularized it. It came to the notice of later investigators of the human mind and he came to be recognized as a pioneer of the power of suggestion.

Hypnotism or suggestion came to be extensively used in psychotherapy. In fact, it has been so widely accepted as to be seen almost as a truism that the mind responds powerfully to effective suggestion. Faria can be seen as a forerunner of Freud and Jung; today popular techniques like the use of Positive Thinking, the methods of Creative Visualization, the awareness of the depths of the mind waiting to be explored, may all be thought of as off-shoots of Faria's seminal work. Perhaps some subterranean streams did begin to spring at the exchange in Konkani between father and son: Kator Re Bhaji!

Abade Faria is our fellow Goan. Circumstances of birth and history led him far from home into a distant continent. He carried with him what he saw and heard of Goa, of India, of the East. He lived and worked amidst revolutionary winds in Paris before the French Revolution that changed the face of the old western world. He survived with courage, a coloured man in a white-skinned society. He was undaunted by ridicule and poverty and an environment of racial prejudice and continued against all odds to believe in himself and his discoveries. He eventually became so much a part of popular imagination in Europe that his life was fictionalized in the classic novel by Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo---more recently turned into an exciting film. The Portuguese Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine, Egas Moniz wrote with admiration the biography of this enigmatic man of science.

On 31st May 2006, two years from now, we count 250 years of the birth of Jose Custodio Faria, a Goan of international stature. In a sense, Faria is an outstanding representative of countless persons of Goan birth who have sought horizons larger than those that tiny Goa could offer; who have learnt to struggle in, and learn from, the larger world ; and have, in turn, contributed to the larger world in myriad ways. Perhaps it is not too soon to reclaim the pioneer from oblivion as a mere statue back to living memory. If we fail to honour such a figure fittingly, we would need to ask ourselves why. A difficult task? Really? Jose Custodio Faria would have told us " Kator Re Bhaji!"

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