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 Msgr. Sebastiao Rodolfo Dalgado

 Linguistic Scholar of international renown


Professor Olivinho Gomes


It was on 8th May, one hundred and fifty years ago, in 1855, that in the beautiful village of Assagaum, that Sebastiao Rodolfo Dalgado, who was to achieve international renown later in his life, was born. He was the second son of Ambrosio Dalgado, a modest landowner of the village, who cultivated his ancestral lands, being fond of his animals that included cows and buffaloes, and Rosa Florinda de Souza, a virtuous housewife. With the reasonable income that accrued from these properties, Ambrosio provided for the upkeep of his family and educated his children, grooming them to be independent of mind and to face the trials and tribulations of life with courage and confidence.  

Sebastiao’s brothers, Gelasio and Patrocinio, became famous as physicians and surgeons, having studied in India and abroad. Gelasio served as Director of Health Services in the then princely State of Sawantwadi, and contributed significantly to botany with an important book, provided scientific notes for his brother’s Konkani-Portuguese dictionary, and penned a noted book in French on the theory of hypnotism of our own Abbe Faria vis-ŕ-vis the claims made on behalf of Braide in this regard. Patrocinio became famous as an outstanding ophthalmologist. The third, Eduardo, took a degree in law and became the first Goan barrister in London. 

Young Sebastiao went to Mapusa, the seat of the Bardez county, after his primary education in Assagaum, for his further studies in Portuguese, French, Latin and Philosophy. He later joined the Seminary of Rachol (Raitur), where he displayed his vigorous intellect apart from disciplined and exemplary conduct, scoring the highest marks in philosophy and theology, and was ordained priest in 1881. It was in this religious academy that the first seed of his future vocation in the field of Konkani and linguistics in general, was sown, as he prepared bi-lingual ‘vocabularies’ to help his fellow students to learn Konkani, Portuguese and Latin. 

Thereafter he proceeded to Rome for higher studies and received there his Doctorate in Sacred and Roman Law. He was allowed to take his doctorate in theology, without having to attend classes, considering his extraordinary talent and tenacity for hard work. His love of studies and for his homeland and its lovely language and welcome enthusiasm for hard work, is amply revealed in his letters to his friends in Goa and abroad. In 1884 he was in Lisbon, where he was appointed royal missionary. He served in Goa and other areas in India & SriLanka, then under the Portuguese Padroado (patronage) as inspector of seminaries and schools of that institution and professor of sacred scripture and Canon law at the Rachol seminary. In 1885, he was deputed to Ceylon (SriLanka) as its Vicar-General, where he learnt Singhalese and the local Portuguese patois or dialect, and Tamil.      

With the mission of Ceylon surrendered by the Portuguese, he returned to Goa in 1887, and was appointed Vicar-General of Bengal, then under the Padroado. He lived in Calcutta for three years, during which he founded a school for girls and started a dispensary for the poor at Nagori. He also built two churches in Dhaka, then in East Bengal, now capital of Bangladesh. While there he learnt Bengali and noted its similarities with Konkani, as well as Hindustani, and recorded the influence of Portuguese on these and vice-versa. In 1893, he was posted as Vicar-General of Honnawar, essentially a Konkani-speaking area in Karnataka, where he also learnt Kannada and Tamil, and worked there till 1895.

 He spent some time in Sawantwadi with his brother, Dr. Gelasio, where he studied Marathi and Sanskrit, and explored their similarities and differences with his own Konkani. To his solid equipment of Indian languages, while in Lisbon, he had added the learning of  Arabic, Persian and German, and earlier in Rachol and Rome, had pored over Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, and of course Spanish and Portuguese. This linguistic repertoire of extraordinary magnitude prepared him well for the enormous tasks ahead.

The first work of his to see the light of day was the massive Konkani-Portuguese dictionary, using the Devanagari script as well for Konkani, that was published in Bombay in 1893. It attracted the attention and praise of Portuguese and Indian scholars. The Portuguese government commissioned him to compile another : Portuguese-Konkani dictionary. He left for Lisbon with the manuscript of the second work in 1893, that was completed and published later in 1905, by the prestigious Academy of Sciences.

On the recommendation of the Arts Council of Lisbon, he was appointed Professor of Sanskrit in the Advanced Course of Arts, Lisbon University, in 1908, a post he held till his death on 4th April,1922. In the last ten years of his life he was afflicted with severe diabetes, both his legs having been amputated on that score in 1911 and 1915 respectively. Nevertheless he gave his tutorials to his students seated on a wheel-chair in his residential room, and said his daily Mass too in that position, by special permission of his ecclesiastical superiors. But his work for Konkani and Portuguese linguistics continued till the very end, undaunted by travails that could have felled a lesser man.

His funeral in Lisbon was an apotheosis of overwhelming sympathy and honour. Mass was offered by his fellow Goan priests, in his room, that had served as his bedroom and work-place. The Education Ministry, the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, the Papal Nunciature and the Faculties of Arts and Sciences, were represented . Funeral orations were delivered by the Deans of the Faculties of the Arts and the Sciences, Lisbon University, and by Canon Santa Rita e Souza, professor at the Colonial School of the University. Newspapers in Goa, Portugal and Brazil wrote copiously in praise of the man and his erudite work that had won plaudits the world over.

The world-renowned Academy of Sciences, Lisbon, conferred on Dalgado its Membership, the highest literary and scientific distinction of Portugal, in 1922 ; he was elected member of the elite Society of Geography in 1895; that of the Coimbra Institute in 1896 and that of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, in 1921; he was appointed Domestic Prelate by the Pope in 1904. At his suggestion, a Chair for Konkani was instituted in the Colonial School of Lisbon University.

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