THE TEMPLES OF GOA

Goa is a vibe!! A beautiful place by the side of the beach, with beautiful sunsets!! A place where you can wear as much flora and fauna as you wish, and that which is colourful by day and doesn’t seem to rest post sundown with wonderful nightlife!! But beyond the beaches and churches, a traveler can feel the pulse of Goa with an amazing tour of the historical temples that one would probably never have associated with Goa.

Situated in and around Ponda are wonderful temples that feature a wonderful combination of Mughal, Portuguese, European, Jain and Dravidian architecture styles. And how did this happen? Let’s read a brief history of all that happened in Goa.

A BRIEF HISTORY:

Mythology records a very interesting theory of the origin of Goa. The Skanda Purana explains that Lord Parashuram (The Sixth Incarnation of Lord Vishnu) shot an arrow from atop the western ghats into the sea to command a piece of land from the sea, which went on to be His kingdom.

Goa has its earliest mentions in the Hindu Epic “Mahabharata” where it is referred to as “Gomantak”. It was also known as Govapuri by the original Goans who were a group of about 96 families which settled here around 1000 BC, and are known as the Saraswats (a collective term for those who have their origins at the banks of the Saraswathi River). How these people landed here will be another interesting post.

With the Mughals coming into India, the invasion of Goa by the Mughals brought complete destruction to Goa, its temples and institutions. Goa came under the Islamic rule and a lot of temples were razed to the ground.

Then came the Portuguese Era. The Portuguese were interested in Indian spices and found the sea route perfect for trading. They started off with the Malabar Coast but travelled north to find Goa to be a better choice as it was centrally located on the west coast. Initially things were very normal as the interests of the Portuguese were only commercial and the Portuguese were very tolerant of the Hindus. The native Goans were also very welcoming and peace prevailed until the arrival of the Jesuits to Goa.

The period saw a reversal of the liberal policy towards Hindus and the Portuguese also wanted to spread their religion. The idea of Monoculture was established where everyone was expected to follow the religion of the King. This brought about “the Inquisition” in Goa which saw forcible conversions and a lot of massacre.

So these families of the Saraswats fled from the three taluks that came under the rule of the Portuguese. They packed their belongings which included their rich scriptures, their Gods, their Idols, crossed the rivers overnight and moved to Ponda which was still ruled by the Mughals. So, how did the temples which are presently existing, survive back then?

The Mughals having lost out the boundaries of their Kingdom to the Portuguese, decided to be tolerant towards the Hindus to gain majority and to be able to over power the western invasions. In this Kingdom, the Desais allowed the Saraswats to setup their temples which became centres of refuge for those families who fled Old Goa.

GOAN TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE:

Goan temples have a very unique architecture. It borrows elements from the Islamic Architecture as well as Portuguese Architecture while maintaining the basic layout of a Hindu Temple.

Some of the features that are common are:

Every temple has a shikhara or a roof which could be elongated, dome shaped or Pyramid shaped.

Mahalasa Temple

All sport the pastel shades of yellow, ochre, green and teal blue in combination with white which are very relatable to the uniformly painted western colonies. The temples also have beautiful landscaping with very noticeable European elements.

Ramnathi Temple

Every Temple has a rectangular pond called the Tale. And every Temple has a Tulsi outside in its premises. This is one noticeable Tulsi at the centre of the Tale at Shantadurga temple.

All temples have an octagonal-shaped, multi-storeyed pure white Lamp Tower with very Victorian Elements and Gothic Arches and the placement bears resemblance to the White Cross outside Churches.

The White Lamp Tower at the Mahalasa Temple. Next to it stands the recently erected brass Deepa Sthamb which is one of the longest South India

Every Temple hosts and annual Jatra or utsav during which the presiding deity is adorned and is escorted in either a Chariot or a Palanquin around the temple premises.

Utsav Murthi at Mahalasa Temple during the Palanquin Utsav

The Sanctum Sanctorum is carved and gilded with silver which houses the stone carved idols which are typically black and are adorned with iconography details, face mask or head gear. There is even a provision for Parikrama around the idol. And this is very common and similar to any Hindu Temple Architecture. This is very symbolic of the psychology of the people of that period who just escaped from the Portuguese Inquisition phase. The Goans would have an exterior act of following the Portuguese dictate of their Jesuit beliefs. And inside the homes, the Goans would continue with their beliefs and rituals as usual worshipping their Idols in secrecy until “The Inquisition” began. The same mindset continued even after they fled to safer regions.

Sanctum Sanctorum at the Shantadurga Temple

THE KULDEVASTHANS:

The Kuldevasthans are “The Temples of Goa”. These are temples which housed the families of the Saraswaths and Gaud Saraswaths known as the “Kulavis” where they stayed and worshipped their family deities which are known as “Kula Devas” in Konkani. The Gods that are worshipped in these temples are various forms of Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Shiva.

Now, about my recent visit to Goa which was more of a pilgrimage. Surprisingly, I found more interest and calm in this side of Goa in comparison to the beaches, the markets and the shopping. With my family, I visited a couple of the Kuldevasthans, though not all.. but that leaves me with a reason to return!!

Shri Damodar Samsthan:

The Shri Damodar Temple situated on the banks of Kushawati River in Zambolin (Jambavallli) houses the most celebrated idol of Lord Shiva incarnated as Lord Damodar. The idol is also famously known as the God of Goa.

The Temple has a very Portuguese inspired main entrance, painted in subtle pastel shades. One can notice the huge arched windows too!!

Shri Ramnath Devasthan:

One of the oldest temples in Ponda is this temple of Lord Shiva as Ramnath, accompanied with His consorts Devi Shantheri and Devi Kamakshi.

A tripartite division of this temple is very much visible. With a hall, an area in front of the sanctum and side entrances are very similar to the architecture of churches.

Shri Shantadurga Mandir:

The Shantadurga Temple houses a beautiful idol of Goddess Durga flanked by Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva on either side. It is believed that she took form to make peace between the two Gods.

This temple is a beautiful combination of the Indo-Portuguese architecture. A shikhara shaped like a Pyramid, A Gothic styled dome, Roman arched windows and a Lamp Tower at the entrance are all the elements that blend the Western architecture into this Hindu Temple.

Shree Mangesh Devasthan:

The Mangeshi Temple is dedicated to Lord Mangesh, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, one of the most revered Gods of Goa. This temple is one of the biggest tourist or Pilgrimage spots in Goa and the temple is a family temple for a lot of communities. When you visit this temple, you will catch atleast one person (or maybe even yourself) mention that famous singer Lata Mangeshkar is a Kulavi of this temple.

Domes, columns and balustrades in union, further painted in a beautiful combination of pastel blue with white is an interesting display of the Goan Temple Architecture.

Shree Mahalakshmi Saunsthan:

The Mahalakshmi Temple offers prayers to Shree Mahalakshmi who is believed to be the supreme form of power and energy.

The temple has a very palatial appearance with huge Gothic domes on either side and painted in the colours that you would see locally on smaller houses in Goa: pastel shaded of orange, yellow and green.

Shree Mahalasa Saunsthan:

Shri Mahalasa Narayani Temple is dedicated to the Goddess Mahalasa who is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity.

The Mahalasa Temple has a very interesting blend of various elements of different styles of architecture.

The entrance is a stone carved one with a Pyramid shikhar. At the back of the temple is a huge brass dome which is a complete influence of the dome from Mughal architecture. One of the main attractions of this temple is the longest ever Brass Deepa Sthamba which was donated by the Airodykars family from Udupi. The interiors of the temple have huge carved wooden pillars. One can also see the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu inside the temple.

THE INFLUENCE IN ART AND ARCHITECTURE:

One cannot fail to notice how these temples are so different from the other temples that we normally see. There is so much of influence in the style, colours, the shapes, the art and architecture and I have put some of these together.

A Magnificent Victorian Style Chandelier inside the Damodar Temple

The very colourful Mural inside the Ramnath Temple is very similar to the Mughal style relief work.

Roman Arched windows with original Stain Glass panels. The floor has been laid with Athungudi tiles. Such a beautiful blend of art inside the Shantadurga temple.

Arches, Pilaster and Cornice details with wooden framed windows at the Mangeshi Temple.

Apart from the Mughal and Portuguese influence, this temple has the entrances flanked by the Yaazhis on either side which is a feature of the Chola architecture.

The beautiful Bijapuri brass dome of the Mahalasa temple is a Mughal Influence.

The harmonious blend of Hindu, Muslim and Christian architecture shows the peaceful, welcoming and tolerant nature of the Goans themselves. They were open to love, peace and harmony and that is the main principle of the Sanatana Dharma which is the root of Hinduism.

SURVIVAL OF THE TEMPLES:

Eventually Ponda also fell into the hands of the Portuguese in around 1760s but the Portuguese had by then become tolerant towards other religions so the temples in Ponda remained untouched.

But families did migrate and move down south and the Saraswaths built several other Kuldevasthans, a few of which I will write about in my next post.

FOR EXPLORERS:

  • One can head over to the links of the websites maintained independently by the Temples that I have mentioned in the reference section. There you will find details of location, timings and other contact information.
  • The Shrines that I have mentioned in this post are conservative and sacred places of worship and are perfect for a peaceful and spiritual retreat. The Temples also provide accommodation facilities (they have been doing so since 1600s to refugees) but a few are good for stay.
  • These places are wonderful power houses of positive vibes and energy especially for those seeking knowledge in the areas of Meditation, Yoga, Spirituality and Healings.
  • The place is an open book that has so much to offer to students of Archeology, History, Architecture and anyone who has a keen eye for appreciating Art and Architecture.

ROLE OF PRESENT DAY SARASWATHS:

These Konkani temples echo stories of our past and have stood testimony to the sacrifices made by our ancestors. Somewhere guiding us to live with the faith that they chose for us, one that was so dear to them. Their homes were ransacked but they could live in peace and leave with courage to defend their faith.

A lot of Saraswat families scattered in and around Maharashtra a few families moved down south and generations down the line, all are living in peace and content. But, a few families stayed back, took care of the temples that were actually homes and refugee shelters for our previous generations. With the Blessings of God, we have everything we need and certainly He needs nothing from us.

Just a small visit to these places maybe once a year to connect to our roots and as an expression of gratitude to the Deities or in remembrance of our ancestors for standing up for their faith and for coming so far is what matters.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Official website of Shree Ramnatha Devasthan: http://www.ramnathi.org
  2. Official website of Shree Mahalasa Saunsthan: http://www.mahalasa.org
  3. Official website of Shree Shantadurga Mandir: http://www.shreeshantadurga.com
  4. Official website of Shree Mahalakshmi Devasthan: http://www.mahalaxmibandora.com
  5. Podcast from the Ranveer Show: “The Dark History of Goa” with Archeologist Sawani Shetye http://youtu.be/nUxVTRWXf94
  6. Blog Post by Anuradha Goyal: http://www.inditales.com/shantadurga-saraswat-temples-in-goa/

SUGGESTED READING:

The Goa Inquisition“, authored by Anant Priolkar. (This is also a note to self :))

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