Divar Island is one of our favorite places for birding in Goa. It is one of the two river islands on Mandovi River in Goa accessible only by ferry from Ribandar or Old Goa on our side of the island. Taking the ferry is like crossing over to another world. You leave behind the signs of everything that can be called urban and enter into the island life. The road towards the villages on the island is a narrow strip or Pugdundee with fields and ponds on either side. Morning and evening you can often spot villagers fishing here.
We often take a walk, look at the crabs and other creatures around mangroves that act as a boundary wall for the island. We chase some birds and come back. Once I was invited by the famous wellness resort Devaaya for a meal and that is when we visited another end of the island. Another time I was a part of a Goa backwater riding expedition and we ended up spending time at one of the lovely resorts run by a Bollywood actor and his wife.
Once we drove around the island, stopping to look at the beautiful and colorful homes the island has, stopping every time something caught our eye.
Another time, I have visited the island to attend the famous Bonderam festival that happens here in August.
This time we decided to go and explore some ancient heritage in Divar, so sharing with you what we saw on the river island and the places around it.
History of Divar Island a River Island
Word Divar comes from Devawadi meaning the home of the Gods or the place where Gods live. Oral history says that the island was full of temples and people did not live on this island. It was a pilgrimage place. On the other side of the island, the village that is now called Bicholim was called Bhatgram. Was it the place where the priests lived? Probably.
Devawadi over a period of time became Diwari, which is how the locals still pronounce it. When the Portuguese came in mid 16th CE and took over this island, it became Divar. In fact, this was the first place in Goa that they captured by destroying ancient temples like Saptakoteshwar. The deity was taken across the waters in the Hindale (Narve) village, wherein in the 17th CE, Shivaji Maharaj built a temple. It is the presiding deity of Goa in many ways.
The word Saptakoteshwar comes from 7 Koti or 7 Crores, implying a large number of ascetics who worshipped here. Other temples included a Ganesh temple, a Mahamaya temple, and a Dwarkeshwar temple.
As of now, Divar has three main villages Piedade, Malar and Naroa.
Finding temples of Divar Island the River Island in Goa
As we drove around the island, I was consciously looking for signs of the temple, if any on this pristine island. I did find some signs and like these ones.
Shakti Ganesh Temple
At Piedade, on top of the hill stands the Church of our lady of Piety. On the front walls of the church are portraits of Goan men who went from Goa to Jaffna in Srilanka for missionary work. Next to the church is a graveyard. This Graveyard used to be the Ganesh temple. You can still see the temple arch inside the graveyard, which was a part of the Garhbhgriha.
The view of Mandovi as it meanders around the hill is breathtaking. When you drive along, you simply miss the curves of the river. To admire them, you must create a distance and raise yourself a bit. I could stand on the walls of the temple turned church forever to see this view.
On the right, a bright temple in bright yellow and pink peeped. So, we walked down the hill and spotted a lovely Sleuse gate in the distance. A mud path took us to a smaller temple dedicated to the Mul Purush or the Rakhandar as they are known as God, the protector deity usually the common ancestor of the village. A level below this temple, across the road, was a bigger temple, which looked relatively new. Board said it is Shakti Ganesh temple.
Built-in a typical contemporary Goan style, the temple has a lovely Murti of Ganesha in black stone. A smaller room within the temple has a small Murti of Shakti. The priest told me that the temple has been recently built. The original Ganesha Murti is now in Khandola in Ponda Taluka.
Another level below there is a small temple built for Hanuman. This lovely temple in white is made in a traditional style with carved pillars and a carved platform. The Murti of Hanuman here is in white marble inside the sanctum while one in black stone stands on a black platform outside. This is the one that is offered oil it seems.
A huge banyan tree stands outside the temple and threads around it tell you that it is worshipped.
Porne Tirth Tali with 108 Temples at Naroa
Porne Tirth simply means the old Tirth or pilgrimage place. This was the original site of Saptakoteshwar Temple, the Kul Devta or family deity of Kadamba kings. The temple was found on the coins and copper plate inscriptions of the Kadambas. Temple was first destroyed by the Bahmani kings who followed Islam in 14th CE but was rebuilt by the Vijayanagara kings by the end of 14th CE. In 1540 CE, the Portuguese completely destroyed the temple.
Now, it is an archaeological site that belongs to the Kadamba dynasty era of Goa which would take you back to 10-12th CE.
What you see now is an irregular-shaped tank with a small temple-like niche all around it. Built-in laterite stone with uneven steps on some sides leading to the water, it looks beautiful even in its ruins. Originally it was called Koti Tirth and now it is called Porne Tirth.
The temples or niches have no Murtis now. However, if you go closer, you can see the holes at the base where the Murtis would have been. I wandered around touching the stone here and there, trying to visualize what kind of Murtis would have adorned these small 108 temples. Were these Shivalingas as the main deity here is Shiva, or were these his Ganas or were these a mélange of deities we Hindus have.
There is an ASI board here that tells you a bit about the place but beyond that, you are on your own.
Hatkeshwar Mahadev Devasthan
From the Porne Tirth if move ahead you reach another stretch of backwaters. It is such a beautiful place where you see no construction whatsoever except this small temple – Hatkeshwar Mahadev standing on an edge.
The temple is on the first floor, I assume to make sure that it stays above the water level throughout the year. A small Shivalinga sits on a platform inside the temple and a Nandi outside the outdoor. The view from the first floor is unbelievable – quite backwaters surrounded by lush greenery, birds flying around with not a single human being in sight.
Bang opposite the temple is a cremation ground, where once a year a Jatra or a festival takes place. I was told this is also the place where Mundan or the first hair shaving ceremonies take place.
We were visiting just after Diwali and I could see the signs of Diwali being celebrated everywhere.
We saw a lovely cylindrical building in white and blue. My guess was it could be an old well or a water body but since it was locked, we could not make what it is. A part of it is a chapel though.
New Saptakoteshwar Temple
We took a ferry to the other side of the island to reach the village of Narwe, the new home of the Saptakoteshwar temple.
As soon as we landed on the other side, I saw an array of temples in vibrant colors. One of them was Mahamaya Mashan Devi temple – that I assume is on the cremation ground we saw from the other side. Then there was a Shantadurga Pilernekarin temple and a Ravalnath temple. After which we finally saw ourselves standing with a top view of the Saptakoteshwar temple.
The temple is under complete renovation. The deity is worshipped in the Bhairav temple of the Saptkoteshwar temple complex. I said my prayers and went ahead to look at the temple built by Shivaji Maharaj in 1668 CE. It is built in a typical Goan temple architecture with thick pillars in the mandap and multiple doorways leading to the sanctum.
The main Shivalinga is still inside and a mere Diya was lit next to it. The Nandi outside was covered to protect it from construction dust. On the outside walls, I saw the various designs of Kaavi Art being tested. I assume the temple would be covered in Kavi art, and that would be great to see this native art form of Goa live through its oldest temple.
The temple has a beautiful temple pond, absolutely square and serene surrounded by flowering trees and then by spice gardens. In the middle there is a small round stone platform that I was told is used during festival days to seat the deity.
The ASI board at the Saptakoteshwar temple told us about the Jain caves not too far from the temple. We asked around and started walking towards them, passed by ponds, some with lotuses in them, spice gardens full of Arecanut trees with black pepper vines wrapped around them. We saw houses deep inside with no road connectivity.
We stopped to ask the way and someone from the house accompanied us to the caves. We walked on a narrow path until we reached a small spring with two ancient caves on either side. One of the caves has a tiger figure on a pedestal. We were told that the tigers still visit this area at night, they sometimes come to drink water at this spring.
We could see 2 small caves. The ASI board there said there is a Brahmi inscription, but I could not find it. These caves are much smaller than the Rivona caves in South or Arvalem Caves not too far from here.
There is another cave for which you have to hike a bit. I would have to visit that another day.
Other Temples in Bicholim
On our way back, we stopped at some more temples in Bicholim.
Vaital Temple – This is a lovely temple with a larger than life image of Vaital in Panchdhatu.
Van Devi Temples – Right next to Vaital temple there are two Van Devi temples – one called big and another small. The small one has a lovely tiny Vigrah in silver.
It is actually a temple complex full of many temples. I found the Nirakar version of Shiva at one of the temples here too as I found it at Mallikarjuna temple in Canacona.
Who would have thought you could spend a day in pristine Goa on Divar the river island, temple hopping.
Do check out when you come here for your next holiday.
Travel Tips for Divar the River Island in Goa
River island Divar is accessible only by ferry services. There is a ferry each from Ribandar, Old Goa, and Nerwa. They operate from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
You can take your vehicle along with you on the ferry.
The best way to explore this river island in Goa would be on bicycles. Check out the Goa Tourism website for more information on it.