Goa has more temples per capita than most other parts of India, contrary to its popular perception. Apart from the Goud Saraswat Temples that are essentially the Kul Devata temples of the Goud Saraswat Brahmin families of Goa, there are many other temple trails. Let me take you on the Lairai Temple Trail which is at the heart of Seven Sisters and a Brother story of Goa. These are seven ancient Devi temples of Goa, mostly north of the Mandovi river.
Story of the Seven Sisters and a Brother of Goa
Once upon a time seven sisters and a brother came to the land of Goa riding an elephant. We only know that they came down the ghats, probably via Chorla ghat, but no one knows where they came from.
Eight siblings reached Mayem village via Bicholim. The elephant that they came on can be seen at Vydanar near Mayem village, very close to the temple of Maya-Kelbai or Kelambika. It is carved in laterite stone on top of a hillock.
Kelbai, the eldest sister sends the brother to fetch fire to cook food. He takes a long time, so Kelbai sends Lairai, the other sister to look for him. She finds her brother Khetoba playing with the kids. In anger, she kicks the brother with her foot and he obviously felt hurt and refuses to come back with her. He goes to Vainguinim village. When Kelbai finds this out, she feels responsible for the brother’s departure. So, she decides to go to Mulgaon to do penance. She vows to walk with fire on her head with five hundred followers called Dhond’s.
Lairai heads to a pious place
Now, she also feels hurt and she decides to go to a pious place. She chooses to stay at Shirgaon. As penance, she decides to walk on fire with seven hundred Dhond’s.
Morjai decides to walk into the water on the shore. Her Murti was later discovered by fishermen and installed at the Morjim village.
Ajidipa decides to go to an island called Anjidipa close to Karwar.
Shitalai decides to leave the earth and enters Pataal or the netherworld.
Seven sisters are now located in seven different places:
- Lairai in Shirgaon
- Kelbai in Mulgaon
- Mahamayi in Mayem
- Mirabai or Mirabalis in Mapusa
- Morjai in Morjim
- Ajidipa at Anjidipa Island near Karwar – no temple remains
- Shitlai went to Pataal or netherworld so has no temple
This is where they continue to live and are worshipped.
Lairai Temple at Shirgaon
Shirgaon is a small village with only about 300 families and maybe around 3000 people. It is a unique village as there is no violence that takes place anywhere in this village. No animals are killed, no wine or alcohol is extracted out of cashew or coconut. No eggs are sold. People of the village even if they consume Tamsik things, do it outside the village, even today. No horses enter the village even today. There were no dogs till a Dattatreya temple came up in the village.
Temple in yellow with saffron hue stands tall in the middle of the village.
Lairai is worshipped in the form of a Kalash or a Pot. At the center of the Garbhagriha is a Pot that is decorated to look like Devi. It also represents the womb, the source of all creation. Purohit Ji explained that it is the Trigunatmaka Adishakti roop of Devi that is worshipped here. She is the unmanifest energy from which everything emerges.
Painting of Devi
On the side of the temple is a 240-year-old painting of Devi. In this, she is shown as a woman wearing a green Sari within the confines of a Kalash. The painting will immediately remind you of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. However, this is much older and may have served as an inspiration for him. It also tells us that this style was in vogue much earlier.
Temple is simple. There is a huge Mandapam, but it is obviously a much later addition.
On the Vaishakh Shukla Panchami, the annual festival or Jatra of Lairai takes place. A fire altar 15 ft by 15 ft in size and 21 feet high is set up & people walk on this fire in memory of the walk that Devi once did. Is this a way of reliving a past memory? Was she an ancestor rather than just a story?
Apart from this, Navaratri is obviously a big festival in the temple. Purohit Ji told me that every day Chandi Path is recited during Sharad Navaratri.
Mogra or Jasmine flowers are offered to Devi.
I saw lovely wood-carved doors in the temple as well as at homes around the temple.
About a kilometer away from this temple is the Mulsthan or the original place where the Devi first landed before she was invited to Shirgaon. In this temple, also in bright yellow, where an anthill is worshipped in the form of Devi. There is also a Gram Purush temple close by. It has interesting stone Murtis that look like Shivalinga but are not.
Kelbai at Mulgaon
Kelbai the eldest sister has a fairly large temple at Mulgaon, about 5 kilometers from Shirgaon. She is worshipped in her Murti form. She holds two banana flowers in her two hands and is surrounded by two elephants. A beautiful stone Murti sits inside the Garbhgriha. She looks like Gajalakshmi. I remember seeing a similar Murti at Goa State Museum.
The day I visited, a lot of women were visiting to celebrate Haldi-Kumkum. They promptly invited me to be a part of it. It was like a blessing to receive Haldi-Kumkum from so many of them.
Outside there is a small pavilion, where the Paid or the fire burning on the head is kept. The annual festival is celebrated on the Chaitra Shukla Panchami.
Aboli flowers are offered to Kelbai.
Mahamaya or Maya-Kelbai at Mayem
This is a small temple with a beautiful stone Murti of Devi. The original temple must have been very small and can still be seen inside the temple. The temple is small with giant circular pillars and vaulted ceilings like churches. The outside verandah has wooden pillars and a balcao like seating area. A new mandapa is being built which is way larger than the temple.
Every Chaitra Shukla Ashtami is the annual festival of this temple. Eldest sister Kelbai comes to meet Mahamaya once a year at this time in the form of a mask in a cane box for two days. I saw a similar story at Mahalakshmi Temple at Kolhapur who visits Triambuli Devi.
Of all the temples of seven sisters, I found this to be the most peaceful and pulsating with divine Shakti.
Morjai at Morjim
I visited this temple sometime back, both for the seven sisters and for the Kaavi Art it has. Devi here is in the form of Mahishasurmardini. Purohit Ji was kind to show me the Utsava Murti that is an exact replica of the main murti.
This temple has been recently renovated with the local Kaavi art in white and red. Outer walls, inner walls, ceilings, window frames, and even smaller temples surrounding this temple have Kaavi art on them.
Video: Kaavi Art of Goa at Morjai Temple in Morjim
Watch Kaavi art in this video we captured and posted on our YouTube channel IndiTales.
A small water tank/well can be seen close to the temple. The village has two more Devi temples close by.
Annual Jatra of Morjai happens on Shravan Krishna Trayodashi.
Mirabai or Mirabilis at Mapusa
Mirabai temple has been converted into a St Jerome Church and Mirabai is now known as Milagres. However, as I mention in Lotus In The Stone, some strands of culture continue to live. Mirabai used to be offered oil and devotees still offer oil to Milagres. Like the people of Goa, some deities also got converted.
A pot of oil comes from the Lairai temple for Mirabai. Similarly, a basket of Mogra or Jasmine is sent from Mirabai to Lairai Temple.
Ajidipa at Anjidweepa Island
To the best of my knowledge and the people I spoke at these temples, no one knows if there was ever a temple. As the island is now with the Navy, you need permission to visit it. Recent chroniclers do not mention any such temple there. Even if there was a temple, it is probably lost over time. If devotees do not remember the deity, it is lost forever.
Khetoba at Vanguinin Village
The temple dedicated to Khetoba, the brother is most colorful. Murti of Khetoba in stone seems ancient. He stands on a lotus pedestal, decorated beautifully with dots of Chandan all over. Just as in the story, the Murti of Khetoba is slightly bent as he was when kicked by his sister.
It is a small temple approached through a narrow road.
When we reached, evening Aarti was being performed.
Listen to the Khetoba Arti
The elephant that the siblings arrived at is carved on a hillock a few hundred meters from the Mahamaya temple in Mayem. Lovely laterite steps lead to the elephant. When we visited it was pretty dark, but we could still see a baby elephant. It seems to be well worshipped.
So, this was the story of seven sisters and a brother of Goa. Does your place too have a similar story?