Mallikarjuna temple in Goa is located in the far south of the state in the Canacona district. It almost borders the state of Karnataka. Like most temples in Goa, it is also a unique temple, with a history full of stories. The ritual Shisha Ranni, when I first heard about it, I could not believe, so I had to see them with my own eyes to believe.
So, a few days after Holi when most of the Goan villages are busy celebrating the colorful Shigmotsava, I headed southwards to see Shisha Ranni – the unique festival of Mallikarjuna in Canacona.
A small door like construction, with a performance stage in front in pristine white, welcomed us to Shristhal. This is where we had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot. Thankfully, there was a carpet laid out, though even with that I returned home with severely burnt feet.
We walked past this for 200 meters or so to reach the main Mallikarjuna temple of Shristhal. Since it was a festival day, there were vendors lined along the way selling various things. Tribal men in their minimalist attire were arranging sugarcanes for their juice stalls.
A simple yet beautiful arch in white with a red border welcomed us into the premises.
History of Mallikarjuna Temple at Canacona
The name Mallikarjuna comes from a legend from Mahabharata. An asura named Malla was fighting the Pandava Arjuna. Shiva took the shape of a hunter and helped Arjuna kill Malla, hence earning the name – Mallikarjuna.
Another version says Mallika and Arjuna are the names of Parvati and Shiva. Here they met after a long separation and hence the name Mallikarjuna.
Mallikarjuna Temple is situated in a beautifully named village called – Shristhal, which would make it a place of the Sri or Lakshmi. It is believed to be one of the oldest temples in Goa. The location is simply beautiful – in the middle of a valley surrounded by hills on all sides. Greenery is an integral part of the hinterlands of Goa.
Locally the deity is called – Adavat Sinhasanadhishwar Mahapati. It should mean someone seated on a lion which would mean again a Devi. Mahapati could mean her consort. Given that the village is called Shristhal, it makes sense, but it needs to be confirmed by some experts.
The current structure belongs to the late 18th CE, so you see a similarity in architecture with the rest of the temples in Goa. It is much older, some say 16th CE while others put it even farther back. All I can say is living temples are perpetually in a state of being built.
Linga at Mallikarjuna Temple
The original Linga worshipped as Nirakar or the formless Shiva is made in wood. It has a separate small temple next to the main one. The linga is tall and well carved. It is surrounded by a small marble wall and Deep was lit in front of it. This is where devotees could sit close to the linga and worship.
Stone Linga in the main temple is believed to be found by a Kunbi community person in the forest and hence considered Swayambhu or self-manifested. It is covered with a silver crown and that is all you can see when you visit.
It is also linked to Mallikarjun Jyotirlinga in Srisailam hills, as historians draw a parallel between the Kunbi tribe of Goa and the Chenchu Tribe of Andhra. Another belief links it to Habbu Brahmins who migrated to North Canara and Canacona, pushing the original Kunbis into hinterlands.
Mallikarjuna Temple Shristhal
The temple is beautiful, probably the most beautiful in Goa. It is the only living temple in Goa where I see stone sculptures. Exquisite wood carved panels cover the inner walls. Before you enter, you meet the two warriors on horses on either side. Step inside and you see two beautiful Dwarpalas in stone on either side of the door.
The mandapa stands on six huge wooden pillars with exquisite carvings on them. One of the pillars is also used as an Oracle during some rituals but I could not gather which one and how.
Shiva Puran is painted in a series of paintings in a panel running around the inner wall. You can see various episodes of Shiv Puran as you move clockwise after you have done the darshan. I could see a lot of geometrical representations of the universe, but the panels are a little far from the eye to understand them properly.
Towards the end of this panel, once the Shiv Puran stories are done, you see the depiction of the Shisha Renni ritual. This is the best place to gather what is done in this ritual.
The wood panels outside the walls of the sanctum have the stories of Vishnu carved on them. I was told that most of the carving by the craftsmen of Kumta in Karnataka.
There is an image of Bagilpaik on the left as you enter – it is a protector deity here.
Other temples in the complex
Kashi Purush Temple
This is a small temple opposite the main one dedicated to a warrior who killed all the Habbu men. The wood carving on the big pillars and the ceilings are to be admired.
Since no photography is allowed in the main temple, I took some pictures of the wood carving here. I could see the stories of Rama & Krishna carved on the pillars in the middle, apart from the Mangala or the auspicious signs.
Konkan coast is believed to be the land of Parshuram – the incarnation of Vishnu, who retrieved this land from the sea for Saraswat brahmins. It was interesting to see a small temple dedicated to him in the complex.
It is as simple as it can get with just a stone Murti of Parshuram. Interestingly, it is standing on a Yoni, that we usually find with Linga.
A small Devi temple sits on a small hillock some distance away. There are proper stairs to reach there. There is a stone image of Devi but she is only known as Devi or Devati. If you ask around, people would say she is Parvati, but more because it is a Shiva temple.
I saw a lot of Yellama murtis in the Jatra. Bright and shining Yellama figures in beautiful Saris & stunning jewelry were carried by men all around the festival. People would typically do a Pranam and pay something.
Small Shiva Temples
There are many small temples with one or multiple Lingas in them. They all seem to be worshipped but no one could tell me anything about them.
A Square tank has a faint resemblance with elaborate step wells of Rajasthan or Hampi. It is the only part that seems to be lying in neglect. I would have assumed that the tank would have a role in temple rituals but it seems a hand pump next door serves the purpose.
Festivals at Sri Mallikarjuna Temple Shristhal
Many festivals like Mahashivratri, Shigmo, and Rathsaptami are celebrated there. However, let me show you the festivals that are unique here.
Shisha Ranni Ritual
The most unique festival though is its annual Jatra when the Shisha Ranni ritual takes place. By Indian calendar, it takes place on Phalguna Krishna Sashthi. Remember this day is also celebrated as Rang Panchami in many parts of the country. It would fall 5 days after the festival of Holi.
On this day, a re-enactment of some earlier event takes place. 3 men, who are in a possessed state lie down on the ground with their heads touching each other forming a triangle. A fire is lit and rice cooked over their heads.
The area next to the mandir is cordoned off and only people participating in the ritual are allowed. The staircase next to it is covered and this is where everyone sits to observe the festival. Women in their colorful Saris make it a vibrant place.
Martial music is played all the time during the festival.
Throughout the day colorful umbrellas made by pleating multiple Saris are taken out of the temple to the village and brought back with all the pomp and show. They are called Tarang.
Tarang’s play a central role in this as well as many other temples of Goa. When they return to the temple with music and dance, some youngsters show their martial arts with swords in their hands. The men holding Tarangs keep dancing with them creating a lovely scene.
Towards 4 PM or so, the six Tarangs are made to stand on their own in a row. Three of them have deities on them. I could see Shiva riding the Nandi on top. The literature says they are probably the Avatar Purush. The poles in red colors are painted with many motifs that I had no way to observe closely. I could only see some hands painted on them. They act as a witness to the ritual of cooking rice on the heads of three people.
Men stood next to them holding swords. Women are not supposed to be near this place, so we all sat at a distance.
A banana leaf and a thick layer of the banana leaf are tied to their heads of the three persons called Gade, after applying the holy ash on their bodies. Once the rice is cooked, a bit of blood from one of the men is added to the rice. This rice is then thrown on the crowds around and everyone runs away to avoid the bad vibes of the rice.
As of today, the whole thing is done symbolically only, but at some point in time, it must have been an elaborate ritual commemorating the killing of some evil spirits. I assume it served the purpose of reminding the Kshatriyas of their dharma. The place is so crowded that you can hardly see it even when you are within a few meters of it.
This festival happens once in two years. I attended it in 2019, so it happens in all odd years I assume.
Video of Shisha Ranni Festival at Mallikarjuna Temple
Veermal is celebrated on Phalgun Shukl Dwadashi or 3 days before the Holi festival.
Men called Bhagats fast through the day. Along with musicians, they are in a group of 18, and collectively called Gade. In the evening they run house to house with swords in their hands as the live music plays on drums. Houses they visit offer them betel leaves and areca nut (Paan-Supari).
I assume it is a re-enactment of some wartime ritual. It could also be a ritual to reassure the villagers of safety with weapons in the hands of the young men. I am told that even the power supply of the village is cut during this festival.
Temple of Kshatriya Samaj
It is a temple of Kshatriyas – the warrior clans. It is of course dedicated to Shiva as Mallikarjuna just like it is in Srisailam Hills in Telangana. However, whenever I said Hindu temple, I was corrected – it is a Kshatriya temple.
Well, Kshatriyas are also Hindus, I said. They said, yes, they are. This Mandir belongs only to Kshatriyas and not all Hindus. Fair enough.
There are 13 Mallikarjuna temples in Goa, of which 4 are in Canacona.
Things to do around Canacona Goa
Canacona was originally called Kanvapura after Kanva Rishi. Remember we took you to the Ashram of Kanvashram in Uttarakhand.
Palolem Beach – A popular beach with backpackers surrounded by a touristy buzz. It is a perfect place to spend your evenings as you watch the sun go down between two hills standing in the ocean.
Palolem beach has a lot of beach shacks and restaurants that you can enjoy. We really liked its famous one – Dropadi.
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary – This is a lovely wildlife sanctuary nearby. During monsoons, it is full of waterfalls like Kuskem Waterfalls. Read more on our detailed post on Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.
BudBudi Tal – The bubbling lake of Goa is nested in the Netravali area where you also find lovely spice gardens. Read more – BudBudi Tal
How to reach Shristhal?
- Shristhal is located 75 km south of Panaji & 5 Km from Chaudi – the taluka headquarters of Canacona.
- Regular buses can take you there from Madgaon.
- Taxi is the best option to reach Shristhal if you can afford it.
On the festival day, the Mandir is very crowded. Food is served on the premises free of cost, although anyone who eats would donate something to the temple.