Pre-Portuguese Goa Conversation With Prajal Sakhardande


Anuradha: In Detours today we have Prof. Prajal Sakhardande, Professor of History at Dhempe college of Arts and Science in Goa. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Goa Heritage Action Group. A group that is focused on conserving and preserving the heritage of Goa. He is also the author of one of the most authoritative works on Goa, a book called Goa Gold Goa Silver which he has spent two decades in writing. Let us discover his learnings on Pre-Portuguese Goa and more about the state.

Prof. Prajal: Namaskar Anuradha. Thank you for the introduction. Yes, my book Goa Gold Goa Silver Her History Her Heritage from the Earliest times to 2019 was recently released. Basically, this book is divided into three parts: Portuguese Goa, Pre-Portuguese Goa, and Post Liberation Goa.

Pre-Portuguese Goa You Hardly Know

Anuradha: We know a lot about Goa since the days Portuguese came here but not about Ancient Goa or Pre-Portuguese Goa. In fact, Goa is mentioned in Sahayadri Khand of Skand Puran, Mahabharata, and Mahalasa Narayani is mentioned in many scriptures but not much is known. So, How back in the History of Goa can we go?

Prof. Prajal: When we talk about Goa we have to go back to the Geological time’s scale and about the formation of Goa i.e Trondhjemite gneiss, the earliest rock formation of Goa, where the legend of Parashuram is associated. They say Parashuram was the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, he stood upon the Shayadris and there was no land called Goa. He brought 96 Saraswat families with him and wanted to settle there. So, he commanded the sea to retreat by shooting an arrow from Arambol. It fell in Banawali that’s why Bana-Halli. The sea got retreated by listening to the command of Parashuram and Goa was born. The land of Gomantak was born. This was all about the Mythology and legend of Goa’s creation is concerned.

Tribal Communities of Goa

You know the Aryans, the Saraswats were trying to legitimize the fact that they are the ones who created Goa. We are trying to forget that much before they came to settle here there were tribal communities of Goa like Gowdas, Kunbi, Velips Kharavis, etc. That’s where we can go back for thousands of years. There is a Gaonkari system. Then also, you find Pansoimol rock art, on the banks of river Kushavati there is rock carving which is found. We do not know these petroglyphs are done by whom, maybe by the tribal communities of Goa. So, Goa is very ancient. It is not one that the tourism department used to believe and perpetuate the myths like Goa is Portuguese, Goa is Christian. There is no Hindu here and all.

Goa is very much Indian, very much part of India. I would also put forth the fact that Goa geographically, historically, culturally, religiously is part of India since ancient times. The Portuguese were here from 1510 to 1961. They also did not rule formally the whole of Goa. The perception of people outside Goa is that it is only Christian Goa where all girls are Marias and all boys are Johns which is not true. This is what people would like to perceive.

Pansoimol Petroglyph – Pre-Portuguese Goa

Anuradha: Very interesting that you mentioned Pansoimol petroglyph. There is a huge labyrinth that is drawn there. When I was writing about that I read somewhere that this is the world’s oldest known labyrinth. Do you have any comments on that?

Prof. Prajal: I do not know whether it is the world’s oldest labyrinth but the labyrinth or the maze is very very interesting. There are various theories associated. One such theory is that is shamanistic religion of the tribes and that’s the universe and concentric circles. They used to connect with astronomical positions connected to sciences like Kundalini, Panchang, etc. I think it’s difficult to comprehend. I have seen the labyrinth in the museum in Canada and Washington. So, there were labyrinths all over. But I feel this one of Goa is one of the oldest rock art of Goa.

Underground Caved Chambers

Anuradha: So, it could be an observatory to study the sky. If we move a little forward in time what do we see in Goa?

Prof. Prajal: We see many Caves in Goa like in Chikhali there are 3 underground caved chambers. We have explored them along with ASI. There was one German lady whose name was Greetly Mitter Warner and she had discovered those caves in 1965. She had found potsherds there. So the fact of finding the potsherds in the caves is an indication of the human life around it. This is on the banks of the Zuari river. So, we have the various rivers in Goa like Zuari, Mandovi, Kushavati, etc and you find several things such as rock art, caved chambers along the bed of these rivers. There are marine fossils also. So, that shows that Goa is very very ancient.

Pre-Portuguese Goa

River valley culture

Anuradha: Yes, it has been inherited for a very long time. So, if we move a little ahead in time like to the so-called civilizational setup. So, which is the earliest civilizational setup that we know of?

Prof. Prajal: I would say we can look at Mhadei river valley culture, Kushavati river valley culture, Zuari river valley culture, etc. It’s when human life began there. People started settling there on the banks of the rivers. Then, we have this Gaonkari system is being set up. After that, we have this dynastic phase. The first historical evidence in the history of Goa is of King Devraj Bhoj. He was the first king historically known to have ruled Goa between 4th to 7th CE. So, you have the Bhoj Dynasty from 4 to 6th century then 7th century of Konkan Mauryan Kings overlapping with that we have Badami Chalukya kings.

We also have the first queen of Goa, Queen Vijay Bhattarika and they were from Karnataka. She was the daughter in law of Pulakesin II. Pulakesin II was the emperor in the south who defeated north Indian king Harshavardhan. Then there were Shilaharas from Maharashtra ruling over the Goa, Kadambas from Karnataka, Vijayanagara rulers then Bahamani then Adil Shah, and then comes Portuguese.

Rulers of Goa – Pre-Portuguese Goa

Anuradha: So, which one of these was the longest ruler?

Prof. Prajal:  I would say the Kadamba Period that was from 906 CE to 1356 CE.  It has been the longest. Their age is regarded as the Golden age of Culture. I don’t know most tourists whether they see it or not the Mahadev temple of Tambdi Surla, a very beautiful temple and the only surviving stone temple in Goa was built during the Kadamba period. There are other temples in Goa like in Curdi village there was a temple built by the founder Kadamba King Sashtadev I which is now transplanted near Salaulim Dam. King Narayandev built temples and Saptakoteshwar was their family deity.

Kadamaba rulers promoted education especially queen Kamala Devi. She used to patronize educational institutions like Brahamapuris, Agraharas, and also patronized many temple buildings. So, we have a lot of legacies of the Kadamba period of Goa.

Anuradha: It is still surviving and also lives in our transportation system.

Prof. Prajal: Yes, absolutely. In fact, our transportation system is State Kadamba Transportation introduced in 1980. They named it the Kadamba bus and the Lion emblem shown on the buses.

Saptakoteshwar Temple

Anuradha: Tell us about the Saptakoteshwar temple because I recently visited the ruins of it and the Kund that is left with the beautiful 108 temples in Divar island says if you look at those niches you see there is a hole which means there was Murti there at some point of time but we have no clue where those Murtis are? and what those Murtis were? Or Do we have a clue?.

Prof. Prajal: Actually, you have rightly mentioned this beautiful temple tank of Saptakoteshwar which is there on the Island of Divar. Divar island was known as the island of the lamps or Dweep Vatika or Deepavati or Devvadi – the abode of Gods. Now, that temple was built by the Kadambas in the 12th century. It went to face many ravages with time. Bahamanis demolished it, Vijayanagara reconstructed it then after the Portuguese destroyed it in 1541, the Shivalinga was taken across the river to Narvem. Later on, the Shivaji renovated the temple in 1668 CE. It continues to be there. There is a Tirth there. So, the Saptakoteshwar is still there in the psyche of the Goans which Kadambas has introduced to Goa.


Anuradha: I particularly wanted to ask, Do we know which Murtis were there in those niches in that temple tank and any of them had migrated to some of the museums or some other place or in some other temple? Do we have any clue?

Prof. Prajal: We have no clue about the Murtis. Only we know about the Linga. The Linga was used for washing clothes by the Portuguese. Then, it was shifted in a small cave temple in Saptakoteshwar. But about that niches, no information is available to us, whether the Portuguese destroyed it or not we do not know. Maybe if there are more excavation is done on the site, we could find it.

Anuradha: Because I would assume from the Indian perspective that most of them usually land up at some museum and we can trace. In fact, when I wrote about it, lots of Goans said that we don’t know about it. It’s very unfortunate.

Prof. Prajal: It is called south Konkan Kash, it’s a tirtha. Local people call it Tirtha means before the Portuguese it was believed that if you cannot go to Kashi due to some reasons you can go to Saptakoteshwar. Even today it is called Porne Tirtha meaning Old Tirtha.

Temples of Goa

Anuradha: So, tell us about the other important temples of Goa?

Prof. Prajal: ­ I would say there is a beautiful icon of Narayandev in Vichundrem. It’s a beautiful icon of Narayandev of Kadamba Shilahara Period and that is one of the oldest temples. We have the Curli Mahadev Temple, Tambdi Surla temple. So, there are several temples in the villages. Most of the temples were cave temples initially. There is one cave temple where we found Tiger worshipping in Shigao on Dudhsagar bed. We also found Adi Ganpati, an impression of Ganpati on the rock in the Dudhsagar river bed in a village called Shigao.

Also, the Bhoj kings worshipped Chandreshwar and they built a cave temple dedicated to Chandreshwar on a hill that is the Chandreshwar Bhootnath temple where Bhootnath was the original exorcist worship of the tribals. Like that you find several temples in Goa. So, the perception that people have of Goa that there are no temples, there are no Hindus is not true at all. So, through this interview, I am going to educate the people of India that there is another side of Goa.

Cover Page Image

Anuradha: You have a beautiful image on the cover of your book which seems like a kind of a game or Jigsaw puzzle. Can you tell us what that is?

Prof. Prajal: Yes, On 29 May 2008, when I went to Narve and I found several things in the village. We went to the hillock where I found a Swastik, there were two panels, Swastik Panels, and square panels. Now, I do not know that again it is labyrinth or associated with some kind of Kundalini or anything. I found these squares very fascinating and inside there was Swastik. So, something I found very magical on the Hillock of Narve.  There was also a temple lying in ruins. Maybe more research is required to be done because it is in grey stone. So, I have put on the cover of my book.

Anuradha: This would have come from outside as we don’t grey stone in Goa.

Prof. Prajal: This must have come from the Anmod ghat area or maybe this is of the Kadamba era. As in Kadamba era temple, they have used soft stone which is easy to carve.

Anuradha: It looks to be something like incomplete or in the process of being carved into something.

Prof. Prajal: Maybe. So, I found it very interesting a Swastik at the side. I did not put Swastik because people should not perceive a Hindu book. So, this was more of a secular image.

Caves and Tunnels

Anuradha: No, this is very interesting because it really intrigues your interest that what is it? So, Goa also has a lot of these ancient caves like you have in a village of Arvalem, then in down south Rivona caves, maybe Jain caves near the Saptakoteshwar temple. So, tell us about the cave system. Which era do they belong to? And who would have probably used them?

Prof. Prajal: We have found a number of caves and also tunnels. In Verna, we have found one underground tunnel. It was a long one and we explored it. In Chikhali, we found several caves and tunnels. In a village called Ejorshi, we found one underground cave. So, there are natural caves on the highest mountain peak of Goa when we went and stayed there. Also, there are caves of human habitation which are of the Paleolithic Period or later Paleolithic period. There are also Buddhist caves and caves that were built during the Sanskritization or the Hindu period. We also have Jain caves. So, you have different varieties of Caves.

Arvalem Caves

Hinduism was there before Buddhism came. Now, for example in Arvalem caves, there are Shivlingas inside it which look like later edition but initially, it may be a Buddhist cave and later on, Shivlingas came as we don’t know. Now, the Shivlingas are dated back to the era of Kapalivarman, the Bhoj king. There is an inscription which talks about Udagpath, the waterfall nearby. The Shivlingas were introduced in the 6th century CE. In Rivona, there one Rishi comes and meditates in a secret chamber, and the place is called Rishivan.

So, there were a number of caves that were put to a different use. Like in Thivim we found and saved one cave and that was a residential cave. Later on, we found Shivlingas that was introduced in the Cave. So, there are caves residential caves, caves for meditation, and for other purposes.

Anuradha: As a traveler, I can be biased but I also feel that these lots of ancient cave systems were actually meant for travelers. These are just places where they can take a rest. They can halt for a night. Somebody needs to do research that distance between one cave to another is something you can walk in a day.

Prof. Prajal: In Lamgaon Bicholim there is a cave. So, there are a number of caves and all this is of Pre Portuguese.

Temple Festivals

Anuradha: You have a lot of temple festivals that I found so unique in India. I am a temple hopper and I go to lots of temples. I have attended lots of festivals like Tripurari Poornima which is celebrated at midnight moon festival, be it a Chikal Kalo which is a world-class mud festival, be it Shisha Ranni is absolutely unique in its way. You know How do you relate these festivals to the rest of India. What is interesting that deities and the stories remain the same. For example, Chikal Kalo is related to Krishna and it’s done in front of the Krishna Temple.

Sanjeev Sardesai told me that these are the games that Krishna used to play and they are actually replaying the whole thing. How do you think that Goan festivals are so unique but yet they are tied like a thread to overall Hindu festivals anywhere in the world?

Prof. Prajal: In fact, what interesting is that when you go to any cave and you talk to the older generation, they will say it is Pandava caves. All caves in Goa as per the folklore is Pandava Caves. Even they believe that Tambdi Surla which was built by Kadambas, they feel it is built by Pandavas. They say Aita Rati Nika Vati means within one night they built. Now, at festivals in Goa, you find national festivals like Diwali, state festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi. Then there are local festivals or folk festivals which have an exorcism in them. They are some exorcist festivals.


For example, In Narvem there is one Jatra called Bhutanchi Jatra. It is the festival of the Ghost. Now, these are the women’s ghost. The Hindu women who died during childbirth and could not experience motherhood or could not live with the child etc. They craved for it. Their spirits are supposed to come alive after dusk in Narvem. There is a deity called Masana Devi, she is worshipped there and all these women are supposed to be coming there. I went with my students and they said we cannot stay beyond sunset as we wanted to stay more and experience. There are women called Aivantin who will come and attack you. They gave an example of a man who challenged them and the next day his body was found hanging on a tree.


You have a festival called Dasro in Pedne where they say Bhutakadha meaning taking out ghosts from the body. Then you find Shisharanni where the hearth is made upon heads and rice is cooked on it. You have people going in trans and they take a sword, hit one person, drop blood, mix with rice, and distribute. Then, there is Chorotsava, or festival of thieves where people are buried up to their necks. They are supposed to have killed in ancient times and they repent for having killed and later on, they found that they are not thieves.

Anuradha: This is like reliving lots of memories. Shisharanni and Chorotsava seem to me like re-enacting that memory again and again of something that has happened in some past. When it happened nobody knows, it’s always some old past. So, for me who have come outside from Goa and now I lived here for almost six years, I can say Goa is living a very old form of India in its villages. It’s not reliving, it’s recreating a lot of memories, and it’s a Hinduism of the past. It’s not Hinduism that is practiced in the Urban centers or even in the Tirthsthalas. It is very different but at the same time, it’s very Hindu because it all happens within the temple premises.

Tell us something more about the important dynasties that have ruled after Kadambas.

Ruling Dynasties – Pre-Portuguese Goa

Prof. Prajal: After Kadambas you have Vijayanagar. Vijayanagar was a very powerful kingdom in Karnataka and they were always rivals with the Bahamani. Throughout the 14th and 15th century we find that Goa was alternately ruled by Vijayanagar and Bahamani. Both were fighting over possessing Goa for the horse trade because there was lucrative horse trade carried out by the Arabs in old Goa called  “a-Ala”. That is the reason Goa became like a shutter between these two powers.

Vijayanagara Kingdom

Anuradha: Do we have any symbols of the Vijayanagara kingdom?

Prof. Prajal: They say that the Jain temple in Cuden village dates back to the 15th century of the Vijayanagar period. Neminath Basti, a Jain Basti in Bandoda dates to the Vijaynagara period. So there are remnants of the Vijaynagara era also. Some temples were originally built by Kadambas and during the Vijaynagar period, they were renovated like the Saptkoteswar and Divar island. There is an inscription on the Nageshi Temple of Bandoda dating and naming the Vijayanagar king Devaraya I with the year 1413. Vijayanagara’s presence is very much there in Goa.

Anuradha: And after Vijaynagar, Bahamani and Adilshah?

Prof. Prajal: Adilshah in 1498 and then Portuguese took over Goa.

Anuradha: After that, history is better known to the public.

Portuguese Era

Prof. Prajal: Portuguese era history is well known because they were good chroniclers and they have documented everything. If you go to Panjim archives you have all the Portuguese documents over there. I have personally consulted them.

Mughal Rule

Anuradha: I would say the 15th and 16th centuries onwards we have good records all over India, even Mughal records are available because of the closer past and the writing has become in vogue. So both the factors put together and the closer you are to the history and the more you know about it. The interesting part is that the 350 years the Kadamba has ruled, which is probably longer than the Mughal rule in India.

Prof. Prajal: Yes, Mughal ruled for 332 years and Kadambas for more than that.

Anuradha: One day some of my social media followers were counting the number of dynasties ruled longer than Mughals because of the popular perception we hear that the Mughals ruled the longest.

Prof. Prajal: In fact not at all just 332 years. You have Cholas, Ahoms, Pandyas, etc.  There have dynasties that have been ruled for so many years. This is somewhere down the line our ancient Indian history I don’t know it is not taught properly or it is not in the public domain.


Anuradha: We need to teach history properly. History needs to be given the same weightage today as probably the science and maths get because we are rooted there. Even science and history are rooted.

Prof. Prajal: Even Kashmir has its own history. Queens like Sugandha, Didda ruled over Kashmir. Then you have queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal who fought with the Portuguese and Rani Chennamma of Kitoor who fought the British.

Must-see History of Goa

Anuradha: So we will close this Prajal by asking the three or four things that people must see in Goa if they want to know the history of the state.

Prof. Prajal: I would say first they have to visit the Pansoimol rock art site on the banks of Kushavati, then I would say that, of course, they should visit old Goa. Then, Chandor which is the first capital of Goa. Tambdi Surla temple which is rarely visited then I would say the Saptkoteshwar temple of Oppa, Saptkoteswar temple or Porne tirtha at Divar, Mahalasa temple of Mardol, Kurdi Mahadev temple which is near the Salaulim dam. They visit the Salaulim dam but they don’t see the Kurdi Mahadev temple which was transplanted from Kurdi and built by Kadamba king Shishtadeva I.

Goa Tourism

Anuradha: I honestly hope that Goa tourism listens to this and work with you too and put the limelight on these Pre-Portuguese Goa destinations. I know you have a lot more to tell us Prajal but we have to close for today and hopefully get you back to this podcast.

Thank you so much for coming on Detours and we are really blessed to have you.

Prof. Prajal: I will sign off the way they say in Goa Dev Bare Karon.

Transcription by Harshil Gupta, and intern with IndiTales under IndiTales Internship Program.

Edited for this online publication.



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