Temple Trail in Goa? Ancient Temples in Goa? Really? Yes, there is a lot of history in Goa if you get past the beach belt. Goa has been one of the oldest living regions of the world. Remember I wrote about the oldest known labyrinth in the world that can be seen on the river bed in Pansoimol and about the ancient caves in Arvalem. This time, let me take you to South East Goa in and around Ponda town which is home to many old temples in Goa.
Centuries-old Saraswat Temples in Goa
Well, these temples in Goa are a few hundred years old as they exist today. But all these temples are not in situ i.e. not in the original place where they were originally built. They were located in various villages across the state of Goa or Govapuri as it was known. But during the Portuguese period when the temples were being demolished, the idols were moved here by the Brahmin families and re-installed in and around Ponda. Temples were subsequently built and the influence of Portuguese architecture is visible on all of them in various forms and shapes.
Temples in Goa are known as Devasthan and used to be at the center of the village. The life revolved around them not just for religious but social purposes as well. Families who take care of temple upkeep are called Mahajan’s. Most of these temples in Goa are Kuldevta or family deity temples of Saraswat Brahmins who dominated this region before the Portuguese took over.
Most temples in Goa are dedicated to Shiva and his various Swaroop. And his consort Parvati in her various Swaroop. What is intriguing about Goan temples is that the Shiva temples exist independent of the Parvati temples and vice-versa. Though the devotees who visit one temple also visit the other temple. But it is not usual to find both Shiva and Parvati in the same temple. Elsewhere in India, even if one of Shiva – Parvati is presiding deity of the temple, the other is found in the temple as Parivar Devta or the family deity. In fact, in most Shiva temples across India, Parvati, Kartikeya, and Ganesha are almost always present. Instead in Goa, you find the image of a
Instead in Goa, you find the image of a Grampurush in the temple e.g. that of Mulkeshwara in Mangeshi Temple. Who is the local man who helped establish the temple at the current place when the devotees brought the idol or Shivlings here from Cortalim facing a potential demolition by the Portuguese?
Architecture of Temples in Goa
Most temples in Goa were destroyed during the 400+ year rule of the Portuguese, so we really do not know how the original temples looked. There is one surviving temple called ‘Tambdi Surla Mahadeva’ that is built in stone. it may be interpreted that the other temples may have been built in stone as was the tradition across India for building temples. The new temples, most of which were built sometime in 17-18th CE under the patronage of various Kings of the regions surrounding Goa, have a unique architecture. They borrow elements from Islamic architecture as well as Portuguese architecture while maintaining the basic nuances of a Hindu Temple.
Features of Goa Temples
- Each temple has a shikhara – which is sometimes like a dome or an elongated dome. Sometimes made of brick and mortar, sometimes in brass, sometimes it is a pyramid-shaped triangular roof.
- All Goa all temples wear bold colors – blue, yellow, red etc
- There are several doors or door jambs that lead to the Garbh Griha or the Sanctum Sanctorum. All of them carved in silver and creating a beautiful view with converging lines leading to the deity.
- All images of presiding deities are made of black granite stone.
- As the deities are adorned in best of fineries, you usually miss the iconographic details of the images except for their face and their headgear. Which for me are the distinct identification marks of each deity in Goa temples?
- Some of the temples have some wood carved panels. I was told that till about a century back all temples had wooden panels that have been slowly replaced by the brick and mortar.
- Each temple has a square or rectangular pond called Talli or Taal.
- Each temple hosts an annual Jatra or a fair and the temples are painted and polished just before this.
- The Vahana or the vehicles of the deity – usually a wooden chariot or a Palanquin can be seen. The carvings and designs of these are worth noting. Most of the year they lie in a room called Vahanashala.
- All temple ceilings are adorned with elaborate chandeliers that belong to 18-19th CE. Roughly the time temples were built and when chandeliers were in vogue.
Since most devotees now visit from outside Goa there are rooms and canteens for their stay.
Allow me to walk you through some of the famous Temples in Goa that must be on your Things to do in Goa wish list.
Shantadurga is an oxymoronic word. Durga is supposed to be an aggressive fierce goddess. Shanta means calm and peaceful. Goans like to believe that Goa is such a cool place that even Durga goes Shanta or peaceful here.
Legend though says once upon a time Durga played peacemaker between Shiva and Vishnu when they were engaged in a fierce battle. On Brahma’s request, Parvati intervened and placed Vishnu on her right hand Shiva on her left hand. This Swaroop of her came to be known as Shantadurga – Durga who brings peace. Locally and colloquially she is known as Shanteri and her temples can be found all across Goa.
Another legend associated with Shantadurga is the slaying of demon Kalataka that won her the name Vijaydurga. In fact, the temple name now reads as Shantadurga Vijayate – another layer of the oxymoron – the calm goddess who wins.
Shantadurga is supposed to be an avatar of Jagdamba Devi.
Original Temple of Shantadurga
Original temple of Shantadurga was located in Keloshi village and was shifted from there in 1564. And the current temple was built in the 1730s, making it still a 300-year-old temple. Keloshi was a Harijan village and since Harijans helped establish a new temple in their land, they were felicitated by gifting them the Saris and other things offered to the deity by the devotees. And the custom continues to this day. Similarly, the temple has the protection of a Sardesai gentleman who represented Adil Shah in those days in Goa. And he used to oversee the annual Palki procession when the goddess is taken out on a palanquin. Over a period of time, it became a tradition to have a member of Sardesai family to oversee the Palki procession of Shantadurga Temple.
In bright red color, this temple as many pyramidical roofs surrounding the central Shikhara that is like an elongated cylinder with a small dome on top. There are roman arch windows that are illuminated with colored glasses.
When I visited the temple, the morning Arti was going on. The deity image was illuminated using a big mirror to reflect the sunlight on her face. I have not seen this anywhere else. Since the temple is very long and the deity is good 100 meters or so away from the entrance, it was nice to see sunlight reaching the deity and making it visible to the devotees. This light put so much focus on the deity that your eyes would not look elsewhere.
Mulpurush or the first man to bring the Goddess here and install here also has a small temple dedicated to him. At Shantadurga this task was done by Lomsharma of Kaushik gotra.
Refer to the Shantadurga Temple Website for more details.
Sh Ramnath Prasanna Devasthan
This temple is about 450 years old and you feel its age when you stand on its premises that look rather worn out.
Lord Ramnath here is flanked by two of his spouses Kamakshi & Shanteri.
Originally, Ramnathi Temple was located in the village of Loutolim, where you can now see the Bigfoot Museum.
As per the temple website, Ramnath is the symbol of Vishnu & Shiva unity. Hari i.e. Vishnu and Hara i.e. Shiva comes together as Hari-Hara. The Ramnath Temple website also offers the online darshan to the followers.
Sh Mahalaxmi Temple, Bandora
The Sh Mahalaxmi temple is located in Bandora village near Ponda in South Goa. I remember it for the striking yellow color that I so associate with the houses of Goa. It almost looks like a palatial house with tall windows. It is only when you step into the temple that you realize you are inside a temple.
Mahalaxmi at this temple is believed to be an incarnation of Adi-Shakti – the supreme power & energy.
A unique aspect of Mahalaxmi at Goa is that she wears Linga on her forehead. In her hands, she holds a sickle, a club, a dagger and a vessel containing Prasad.
It is said that Mahalaxmi idol at this temple resembles the Mahalaxmi at Kolhapur.
For the Goud Saraswat Brahmins who follow these temples in Goa, the temple of Mahalaxmi stands out for the beautiful gardens in its premises. You can see various flowering trees all around. The beautiful Chariot is placed in a room behind the temple that you can see when you go around the temple for circumambulation or parikrama.
As per the temple website, Sh Mahalaxmi Temple existed herein Bandora village since the ancient times and not really moved here during Portuguese times. Temple that existed in Colva and is sometimes confused to have been shifted here was a subsidiary shrine of this temple, built by the followers who found it difficult to come to Bandora after crossing rivers.
Sh Nageshi Maharudra Temple, Bandora
Located very close to the Mahalaxmi temple, Nagesh Maharudra Temple commonly known as Nageshi temple is also located in Bandora village.
I would remember this temple for the beautiful temple tank right in front of the temple. If you walk to the opposite end you see the reflection of the temple in the tank and that looks just lovely. Otherwise, it is a rather simple temple.
A notable feature of this temple is the running wooden panel with stories from Hindu epics carved in bright colors.
The Deepastambha here had 8 guardian deities of the 8 directions carved on it. Like you see at Sun Temple, Modhera as well.
The temple top has peacocks on it and its canteen is also called Mayurshala. I could not gather the relation of Peacock with Maharudra form of Shiva. As peacock is generally associated with his son Kartik or with Krishna Avatar of Vishnu.
Another intriguing feature of this temple is that it faces west which is unusual. Temples mostly face east and some Shiva temples face South.
A copper plate dating back to 1300 CE calls this temple of Nagnath. I assume that is tropically important as that area is home to a lot of snakes. The temple is believed to be Swayambhu – or the one that came on its own and was not really built by man.
As per the folklore, the Nageshi temple tank has snakes in it. But I do not recall any snakes there though I saw many big and small fishes in the temple tank.
Like Mahalaxmi temple, this temple is also in-situ and was not shifted here from anywhere. In other words, this was not impacted by the Portuguese rule as Ponda never came under their rule.
Sh Mahalasa Narayani Temple, Mardol
Mahalasa temple is the most enchanting of temples of Ponda or Goa. It has a unique long body with a shining brass dome atop its blue walls. The temple interiors in wood are very well preserved. You enter the temple and are surrounded by thick carved pillars all around. There is a wooden panel going around the hall for the devotees to sit. The ceilings have fine carvings depicting various animals and birds. The outer walls of the temple have lovely wooden brackets and frames.
If you want to get a glimpse of how the earlier avatars of these temples might have looked, Mahalasa temple is your best bet.
Mahalasa is the name of Mohini – the avatar of Vishnu as an enchantress. And has direct reference to the story of Samudra Manthan when Vishnu took this avatar to distract the asuras. As per some folklore, it was Parvati who took the form of Mohini, so Mahalasa is also an incarnation of Parvati. At Mardol though she is treated as an avatar of Vishnu only – and the fact is corroborated by putting Narayani after her name.
A unique feature of Mahalasa at Mardol temple is that she is shown wearing Yagnopavitra or the sacred thread around her shoulder that is usually worn only by the men.
The original temple was located in present-day Verna that was known as Varunapur in those days. And was moved to Mardol in 16th CE, making it about a 450-year-old temple.
The temple website gives information about all the Mohini or Mahalasa temples like the one in Nepal near Pashupatinath Temple or the one in Maharashtra.
Along with Shantadurga Temple, Mangeshi or Mangueshi is one of the most important and hence famous temples of Goa. I had earlier written in detail about Mangeshi Temple.
In fact, this temple is also used by Goa tourism as a representative of all temples in Goa for any promotional activity. You can find this blue temple on all Goa tourism brochures.
Mangeshi temple was originally located in Cortalim on the banks of Zuari river which were respectively known as Khushasthali and Agashi. A new temple has been built at the original spot but the real practicing temple continues to be in Priol village near Ponda, where it has stood for 400+ years.
Devaki Krishna Temple, Marcel
Devaki Krishna is a unique temple located in the village of Marcel. Also pronounced as Marcel that was originally called MahaShaila. It is a temple dedicated to motherly emotion with mother Devaki holding the child Krishna in her arms.
The temple was originally located on Chorao Island that was then called Chudamani. Legend is that when Vasco Da Gama visited this temple, he fell on his knees assuming that this is the image of mother Mary. But was obviously annoyed when he discovered them otherwise. As per the temple website, Devakikrishna was the principal deity of Chorao island. And festivals like Shigmotsav would start only after invoking this deity on Chorao island.
From Chorao, this temple was initially shifted to Mayem near Bicholim. And then to its current location in Marcel.
Present temple probably dates to 1842 CE. On the left of the temple of Devaki Krishna is the temple of Ravalnath and together these temples are called Devaki Krishna Ravalnath temples. Ravalnath is a Shiva temple. And my little research says it is probably an incarnation of the Bhairon – the Ugra rupa of Shiva.
Most temples in Goa belong to Shiva-Shakta sect so I was quite keen to know the history of Devaki Krishna temple. And my guess is that this temple may have its origins in the Bhakti movement that was pretty strong in medieval times. When Bhakti poets took center stage in keeping Hinduism alive.
Legend of Devaki Krishna
Legend of Devaki Krishna temple though dates back to the days of Mahabharata. It is said that when Krishna & Balarama were fighting Jarasandha on the Gomanchala Parvat, Devaki got anxious. And she traveled all the way to Gomanchal. She, however, did not recognize Krishna as she only knew him as a child. So Krishna took a child form for her once again. And she lifted him in her arms and that is how they are worshiped by the devotees till date.
Temple website has the detailed history of the temple as well as Saraswat Brahmins of Goa.
No Photography is allowed inside any of these temples in Goa. A few of them gave me permission to take a picture for this blog. While others asked me to take pictures from outside only.
This phrase that I read on one of the temple websites sums up the Saraswat Temples in Goa – “Pillar of Shri Mangesh”, “Dome of Shri Shantadurga”, “Tank of Shri Nagesh”, “Square of Shri Mahalaxmi”, “Sthal (Spot) of Shri Mahalasa” and “Gana of Shri Kamakshi” elucidates the distinctive features of some of the temples in Goa.
Practical Tips for Visiting Temples in Goa
- Dress conservatively.
- You are required to take off your shoes before entering the temple.
- All the temples in Goa listed above can be done in 4-5 hours unless there is a festival going on when it can take a little longer.
- Most temples in Goa have a canteen where you can have simple vegetarian food at very basic cost.