Temple Trail in Goa? Ancient? 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 are a few hundred years old as they exist today. But all these 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. 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 them are Kuldevta or family deity temples of Saraswat Brahmins who dominated this region before the Portuguese took over.
Most temples here are dedicated to Shiva and his various Swaroop. And his consort Parvati in her various Swaroop. What is intriguing is that the Shiva temples exist independently of the Parvati temples and vice-versa. Though the devotees who visit one temple also visit the other. But it is not usual to find both Shiva and Parvati in the same temple. Elsewhere in India, even if one of Shiva or Parvati is the presiding deity, 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 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?
The 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 ones looked. There is one surviving temple called ‘Tambdi Surla Mahadeva’ that is built in stone. It may be interpreted that the others 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 unique architecture. They borrow elements from Islamic architecture as well as Portuguese architecture while maintaining the basic nuances of a Hindu Temple.
Features of Temples in Goa
- 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 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 the 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 them have some wood carved panels. I was told that till about a century back all of them had wooden panels that have been slowly replaced by brick and mortar.
- Each temple has a square or rectangular pond called Talli or Taal.
- Each of them hosts an annual Jatra or a fair and the premises 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.
- Ceilings are adorned with elaborate chandeliers that belong to 18-19th CE, roughly the time they were built and when chandeliers were in vogue.
Since most devotees now are from outside Goa there are rooms and canteens for their stay.
Allow me to walk you through some of the famous temples, 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 shrines can be found all across Goa.
Another legend associated with Shantadurga is the slaying of the 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 Shrine of Shantadurga
The original shrine of Shantadurga was located in Keloshi village and was shifted from there in 1564. And the current one 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 shrine 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 shrine 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 the Sardesai family to oversee the Palki procession of Shantadurga Temple.
In bright red color, it has 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 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 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 their Website for more details.
Sh Ramnath Prasanna Devasthan
This 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, the Ramnathi shrine was located in the village of Loutolim, where you can now see the Bigfoot Museum.
As per their website, Ramnath is the symbol of Vishnu & Shiva unity. Hari i.e. Vishnu and Hara i.e. Shiva comes together as Hari-Hara. Their website also offers the online darshan to the followers.
Sh Mahalaxmi Temple, Bandora
The Sh Mahalaxmi temple is located in Bandora village near Ponda. 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 inside that you realize you are inside a shrine.
Mahalaxmi here 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 the Mahalaxmi idol here resembles the Mahalaxmi at Kolhapur.
For the Goud Saraswat Brahmins who are followers, this one 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 that you can see when you go around for circumambulation or parikrama.
As per their website, the Sh Mahalaxmi shrine existed herein Bandora village since ancient times and not really moved here during Portuguese times. The shrine that existed in Colva and is sometimes confused to have been shifted here, was a subsidiary shrine, built by the followers who found it difficult to come to Bandora after crossing rivers.
Sh Nageshi Maharudra Temple, Bandora
Located very close to Mahalaxmi, Nagesh Maharudra commonly known as the Nageshi shrine is also located in Bandora village.
I would remember this for the beautiful tank right in front of it. If you walk to the opposite end you see the reflection of the shrine in the tank and that looks just lovely. Otherwise, it is a rather simple one.
A notable feature 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 shrine top has peacocks on it and its canteen is also called Mayurshala. I could not gather the relation of Peacock with Maharudra’s form of Shiva. As peacock is generally associated with his son Kartik or with Krishna Avatar of Vishnu.
Another intriguing feature 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 shrine of Nagnath. I assume that is tropically important as that area is home to a lot of snakes. The shrine is believed to be Swayambhu – or the one that came on its own and was not really built by man.
As per folklore, the tank has snakes in it. But I do not recall any snakes there though I saw many big and small fishes in the tank.
Like the Mahalaxmi shrine, this one 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 shrine is the most enchanting. It has a unique long body with a shining brass dome atop its blue walls. The interiors in the wood are very well preserved. You enter 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 have lovely wooden brackets and frames.
If you want to get a glimpse of how the earlier avatars of these shrines might have looked, the Mahalasa shrine is your best bet.
Mahalasa is the name of Mohini – the avatar of Vishnu as an enchantress. And has a 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 shrine is that she is shown wearing Yagnopavitra or the sacred thread around her shoulder that is usually worn only by the men.
The original shrine 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 one.
Their website gives information about all the Mohini or Mahalasa shrines like the one in Nepal near the Pashupatinath shrine or the one in Maharashtra.
Along with Shantadurga, Mangeshi or Mangueshi is one of the most important and hence famous temples of the state. I had earlier written in detail about Mangeshi.
In fact, it is also used by Goa tourism as a representative of all temples in Goa for any promotional activity. You can find this one on all Goa tourism brochures.
It was originally located in Cortalim on the banks of the Zuari river which were respectively known as Khushasthali and Agashi. A new shrine has been built at the original spot but the real practicing shrine continues to be in Priol village near Ponda, where it has stood for 400+ years.
Devaki Krishna Temple, Marcel
Devaki Krishna is a unique one located in the village of Marcel. Also pronounced as Marcel that was originally called MahaShaila. It is dedicated to motherly emotion with mother Devaki holding the child Krishna in her arms.
It was originally located on Chorao Island that was then called Chudamani. Legend is that when Vasco Da Gama visited, 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 their 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, it was initially shifted to Mayem near Bicholim. And then to its current location in Marcel.
The present shrine probably dates to 1842 CE. On the left of the premises of Devaki Krishna is the shrine of Ravalnath and together these are called Devaki Krishna Ravalnath temples. Ravalnath is a Shiva shrine. And my little research says it is probably an incarnation of the Bhairon – the Ugra rupa of Shiva.
Most belong to the Shiva-Shakta sect so I was quite keen to know the history of the Devaki Krishna temple. And my guess is that this 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
The legend of Devaki Krishna 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 to date.
Their website has a detailed history, as well as Saraswat Brahmins.
No Photography is allowed inside. 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 their websites sums up the Saraswat Temples in the state – “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.
Practical Tips for visiting the Temples in Goa
- Dress conservatively.
- You are required to take off your shoes before entering the premises.
- A visit to all listed above can be done in 4-5 hours unless there is a festival going on when it can take a little longer.
- Most have a canteen where you can have simple vegetarian food at a very basic cost.