Goa, the ultimate tourist destination, is not usually associated with temples. But did you know that the land of fun, sun and feni is home to temples that date from the 12th century CE? In fact, some of them are architecturally so unique that they could be mistaken for European mansions!
Goa is a land deeply rooted in mythology and history. According to legends, the region was created by the sixth avatar of Vishnu, Parshuram, who reclaimed the land from the Sea God Varuna. In ancient times, Goa was called Gomantak, and Gove, meaning fertile lands. The epic Mahabharata refers to the region as Goparashtra or ‘land of cowherds’.
Goa has also been under the rule of various powerful dynasties such as the Satavahanas (2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE), Bhojas of Goa (3rd century-6th century CE) and Badami Chalukyas (6th century-8th century CE). From the 10th century to the 14th century CE, the Kadambas of Goa ruled the region with Chandor as their capital. The territory later came under the Vijayanagara Empire (14th century-15th century CE), followed by the Adil Shahi dynasty (15th century-16th century CE). In the 16th century CE, the Portuguese took control and left a deep impact on its culture.
The architectural heritage of Goa’s temples has its roots in the Goa Inquisition of the 16th century CE. During this time, temples were destroyed all over the land and the idols from these shrines were taken to secure places, in the safekeeping of local rulers.
That’s why we see two types of temples in Goa – one that houses local deities and the other that houses deities who ‘migrated’ to safer places during Portuguese rule.
These relocated deities were initially housed in simple, hidden dwellings but were installed in new shrines built specially for them in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The new temples were built in a blend of Hindu and European architecture, thanks to the Portuguese imprint in the region.
While the basic layout adheres to Hindu architecture, a strong European influence can be seen in the decorated walls, arches, pilasters, columns and chandeliers. Many of them look like European mansions and even churches!
Here’s a look at some of the most fascinating temples of Goa:
Goa’s oldest temple dates to the 12th century CE and is near the foot of the Anmod Ghat in the village of Tambdi Surla. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it was built by the Kadambas and has remained untouched for 800 years. That’s because it is located in a relatively remote, forested area.
The only temple in Goa that survives in its original form, it is built from basalt in Kadamba architectural style. The temple is said to be named after the brownish-red earth typical of the area (‘tambdi’ means ‘red’). Interestingly, although it is a Shiva temple, several images associated with Vaishnavism decorate its walls.
How to get there: The temple is in the village of Tambdi Surla, 55 km from Margao. The nearest railway station is Kulem, 21 km away.
The Saptakoteshwar temple, also dating to the Kadamba period, is one of the six great sites of Shiva temples in the Konkan region. The original temple was destroyed during the Goa Inquisition and the Shiva Linga was smuggled by a local named Narayan Shenvi Suryarao in the 16th century CE and later installed in a temple near the island of Divar. This temple was rebuilt in the 17tth century CE on the orders of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji.
An interesting legend is associated with the temple’s name. According to the legend, Shiva agreed to reside here as he was pleased with the devotion of seven holy sages, who prayed for seven crore years (‘sapta’ means seven and ‘koteshwar’ means ‘lord of crores’). This form of Shiva is said to have been one of the chief deities of the Kadamba rulers in the 12th century CE.
Coins of the Kadambas from this era mention the name of the deity ‘Saptakoteshwara’ along with the Kadamba king Jayakeshi. The temple is a blend of architectural styles, with a dome on sloping tile roofs, European-style mandapas (halls) and a huge deepastamba (lamp tower).
How to get there: The temple is at Narve, 37 km from Panaji.
The Shanta Durga temple of Kavale is one of the finest examples of an amalgamation of architectural styles. Rebuilt in the 18th century, its pyramidal shikharas, sloping roofs, multi-Roman-arched windows with stained-glass windows and chandeliers make this temple a standout.
Shantadurga, a form of Durga, is one of the most popular and widely worshipped deities in Goa. Locally known as ‘Shanteri’, she is worshipped as a guardian and the one who mediates between Vishnu and Shiva. According to the Puranas, Goddess Parvati, in the form of Shantadurga intervened in a battle between Vishnu and Shiva. The goddess is depicted holding two serpents representing Vishnu and Shiva.
How to get there: The temple is on the outskirts of Kavalem village, 18 km from Margao, along the Margao-Ponda Highway.
Shri Mangesh Temple
Located in Priol village in North Goa in hilly terrain, this is one of the most-visited temples in Goa rebuilt in the 19th century. Although not very large, this temple was built in a distinctly Indo-Portuguese style. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple has an interesting legend. Lord Shiva resided here after losing everything to Parvati in a game of dice. When she came in search of him, Lord Shiva took the form of a tiger to scare Parvati, who on seeing the tiger exclaimed “Trahi mam Girish (Save me, Lord of the Mountains).” Over time, the words ‘mam Girish’ were associated with Shiva and the temple came to be known as ‘Manguirisha’ or ‘Manguesh’.
How to get there: The temple is in Priyol village, 22 km from Panaji.
The Mhalasa Narayani temple in the town of Mardol in North Goa is dedicated to Goddess Mhalasa Narayani, considered the female form of Vishnu, Mohini. Interestingly, Goddess Mhalasa is worshipped in two traditions – one as an independent goddess in Mohini form and the other, a form of Parvati as the consort of Khandoba (a form of Shiva).
The goddess is also called Rahu-matthani (slayer of Rahu) according to the Bhavishya Purana. She is depicted holding a severed head and a drinking bowl, standing on a demon and wearing a yajnopavita (sacred thread), generally associated with male deities. The temple was reconstructed in the 17th century.
How to get there: The temple is in Mardol village along the NH 4a, 24 km from Panaji.
These aesthetic temples, unique to Goa, form an inherent part of the state’s vibrant culture as they bear not only the architectural imprint of its past but carry stories that are an inextricable part of the region’s history.
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