Explosive Cultural Mosaic

The North meets the South and East meets the West say the temples, caves, rocks and the forts.

Goa offers a unique blend of natu-ral and cultural heritage. The traveller should not miss the Trondhjemeitic Gneiss, oldest rock formations in India on the National Highway 4-A close to Anmond village on way to Belgaum and the wave-cut canyon Chora baim near Baga-Calangute. In fact, the Baga cliff is a monument by itself. Also pay a visit to the picturesque wind-blown cliffs near Fort Aguada and near Canaguinim plateau beach in south Goa. If you are a geology freak, then the sea-sculpted rock arch at Keri beach in Pernem would fascinate you. The caves in Sattari, at Verna and Rivona offer mighty challenges. There are limestone caves in the Bhimgadh area in Sattari where you find the world’s only Wroughton’s free-tailed bat.

As you move down the Western Ghats, there are footprints of stone age humans in the rock art at Mauxi-Sattari, at Kazur-Quepem and Usgalimola-Rivona. The rock art gallery at Usgalimol is unique and displays a wide diversity of animal forms from the Mesolithic period. This is a site which deserves listing in the world heritage sites.

From these very ancient monuments, we move to a plethora of man-made caves cut in the abundant laterite found in Goa. It would appear that this land was chosen by apprentices to practise the evolution of temple and vihara forms in South India. The notable caves which appear as proto-temples are located at Aravalem and Lamgao-Bicholim, Khandepar-Ponda and Rivona-Quepem. The most remarkable are extensively-researched 4th century caves under ASI supervision at Aravalem. These caves have lingas and belong to the Skanda-Kartikeya-Surya cult of the ancient tantra practitioners.

Very close to these caves, within three kilometers, is Cudnem village, an erstwhile town of Chalukyan period where an image of a sun god was found. A visit to Cudnem would take you to a nearby hill where there is a necropolis with eight rectangular memorials.

The Lamgao caves are baffling because they show transition from Buddhist to Brahminic form. Lamgao caves are on the outskirts of Bicholim, a town famous for Cashew nuts, terracotta and brassware. There was a fort built by Shivaji and a palace occupied by Sambhaji in this town. Nothing has survived. But one can visit the Nimajgah, a small-arched mosque built by Shah Alam, son of Aurangzeb when he seized the town in 1684.

In the scenic Narve village, close to Bicholim is the famous medieval temple of Saptakoteshwara renovated by Maratha king Shivaji himself. This deity was worshipped by the Kadamba dynasty, and it originally belonged to Narve at Divar island. Nothing remains of the majestic temple of Saptakoteshwara at Divar except a tank with numerous niches and a few fragments salvaged and displayed at the ASI museum at Old Goa.

To catch a glimpse of Goa’s pre-Portuguese religious architecture, one has to travel 70 kilometres from Panaji to reach a quiet, thinly populated village — Tamdi Surla. It has a masterpiece of Kadamba temple architecture of the 12th century blending Hoysala and Yadava influences. During the monsoons, against the green, misty backdrop of the hills surrounded by dense forest, the temple looks like a sculpture in amethyst due to its unique purplish hue. The temple stands on ten finely ornamented monolithic pillars and the design uses male-female stone joints to fit the slabs and corners. A cool stream flows in front of the temple. The temple site is very ancient and falls on an old trade route linking Goa with the Western Ghats. The Tamdi Surla temple is very photogenic, and besides its architectural and sculptural beauty, it has a magnetic charm which attracts hundreds of people on weekends. People generally combine a visit to Molem national park and the Zoo at Bondla with an encounter with Tamdi Surla temple.

On the way back to Panaji from Tamdi Surla temple, one could see the 10th century caves of Khandepar and the Safa Shahuri mosque of Adilshahi period. It is the only one remaining out of 28 mosques built during the 60 years of Adilshahi rule. The mosque is built in laterite and has a beautiful tank. The town of Ponda once had a mighty fort and guarded the access to the Western Ghats. But the Mardangadh Fort was demolished by the Portuguese after capturing it from the Marathas.

The Trikutachal Temple at Agapur, close to Ponda is a composite of Islamic and Hindu architecture. All the other temples near this town are fairly recent. Tourists prefer temples at Naguesh, Ramnathi, Kavalem and Mangueshim. One could visit the site of Jain Basti at Bandora and observe the Brahminic cave of the ancient period near the road at Cuncoliem.

The city of Old Goa is rich in monuments. Once it had a vast fortification running for 22 kilometres with towers and moats and gates for entry guarded by soldiers. To get a bird’s eye view of the city, one must visit Mount Chapel near Monica convent. The bird’s eye view which one gets of the islands of Mandovi and the towers of the churches in the Old Goa is breathtaking. Perhaps one of the largest Augustinian monastery was the site of the Nossa Senhora da Graca Church, of which only a small tower — Augustine’s Tower — survives after 350 years. Legend has it that the mortal remains of the Georgian queen Ketevana Didipoli, who was killed by the Persian king for embracing Christianity, were buried in a vault in this church. Efforts to locate that vault have not yet borne fruits despite repeated requests from the Government of Georgia.

Those who are interested in Romanesque, Manueline, Gothic and Baroque architecture and the Rococo style could visit the Se Cathedral, the church of St Francis of Assissi, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the St Cajetan Church, the dome of which is modelled after the St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. However, the most beautiful monument of Indian Baroque style is not found at Old Goa but in a village eight kiometres from Santana-Telaulim. The St Anne Church has a magnificent facade and the vaults are shaped after sea-shells. Another forgotten monument near the St Anne Church is the paved staircase built to facilitate the transport of goods and passengers between Goa Velha and Old Goa. This staircase offers a picturesque view of the Siridao river valley. Opposite the St Anne Church are the hillocks of Goauli-Maula which had once sheltered the deposed kings of Sunda who had acceded their territories to the Portuguese. The villages have a huge salt-exclusion bundh built by the prime minister of Vijaynagar Emperor, Madhav Mantri. This bundh, Manchal-Samudra, separates the hilly area from the saline waters of the Siridao estuary. On the Moula hills, one comes across a huge deep well and an underground cellar which might have been used to store water or grains. This monumental structure is similar to the underground cistern found at Fort Aguada.

Goa is a land of forts. Records show 61 locations of forts. Most of these forts were built by the Portuguese to avert attacks from both land and the sea. The still-intact forts include: the Aguada, the Reis Mago, the Corjuem, the Chapora, the St Stephan, the Alorna, the Cabo de Rama and the Terekhol. All these forts have been built in laterite and have bastions to mount cannons and guns. The Chapora, Terekhol and Cabo de Rama forts are close to the sea and offer a beautiful view of the horizon and sunset. The Corjuem Fort has an impressive courtyard with a central well. The St Stephan Fort has a beautiful chapel and offers a scenic, panoramic view of Bicholim and Ponda Talukas.

Among all the temples in Goa, the temple of Siddanath on a 400-metre hillock near Borim and the temple of Chandranath on Paroda hill offer unique environmental settings. One can see up to 60 kilometres from the summit of these hills. Both these temple sites far outweigh the antiquity of the monuments Legend has it that the royal dynasty of the Bhojas of Chandor established the temple at Paroda. There is also a legend about meteorite worship at Chandranath temple. A meteorite landed on the hill and came to be worshipped as a divine symbol. It is said that at several places in Goa, people used to worship iron meteorites as Swayambhu Lingas. There is a small meteoritic crater near Partagal Math. At Arambol, a meteorite is kept outside the Santeri Temple.