The Flight of Gods 6. – The Temple Scene


The Flight of Gods
by Mohan Pai

The Hindu temples of Goa have always been rich repositories of Goa’s ancient heritage and living centres of social and communal life. These temples are in a way unique in that they have serene, quite and peaceful atmosphere that is so essential in spiritual places.
The institutions which revolutionised the social life of Goa were the Comunidades (Gramasansthas) and the temples. Both these institutions were established by the first Aryan settlers in their respective villages. The temple committees known as “Mazanias” looked after the religious and educational needs of the community and the Comunidades looked after agriculture, horticulture, building of public roads, sanitation and general needs of the community. Every original resident of the village known as Gaunkar was a member of the Comunidade which built the temples and contributed towards the maintenance of the temples. However, the Mahajans of a temple were restricted to certain families belonging to particular gotras.

The Temple Scene


Palkhi at Ganesha Temple, Kandole – Photo by Mohan Pai


These community organisations lent its temples the most exalted place and spared no effort in enriching and embellishing the social and cultural life of the community which revolved around the temples.
The temples were the main centres of education, entertainment and religious and social gatherings. Therein sang and danced the Devadasis in the service of the deity. Dramas were staged and the traditional festivals of Shigmo, Kalo, Zagor, Novem, Zatra etc. all of them celebrated with profusion of colours, gaiety and full of excitement to the rhythm of drum beats and trumpets. Dramas were staged depicting scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas. It is believed that Yakshagana of South Canara originated in the temples of Goa.


Sri Shantadurga Temple, Kavale – Photo by Mohan Pai


In almost all villages the main temple was founded by the Gramsamstha, as its Gaunkars were also the Mahajans of the temple. A part of the land in the village was usually reserved for the maintenance of the temple. The possession of these lands lay with the temple committee and the recurring expenses of the temple were met from the income derived from these lands.

Temples functioned simultaneously, as places of worship and teaching institutions. It was in the temples that the members of the community learnt the three Rs and Shastras. They were places of prayer and meditation where collective decisions were taken, offences were judged, medicine was practised and all these activities were seemingly carried out with the blessings of the patron deity.


Goa, for the first time faced the fury of the marauding Mohammedan invaders beginning with the attack of Malik Kafur in 1314 AD. They looted and destroyed the Hindu temples en masse. Again in 1472 AD Mohamad Gowan of the Bahmani Sultanate attacked and plundered Goa. Govapuri was completely destroyed with its palaces and temples.


But the fanatic fury of the Portugese proselytization during the 16th century saw total destruction of the Hindu temples in the Old conquests of Ilhas (Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete. All the Hindu temples were razed to the ground. Not a single temple was allowed to stand in the Portugese territories. According to the records, there were 116 temples in Ilhas, 176 in Bardez and 264 in Salcete.


The idols from the temples were hidden in the fields and the wells to avoid desecration and then spirited across the rivers that bordered Portugese territory and initially housed in modest structures like thatched huts.


Sri Narcimha Temple, Veling – Photo by Mohan Pai


All the villages in the “Old Conquest” had become Catholic. The Hindus remained only in the townships. There was an exodus of the Hindus. Thousands of Hindu families fled from the horrors to the areas outside the Portugese control to the northern Konkan and to the southern coast and settled down all along the coast in the towns of Karwar, Gokarna, Kumta, Honavar, Bhatkal, Kasargod, Calicut and Cochin.


At the end of the seventeenth century it is estimated that out of a total population of two hundred fifty thousand only twenty thousand were non-Christians. These included a large number of traders and visitors who were in Goa for temporary stays.Gaud Saraswat Brahmins and Shets who stayed behind earned profits through their collaboration with the Portugese and these profits were used by the Hindus for the reconstruction of the temples of the migrant deities outside the reach of the missionaries, in Ponda in particular. The Portugese discovered that the Christian Goa was encircled in an arc by the resurrected Hindu temples towards which they had indirectly contributed which rankled the missionaries to no end.


Palkhi at Veling – Photo by Mohan Pai




Sangod is an annual event celebrated at most of the emigre temples where the deities had been saved by shifting the idols to safer lacales across the river during the Portugese spree of the destruction of the Hindu temples. It is an event which commemorates the saving of the idols by smuggling them across the river transported on logs of wood fastened together or on canoes tied up together which is known as ‘Sangod’. The idols were generally smuggled in the dead of the night at a great personal risk by the devotees that included both the Mahajans as well as Kharvis and other people who came forward for the rescue. As a syncretic adoption, even Christians today celebrate the ‘Sangod’ with festivities in honour of St. John and St. Peter.


‘Sangod’ at Veling Temple – Photo by Mohan Pai


Today there are literally thousands of temples and roadside and other shrines in Goa which shows a high density for a small region like Goa. The temples fall in three main categories: 1. Kuladevata Temples 2. Temples of specific community 3. New temples without history. Kuladevata temples are generally associated with certain families and Gotras with the Mahajans belonging to these families and Gotras presiding over the affairs of the temples. Community temples are temples of specific community and the temple affairs managed by the community Mallikarjuna temple at Gaondongrem in Cancona for example is a temple of Velip and Gowda communities with their own priests.


Bhajan Mandali – Photo by Mohan Pai


The temple records give very little, for the oldest temples located in the New Conquests by flight at the end of the 16th century, were built in the 17th century or later to their present dimensions – and built in direct, if not very well understood copy of the Baroque Christian churches of the city of Old Goa (though the general style of Goa churches is that of Borromini’s Jesuit construction). This is understandable, as the Old Goa churches were the most imposing buildings, with Hindu workmen trained in that type of construction. When the emigre temples acquired funds enough for their rebuildings these same workmen built the new temples. What is surprising is that the replication seems to have been acceptable to the local Brahmins.


The ‘other side of the river’ – Ponda


It was the Rajas of Sonda to whom the Hindus of Goa had turned when their temples in Goa had been destroyed, and who much to the annoyance of the Portugese, had openly encouraged Hindus to rebuild their temples in their domain of Ponda and elsewhere.

There are no Hindu temples in the Old conquests older than the 19th century. Even in the New conquests, few of the structures themselves were built before the 17th century. So most of the ‘old’ temples we see in Goa date from the 17th century at the earliest and majority from the 18th century.



Kuladevatas of Saraswats


The Saraswats have for centuries persistently preserved their traditions, facilitated largely by the community temples and maths (monasteries) which have proved to be the medium for social interaction. Kuladevata is the deity of a family or Gotra. Every Saraswat’s family god is actually a mandal of five gods with the Kuladevata in the centre. The form of worship is known as ‘Panchayatan’ and is attributed to Shankaracharya.The five gods of Panchayatan are 1. Aditya 2. Ambika 3. Vishnu 4. Gananatha 5. Mahesvata. It prevails in Sringeri and Kavale Maths but is absent in Vaishnava Maths at Kashi and Gokarn-Parthagali maths.
The main Kuladevatas are as follows:
0 Mangesh 0 Mahalakshmi 0 Mhalasa 0 Shanta Durga 0 Sapta Koteshwara
0 Nagesh 0 Ramnath 0 Kamakshi 0 Lakshmi Naracinva
Most of them are emigre deities which were shifted from the Old Conquests to the territories of Sonda kingdom in Antruz Mahal during the Portugese spree of destruction of the Hindu temples.


Thousand of Hindu families fled Goa because of the severe religious persecution to other parts of India; many of them having settled in the Kanara district, Kerala and Maharashtra. Although the descendants of the founder members of these temples in Goa are spread far and wide, they still make up the general body of the Mahajans of their respective ‘Kuladevata’ temples.


PRASADA – Consultation of the Oracle

An ancient practice of ‘Prasada’ or consultation of the oracle, continues to be strictly observed in Goa to this date. Prasada, which here means the giving of a blessing or guidance by the deity to an appeal by a devotee. There is no religiously oriented Hindu in Goa, who can take any important decision without consulting the oracle. People of all walks of life go to ask the deity’s advice and guidance on many matters – marriage proposals, business matters, troubled relationships, job offers and so on. The ritual is normally performed after paying obeisance to the deity. Thereafter, leaves of special plants or petals of flowers are stuck to small spikes on the side of a figurine of the particular deity. The devotee then poses a question or makes a wish.The priest interprets the decision of the deity on the basis of what happens to the leaves or petals stuck on the spikes and the order of their fall. Decisions of the deity are scrpulously adhered to and respected. It is not only the Hindus who go for ‘prasada’ of a deity before embarking upon anything important, but also Christians.



‘Possession’ is another part of the temple tradition. During the festivities likde Shigmo or Dhalo dance some devotees go into a trance. In another type of possession called ‘Bhar’ the possessed vocalises messages from deities or spirits.



Devdasi system, an ancient practice of the temples of the South, also prevailed in Goa till very recently and is now banned. Epigraphs of the Kadambas of Goa and inscriptions of the Southern Silaharas indicate that the Devdasis were not treated as menial servants but they were treated with respect as talented artists with freedom of sex. There were Kalavants in the well known temples of Goa like Mahalasa, Mangesh, Shantadrga, etc. There were two types of dancing girls associated with temples. The first type were called Kalavants and they used to be well versed in vocal music and the second type were called Bhavins. They were expected to sweep the premises of the temple and also perform such duties as carrying the essence burner.
The initiation ceremony called shens was held for the teenage girls of Kalavantas. After the shens ceremony the girl was permitted to be the mistress of only one man either a rich landlord or the temple priest. The devdasis who were supposed to be the servants of God generally became the servants of the priests and the Mahajans.


Mismanagement of temple funds & properties

During the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, the situation had improved with many of the immigrant families returning to the Old Conquests and commerce reestablished itself. Donations for the temples poured in and the temples became very rich. But all these donations and properties stood in the name of certain individuals, some of whom did not hesitate to utilise these funds for their personal gains.In order to check the malpractices the Portugese Government brought in the Edict in 1828 and again in 1881 and 1886 with stricter controls brought in through “Regulamento das Mazanias” and again revised in 1933, 1949 and 1951. “Regulamento” is the general law applicable to all temples. These regulation helped a great deal in putting an end to the misuse of the temple funds.
Some of the descendants of devdasis are today amongst the most renowned musicians, singers and dancers. Some have taken to politics and others have branched out to different trades and professions.

For some of my articles visit:
For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
You can also access my blogs on Sulekha:http://mohanpai.sulekha.com/blog/posts/pageno-1.htm


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