The Flight of Gods 7. Temple Architecture

The Flight of Gods
by Mohan Pai 

Temple Architecture

Few ancient Hindu temples have survived in Goa and these are confined to the more remote areas of the New Conquests. The edict of 1540 AD gave a carte blanch to the Portugese to destroy all Hindu temples and shrines ‘not leaving a single one on any of the islands’ (the Ilhas). With the aquistion of Bardez and Salcete in 1543, these areas were also subjected to complete elimination of Hindu temples, virtually all traces were swept away, never to be replaced.

 Shri Saptakoteshwar Temple, Narvem – Photo by Mohan Pai

Hindus were forbidden to cross the border to worship attemples and shrines outside the Portugese territory across the river and the Portugese were not averse themselves to organising regular forays to continue the destruction beyond their own conquests.

There are almost fifty temples in the New Conquests in which the principal deity is a ‘migrant’ deity from the Ilhas, Bardez or Salcete, the deities having been smuggled to safety out of the Old Conquests in the second half of the 16th century because of the destruction of their temples by the Portugese.

In fact most of the deities were transported just across the Cumbarjua waterway and the Zuary river to Antruz (Ponda) in the territory of the Sonda king, but on the eastern border of the area under Portugese control.
With the insecurity resulting from the danger of continuing forays across the border by the Portugese, these ‘migrant’ deities were originally kept hidden in hutments and modest dwellings, discreetly concealed in the wooded valleys.
In these precarious locations, it was not for some time, until people felt more secure, that these deities were properly housed. It was only in the second half of the 17th century that the northern shore of river Mandovi, Bicholim came firmly under Maratha control in the person of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who himself funded the new Saptakoteshwar temple at Narve. Later Naro Ram Mantri, minister of Shahu Maharaj of Satara funded the building of Shri Shantadurga temple at Kavalem and the village of Mangueshi was donated to the Mangueshi temple by the Peshwas in 1739The deities were transported just across the Cumbarjua waterway and the Zuary river to Antruz (Ponda) in the territory of the Sonda king, but on the eastern border of the area under Portugese control.

 Sri Mahaganapati Temple at Khandolem – Photo by Mohan Pai


Shri Manguesh temple, Mangueshi – Photo by Mohan Pai

 However, the fact that their devotees still wished to worship them and were prepared to risk the border crossing and in order to do so meant that they had to be accessible, resulting in a concentration of the temples on the very doorstep of the Portugese territory.

Kamakshi Temple, Shiroda – 19th Century engraving
 The present day Kamakshi Samsthan at Shiroda – Photo by Mohan Pai
The major temple complexes built during this period have fairly large spacious sites. Most of the temples conformed in plan to the conventional temple design. This layout consisted of an entrance hall or a porchway leading to a pillard hall, the mandapa and a smaller inner sanctum, the garbhagriha. Above the inner sanctum is a tower, the Shikara. There are usually two or more smaller shrines housing the “Parvara Devatas” around the entrance to the mandapa or to the garbhagriha. There is surrounding free area or a passage around the garbhagriha for “Pradakshina” – the ritualistic left sided circamambulation.
Sri Shantadurga temple, Kavalem – Photo by Mohan Pai
Tulasi Brindavan & Tirthasthana


The Mandapa opens to the outer porchway or “Prakara- a long open pillard hall raised in front of the temple not enclosed in walls. Tulasi Brindavan – Mangueshi

A ‘Tulasi’ Brindavan is an essential part of the complex which is usually located outside the prakara in the courtyard. The courtyard leads to a large water tank or a stream called “Tirthastan” for ritual ablution.

Tirthastan, Veling & Kavalem – Photos by Mohan Pai

The temples of Goa are unique in architectural terms because they break with tradition. The uniqueness is derived from the way in which Hindu architects and craftsmen utilised distinctive Muslim features together with Graeco-Roman pediments and Maratha motifs.
There were several fundamental variations from conventional temple design but two were particularly significant:
1. The replacement of the traditional pyramid form of the shikara, the tower over the sanctuary, by a dome resting on an octagonal base or a drum.
2. The introduction of a deepasthambha or dipmala, a lamp tower which could be transformed into pilllar of light on festive occasions. This feature exists hardly at all in any other part of India.

Sri Chandranath-Bhutanath Temple, Porvot – Photo by Mohan Pai



Shikara of Sri Shantadurga Temple, Kavalem – Photo by Mohan Pai
The Shikara – The dome is totally foreign to Hindu temple architecture and rarely occurs outside Goa. The traditional Shikara design being stepped pyramids on the Dravidian model rather than paraboloid.
First introduced into India by theMuslims at the end of the 12thcentury, the dome rising from an octagonal base became a well established and prominent featureof Muslim architecture in India.


Sri Mahalasa, Sri Kamakshi & Sri Lakshminaracinva Shikaras – Photos by Mohan Pai
These basic designs were taken up by goan temple architects and the dome became a feature on Goan temples as early as the Vijayanagar occupation of the 14th century but was in evidence by the 17th century, when rebuilding of temples in Bicholim and Antruz started in earnest. Saptakoteshwar at Narve, Chamundi at Piligao and Chandranath-Bhutanath at Paroda were perhaps the earliest examples. The ultimate development came in the 18th century with the Ponda temples such as Manguesh and Mahalakshmi temples adopting domes for their Shikara.

Sri Mahalakshmi Temple, Bandora – Photo by Mohan Pai

Dome profiles vary widely, some of the earlier ones having especially obvious Muslim influence but from then on subject to whim of Goan temple architect.
This period was also marked by the development of the design of towers on which the dome rested. In the 17th century, temple architect had quickly superimposed on the towers modified Christian Baroque decorative form pilasters, round arched niches and balustrades.


They were influenced by the European architecture from the churches of Velha Goa like the Se Cathedral (1562-1623) and the Church of St. Cajetan (1656-1661) which to some extent influenced the design of the temple towers. This type of temple tower would develop to the impressive double-storeyed tower of Shantadurga temple built in 1738.

The dome themselves were in turn crowned by a variety of finials, sometimes based on European lantern, sometimes on Indian symbols. These were either the ‘amalaka’, a flattened globe vertically groved all round to represent a fruit, or a pinnacle built of spheres to represent ‘Kalasha’, sometimes a combination of both. The lotus motif is frequently introduced round the base of the finial or around the base of the dome itself.In recent times some temples like the Lakshminaracinva temple at Veling have reverted to the traditional Indian dome with 8-faceted pyramid with beautiful copper roofing.
Shikara of Sri Manguesh Temple, Priol – Photo by Mohan Pai
St. Cajetan’s Dome, Old Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai


Deepasthambha or Dipmal is a lamp tower that is transformed into a pillar of lights on festive occasions. This feature hardly exists in any other part of India.
Mahalasa Temple Deepasthamba – Photo by Mohan Pai

The tower is an octagonal turret, raised in front of the temple, from five to seven storeys high, each storey articulated with dwarf columns at the corners, inbetween which piercing the side of the turret, are niches for lamps. The Marathas had introduced the concept of a separate tower of light (Mahuli, Shiva temple), but the Goan architect adopted it but with their own unique designs later based on Christian Baroque elements.

Deepasthambas at Sri Mahalasa, Sri Shantadurga, Kavalem and Saptakoteshwar Temples – Photos by Mohan Pai

Naubat Khana at Sri Kamakshi Temple, Shiroda – Pic by Mohan Pai

Naubat Khana or the Drum Tower usually situated above and as a part of the main gate to the courtyard is generally a two storeyed structure associated with Muslim rather than Hindu architecture. The upper chamber is for the musicians or the drum beaters as the name suggests.
Pieces of History

Adil Shah’s palace once stood on the groundswhere St. Cajetan’s Churh stands today in Old Goa. The Gate is all that remains of his magnificent palace today. This Gate is an obvious transplant from a Brahmanical temple of the Kadamba period.
Adil Shah’s Gate in the St. Cajetan Church grounds – Photo by Mohan Pai

It is believed that this Gate originally belonged to Saptakoteshwar Temple built by the Kadambas in the 12th century when Govapuri was their capital. Adil Shah’s palace had been built at the site of (and with building materials from) the Saptakoteshwar Temple that stood at this site.
Adil Shah’s Gate – detail – Photo by Mohan Pai


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