Flight of Gods 11. Shantadurga Temple, Kavalem


The Flight of Gods
by Mohan PaiShri Shantadrga Temple

Shri Shantadurga of Kavalem is a ‘migrant’ deity from Keloshi shifted here duringthe exodus of 1560s. Unlike the valley temples in this area, the temple of Shri Shantadurga stands on a slope of the hillside with a wide flight ofsteps leading up to the high gateway with the water tank on the left. The gleaming white dome is emphasised by the contrast with the terracota colours of the main structure.
The octagonal tower over the inner shrine has a higher drum with two stories, with its dome topped by an elegant lantern with a small dome and then a finial with spheres representing water pots.
In the first half of the 18th century, Naro Ram Mantri, himself a devotee of Shri Shantadurga and a Minister of Shahu Maharaj of Satara, funded the building of the temple and persuaded vassal King of Sonda to contribute the lands of the village of Kavalem to the temple estate. This temple has had frequent additions over the years.Deepasthamba – photo by Mohan Pai

The name of the goddess ‘Shantadurga’ is in itself a contradiction of terms. Shanta meaning peace and Durga being the very embodiment of violence. The legend says that there was a fierce quarrel between Shiva and Vishnu, which turned into a full-scale war so violent that the very existence of the Universe was threatened.
Mantap – photo by Mohan Pai
Brahma approached Durga to intervene. This she did, restoring peace and harmony amongst the Gods. From this time, she is also called Shantadurga, indicating peaceful aspects of Durga. The main shrine contains an image of the goddess Shantadurga flanked on one side by Lord Vishnu and on the other by Lord Shiva.
The main affiliate deity is Shri Lakshminarayana,whose shrine is an extension to the right of themandapa. There is also a small shrine to goddess Bhagavati under a aravali tree on its platform.Shri Bhagavati Shrine

Barring only two shrines outside Goa (in Karnataka), it is only in Goa that Goddess Durga is worshipped as Shantadurga. There is an interesting history about this new home of the goddess at Kavalem. The land chosen for the temple belonged to the Mahars, the untouchable community, and they were asked to give up the site for a temple where they would not be welcome. But they finally did agree and in recognition of their deed, a special day is reserved for members of Mahar community to worship during the annual celebrations of the temple when they are allowed inside the temple.
Tirthasthana – photo by Mohan Pai

Goddess Shantadurga is also called Santeri and is perhaps the most popular goddess of Goa. Apart from being an affiliate deity in many temples she has shrines all over Goa.The popularity could be attributed to her being associated with the cult of Santeri or Bhumica – the mother goddess or Earth mother which is worshipped in the form of an anthill.
The second chapter of Nagavya Mahatmyain Sahyadri Khanda of Skanda Puran is titled ‘Shantadurga Pradurbhavah’. One of the verses in this section mentions the disappearance of the goddess into an anthill.
Sacred Anthill
Santeri’s origins according to legend goes back to pre-Dravidian times; she was the Earth Goddess and her shrine was the anthill. There exist around 86 shrines in Goa in the form of the anthill and most of them are in open spaces, mostly in the vicinity of fields and forests. It is also believed that a serpent (Nag) always resides in the anthill. In several shrines of Santeri in Goa, a figure of serpent is displayed near the anthill. A metallic mask is also sometimes placed on the anthill to represent the goddess.
She is an ancient folk deity worshipped by the tribals (Gavadas) of Goa and with the advent of tantrism in South India many folk deities were absorbed into the Brahminical fold. In due course of time these Shaktis were associated with Shiva. Hence Santeri is associated with Ravalnath, a Shaivite deity of Goa and South Konkan.

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