The Flight of Gods 10. Shri Saptakoteshwar Temple, Narvem


The Flight of Gods
by Mohan Pai

Shri Saptakoteshwar Temple

The idol – photo by Mohan Pai
This is one of the greatest Shaivite shrines of Goa which has a chequered and turbulent history of more than one thousand years. Saptakoteshwar was the family deity of the Kadambas of Goa. and they honoured it by featuring the legend and the Shikara on their gold coins. The gold coins of Jayakeshi I (1050-1080AD) and Jayakeshi II (1104-1147 AD) carry the inscription.
The temple was destroyed several times by the marauding Muslims and later by the Portugese. The Lingam itself is one of the most sacred relic which has been equated with that of the Kedarnath in the Puranas and its presence endowed on Goa the designation of Konkan Kashi. This sacred relief, however, had to be buried inthe paddy fields to avoid desecration and had to face the ignominy of being turned into the step of a well so that people drawing water could commit the sacrilege of stepping on it.
This same mukhalingam, however, had the privilege of being venerated by two very illustrious personalities in the Indian history. Madhav Mantri, the famous general of the Vijaynagar Empire and the great Maratha hero, Shivaji Maharaj. Both of them, rebuilt, the Saptakoteshwar Shrine after its destruction.
Adil Shah’s Gate located in the front yard of Cajetan’s Church at Old Goa where his palace once stood is a transplant from a brahminical temple of the Kadamba period. Adil Shah’s palace was built at the site of (and with building materials from) the Saptakoteshwar temple built by Shivachitta Permadideva (1147-1172 AD) and his wife Kamaladevi in 1155 AD when Govapuri was the capital of the Kadambas. The temple had become a major centre of religious worship and prilgrimage.
Adil Shah’s Gate, Old Goa – photo Mohan Pai

The temple was destroyed during the attacks by the Bahamanis between 1355 and 1366 AD which also ended the Kadamba rule in Goa. The main idol was buried in a nearby rice field for fear of desecretion in 1356.
Andre Corsali in a letter to Duke Giulianode Medicia dated 6th January,1515 refers to an ancient temple, “which was built with wonderful skill with ancient figures of a certain black stone worked with great perfection, of which some are standing, ruined and spoilt. Should I have in hand any (figure) thus ruined, I shall send it to Your Highness that your Highness may see how in ancient times sculpture was appreciated elsewhere” – This referred to none other than the Saptakoteshwar temple.
The next site was in the island of Divar across the river Gomati (Mandovi) where a new temple wasbuilt in local stone but this was also destroyed by the Bahamanis.
In 1378 AD Goa became a part of theVijayanagar Empire when MadhavMantri, the Vijayanagar General marched into Goa at the head of a large army and ousted the Muslim ruler.
A Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmin, a Vedic scholar, an ardent Shaivite and a patron of learning, Madhav Mantri who was the Governor of the region for 12 years restored the buried idol and rebuilt the Saptakoteshwar temple at Narve-Divar in 1391.
Deepasthambha – photo by Mohan Pai
The temple was once again razed to the ground by Muhammad Gawan in1471 during his plundering of Goa and then rebuilt by the local community until its final and complete destruction between 1540 and 1558. This time it was the Portugese – the infamous Miguel Vaz who took upon himself to destroy the famous shrine.
Narayan Surya Rao in his dream saw the Linga from the Saptakoteshwar temple being desecrated. The dream became a nightmare when he saw that the Portugese authorities had placed the linga at the foot of a well so that people drawing water would step on it. Another version suggests thatit was used as a makeshift pulley over which to draw water. The rope marks are still said to be visible. Narayan Surya Rao, who was a Sardesai, gathered a small group of men and crept towards the site of the well to save the sacred Linga.
They carried the Linga outside the Portugese territory. The Portugese in hot pursuit killed Narayan Rao’s brother. After two years the Linga was transferred to its present home called Narvem and placed in a sanctuary dug out in a rock and Narayan Rao built a small shrine there in 1549.
When Shivaji Maharaj camped in Bicholim, he provided funds and asked the temple to be rebuilt in the year 1668 at its present site. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj doing puja of Shri Saptakoteshwar (Painting at the temple) – Photo by Mohan Pai

References to Saptakoteshwar are found in Sahyadri Khanda of Skanda Purana and also in Saura Purana. According tothe legend the Sapta Rishis (The Seven Sages) performed penance for seven crore (Saptakoti) years.
Due to the severe penance by the Sapta Rishis, Shiva was pleased and appeared before them and offered them a boon. The sages requested the Lord to make the island of Dipavati (Diwadi) his permanent abode. The Lingam is considered as important as that of Kedarnath and Goa is considered as Konkan-Kashi.

Mantap area – Photo by Mohan Pai

Though Saptakoteshwar is a Shaivite shrine, the Linga of Saptakoteshwar is considered not only the abode of Shiva but also of Vishnu, Brahma andBhairava. Both Hari and Hara are present in the Linga. Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated on a grand scale in this temple. Taking bath on this occasion in the river near the shrine is considered meritorius. The belief is that the river becomes Pancha Ganga on the Gokulashtami day. Even in the 16th century large crowd of devotees estimated to be over thirty thousand would assemble and bathe in the sacred waters.
Gauravas were probably associated with Saptakoteshwar temple during the Kadamba and Vijayanagara period. However, Saptakoteshwar also happens to be the family deity of Goud Sarsawats and Karhade Brahmins.


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