Ancient deities of Hinduism abound in Goa. There were instances during the Portuguese control of the region when devout Hindus under threat of arrest, torture and execution swam across the Mandovi and Zuari Rivers to worship these hidden idols. To escape persecution by the Portuguese, Hindu temples were built away and safely tucked into the hills of the Western Ghats around Ponda. Goa’s earliest temples were made of wood and brick by the Kadamba Rulers (5th to 15th Century CE). Archaeological discoveries indicate that these old temples were built beautifully in similar styles of the Deccan area. Sadly these were systematically destroyed first by the Maratha Invaders and later by the Portuguese. Only one survives – The Mahadev Temple in Tamdi Surla (13th Century CE) which I visited in 1996. As I entered this beautifully located temple with my wife and little daughter then, I was struck by the difference in temperature from the blazing outers to the cool interiors. I do not remember much more than this fact as I have not visited this important temple again till date in 2016. Tamdi Surla is far away from Ponda towards east and near the Karnataka border.
Coming back to Ponda, the temples which are a fusion of Hindu, Muslim and European styles were built between the 15th and 16th centuries. The main circular dome above the Garba Griha (sanctum sanctorum) deviates from the usual Hindu Temple architecture and will remind you of the Cathedrals of Europe. As you enter through the curved arches and doorways you will see the Islamic influence. A large and tall Deepmal (lamp tower) will be seen in the surrounding courtyard. In all the rich temples the entrance to the main deity is clad with shining and elaborate silver walls with images. Intricately carved wooden pillars and colorfully painted or carved depictions of Puranas can be seen outside the Garba Griha. A circumambulatory passage will be present around the Garba Griha. All the temples featured below are rich, beautifully maintained and clean. To those few who visit temples the way I do – mostly alone, the mobile happily switched off, ample time at your disposal, a simple mind at peace with the world and ability to observe everything around – they provide a wonderful experience, as long as you do not visit during holidays and festivals.
Let us now start our journey of these temples from the town of Ponda. The first one to visit would be the Shantadurga Temple which is about 3.5 kilometers west of the town. Durga brought peace during a particular incident (hence the name Shantadurga) between the fiercely disputing Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and is seen here in a beautiful form flanked by the images of Shiva and Vishnu. The idol was brought here from Quelossim near Colva Beach and installed. Two centuries later in 1738 Shivaji’s grandson Shahu Raja built the temple.
After this you can walk down to the Ramnath Temple which is less than a kilometer away. As the name of the lord implies the Lingam was worshiped by Lord Rama before he embarked on his journey south to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana in Sri Lanka. This idol was brought from Lutolim in the 16th Century and the temple structure was built. Though architecturally criticized because of later inappropriate structures built onto it, I found this a beautiful and peaceful place to spend time peacefully.
If you are fit enough to walk another 1.5 kilometers you will reach the Nagueshi Temple. Of course all these temples are connected by roads and you can drive about almost to the main entrance. Lord Naguesh (Shiva) here faces west and is a very small Lingam, the Kalasam (vessel) above with its water dripping alone indicates the presence of the main deity. The reflection of the Garba Griha can be seen on the waters of the sacred pond from the opposite side.
Five kilometers north of here is the village of Veling where a flight of steps lead you up to the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. This temple’s Garba Griha has a conical top akin to the spires of churches. Elaborately carved large round pillars, ornate ceiling and a large idol of Lakshmi Narasimha, the lion-man avatar of Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi seated on his lap, overwhelm you as you walk around. A large temple tank is present opposite this more or less east facing temple.
We now walk down to the main road and get into a bus to reach the nearby Mahalsa Temple in Mardol, about 1.5 kilometers away. Mahalsa is Mohini the feminine form of Lord Vishnu. Apart from the 7 storey Deepmal there is also a 21 layer tall brass lamp here. The temple has a large striking brass dome over the Garba Griha and tiled roof over the shrines of other deities. A temple pond is present behind this large east (slightly north east) facing temple. This temple was originally located in Salcete and was destroyed in the 16th Century CE during a siege by Adil Shah in his quest to eliminate a platoon of Portuguese soldiers who had taken refuge there. The idol was smuggled across the Zuari River to Mardol, installed in its present location and a temple built. There are beautifully carved wooden pillars and a carved, brighly painted representation of Vishnu’s Avatars on the ornate ceilings.
Finally on this tour we reach the largest, richest and most visited temple here, The Manguesh Temple, located in Priol just a kilometer away from Mardol. A motorable road reaches the entrance. But I preferred to get down from the bus and walk the original 400 meters long pathway laid over fields to reach the temple, a beautiful experience even today. A temple tank comes first as you climb up the steps and a huge, impressive 7 tier deepmal presents a grand picture. Lord Manguesh here is Shiva. The Shiva Lingam was brought in the 16th Century from Curtolim across the Zuari river and secretly installed here for the courageous few to come and worship. The temple was built 200 years later.
There are quite a few other smaller temples scattered around Ponda most of which have come up in the past several decades or so. If you have the time you can drive around or take a motorcycle pilot to guide you and visit them.