Journey of discovery

Sudha Jhunjhunwala brings the story of the little known 13th-century Mahadev temple in Goa

Photo by Kunal Jain

Goa the word today arouses images of sun, sand, palm trees with hammocks, churches and quaint houses. A veritable paradise for lotus-eaters, it also brings a feeling of deja vu.

But somehow we seem to forget the place has a rich history that goes back much before to the coming of the Portuguese and Christianity.

During a long wait at the airport for a delayed flight I got talking to a gentleman of Goanese origin. He informed me of the mythological origin of the state. This area had a great number of ashrams occupied by many hermits. But Varun, the lord of the sea, had destroyed many ashrams with high tides. In desperation, the hermits sought the help of Lord Parashuram, who threw his axe as far as he could towards the sea and reclaimed the land till the point the axe landed. This land today is called Goa.

During my recent visit to Goa where I was looking forward to total relaxation and catching up with my reading, I happened to learn about a Mahadev temple of the 13th century. My interest aroused, I got the hotel management involved. Their inquiries revealed that it was a two-hour drive away and were kind enough to make arrangements for me to visit it.

We started after an early breakfast and travelled through the picturesque Anmod Ghats which are also a reserved national park. The Surla river flows through the park imparting a green lushness. The soil here is coppery pink, hence the name of the temple - Mahadev temple, Tambdisurla (Tambdi in Goan is red colour). After a comfortable drive, we reached the temple nestled in the greenery with the Surla river going around it. This temple has a priest performing aarti both in the morning as well as in the evening. It is said that this tradition has been followed for centuries. One had expected an abandoned relic crumbling in the wilderness but one saw was a well-cared-for temple. Flower and coconut sellers sat neatly near the entrance, and there were quite a few visitors and devotees.

Built during the Kadamba dynasty in the 13th century, the entrance faces the east, so that the morning rays of the sun fall directly on the deity. It consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala and a pillared mandapa in the centre for Nandi, all built of basalt. The balustrades to the entrance of the mandapa were built in the Kakshasana arrangement. The four pillars are symmetrical to look at, but the capitals were embellished with fine carving of elephants. They support the stone ceiling decorated with intricately carved lotus flowers of the ashtakon variety. The perforated stone-latticed screen with devakostas decorate the main entrance of the garbhagriha pointing to a strong influence of the Hoysala art.

The two-tiered tower the Nagara Vimana is unembellished, but has sculptured stelae. On the northern side are sculptures of Lakshmi-Narayan, Vishnu-Gaja-Lakshmi flanked by Ganesha and Saraswati; on the western side are a dancing Shiva and Shiva-Parvati; on the southern side Bhairava and Brahma; and the eastern side was occupied by a Sukanasi.

There was thus a synchronisation of Vaishnavite deities within the Shiva temple thus ensuring it a unique place in the Goa-Kadamba architecture.

Feeling happy with ourselves for finding a new facet about Goa our favourite holiday spot of Goa we drowsed our way back to the hotel for a well-earned nap.