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Goa Tourism : Goa Travel Guide : Goa Temples

Goa Temples

The Shri Mahalasa Temple
Like Shri Manguesh, the Shri Mahalasa temple, 7km northwest of Ponda, originally stood in Salcete, but was destroyed in the sixteenth century during a siege by 'Adil Shah's Muslim army after a platoon of Portuguese soldiers had taken refuge in it. The deity survived, having previously been smuggled across the Zuari River to Mardol, where it was installed in a new temple. This has been rebuilt or renovated on several occasions since: the last time in 199395, when a shiny new mandapa, or pillared porch, was added and the courtyard paved with finest Karnatakan marble.

Crowned by rising tiers of red pyramidal roofs, the distinctly oriental Shri Mahalsa is noted for its fine woodcarvings, especially on the pillars supporting the eaves of the main mandapa, set above beauty fill Shri Mahalasa Templefloral panels. Inside, an ornate ceiling spans deeply carved and brightly painted images of Vishnu's ten incarnations, or avatars. The presiding deity here is Vishnu's consort, the black-faced Goddess Mahalsa (aka Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and prosperity), who peers out from her silver shrine, swathed in red and yellow silk. Standing beside the seven-storey, pink- and white-painted deep-mal in the courtyard is an unusual brass lamp pillar. The column, erected in 1978, symbolizes the Hindu Aris Mundi, Mount Kailash, which the gods placed on the back of Vishnu's second incarnation, the tortoise Kurma (featured at the base of the pillar) prior to his epic plunge into the Primordial Ocean. The dive was performed to rescue all the treasures of the world lost in the Great Flood. When Kurma reached the bottom of the sea, a cosmic serpent was coiled around the mountain and then pulled, churning the oceans and forcing their contents to the surface. Among the goodies that came to light were a jar of immortality-giving nectar, the Amrit Samovar, and Vishnu's consort, Lakshmi. The Preserver's winged vehicle (vahana), the half-man half-eagle Garuda, crowns the top of the pillar, whose oil lamps are lit every Sunday evening.

West of the temple, a flight of steps drops down to a laterite-lined water tank, overlooked by a large sacred peepal tree. The opposite (east) gateway, leading from the courtyard to the main road, is surmounted by a pagoda-roofed musicians' gallery (naubhat khanna or sanddio), where the instruments used during Shri Mahalsa's pyjas, Sunday evening promenades and annual Zatra are stored.

The Shri Lakshmi Narasimha Temple
The Shri Lakshmi Narcenha TempleCrouched on the side of a steep, densely wooded hill, the secluded Shri Lakshmi Narcenha mandir at Velinga, 3km southwest of Mardol, is one of the more picturesque temples around Ponda. To find it, turn west where the main highway begins its climb up to Farmagudi, and follow the road for 1500m until it reaches Velinga village. The path to the temple starts at the top of the grassy square, in the centre of which stands a modern concrete shrine.

Transferred here from Salcete in 1567, the Lakshmi-Narcenha devta housed inside this temple, a conventional eighteenth-century structure surrounded by neat lawns and pilgrims' hostels, is Vishnu in his fourth incarnation as the man-lion Narashima, aka Narayan. However, his shrine and the brightly painted assembly hall leading to it (lined with images of Vishnu's various avatars) are of less interest than the beautiful water tank at the far end of the courtyard. Fed by an eternal spring, this is fringed by a lush curtain of coconut palms, and entered (from the opposite side) via a grand ceremonial gateway. Its stepped sides, used by locals as communal bathing- and dhobirghats, are ornamented with rows of Islamic-arched niches. The squat tower behind is a musicians' gallery.

The Shri Naguesh Temple
From the main intersection at Farmagudi, dominated by a statue of the Maharatha leader Shivaji, a narrow back road winds sharply down the sides of a shattered valley, carpeted with cashew trees and dense thickets of palms, to the. Shri Naguesh temple at Bandora, 4km northwest of Ponda. If you are working your way north, note that this temple can also be approached via the road that starts opposite the Shri Shantadurgamandir near Quela.

Established at the beginning of the fifteenth century and later renovated by the Maharathas, Shri Naguesh The Shri Naguesh Templeis older than most of its neighbours, although stylistically very much in the same mould, with the usual domed shikhara, or terracotta-tiled roofs, and gaudy Goan decor. Lying in its entrance porch is a stately black Nandi bull, vehicle of the temple's chief deity, Shiva, here known as Naguesh. Once inside, your eye is drawn to the multicoloured wood-carvings that run in a continuous frieze along the tops of the pillars. Famous all over Goa, these depict scenes from the Hindu epic Rarnayana, in which the God Rama (Vishnu's seventh incarna-tion), with the help of Hanuman's monkey army, rescues his wife Sita from the clutches of arch demon Ravana. After the great battle, the couple are reunited back home in Ayodhya, as shown in one of the last panels. The silver-doored sanctum (garbhagrihd), flanked by subsidiary shrines dedicated to Lakshmi-Narayan (left) and the elephant-headed Ganesh (right), houses a Shiva devta. If you're lucky, you may see it flooded with holy water - a costly ritual performed to cure sickness. Opening onto the courtyard are a couple of accessory shrines. The one on the south side harbours a lingam carved with the face of Shiva - a rare form of the god known as Mukhaling. The temple tank, whose murky green waters are teeming with fish, is also worth a look, if only to hunt for the donatory inscription (on the wall beside the steps) recording the foundation of the temple in 1413.

The Shri Shantadurga Temple
Standing with its back to a wall of thick forest and its front facing a flat expanse of open rice fields, Shri Shantadurga is Goa's largest and most famous temple, and the principal port of call on the region's Hindu pilgrimage circuit. Western visitors, however, may find its heavily European-influenced architecture less than exotic, and barely worth the detour from Ponda, 4km northeast. If you are pushed for time, skip this one and head straight for the temples further north at Mardol and Priol.

Shri Shantadurga TempleFrom the row of souvenir and cold drink stalls along the roadside, steps lead to Shri Shantadurga's main entrance and courtyard, enclosed by offices and blocks of modern pilgrims' hostels, and dominated by a brilliant-white six-storey deepmal. The russet- and cream-coloured temple, crowned with a huge domed sanctuary tower, was erected by the Maharatha Chief Shivaji's grandson, Shahu Raja, in 1738, some two centuries after its presiding deity had been brought here from Quelossim in Mormugao taluka, a short way inland from the north end of Colva Beach.

The interior of the building, dripping with marble and glass chandeliers, is dominated by an exquisitely worked silver screen, embossed with a pair of guardian deities (dwarpalas). Behind this sits the garlanded Shantadurga devi, flanked by images of Vishnu and Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Durga, another name for Shiva's consort, Parvati, the Goddess of Peace, resolved a violent dispute between her husband and rival God Vishnu, hence her position between them in the shrine, and the prefix Shanta, meaning "peace", that was henceforth added to her name.

After paying their respects to the Goddess, worshippers generally file along the passage leading left to the subsidiary shrine where Shantadurga sleeps. Also worth a look before you leave are the devi's colossal raths; during the annual February Zatra festival held here, these elaborately carved wooden chariots are pulled around the precinct by teams of honoured devotees
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The Shri Ramnath temple
Thanks to the garishly outsize entrance hall tacked onto it in 1905, the Shri Ramnath temple, 500m north Shri Ramnath templeup the lane from Shri Shantadurga, is the ugly duckling of Ponda's monuments. The only reason you'd want to call in here is to view the opulently decorated silver screen in front of the main shrine, the most extravagant of its kind in Goa. Brought from Lutolim in Salcete taluka in the sixteenth century, the lingam housed behind it is worshipped by devotees of the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects of Hinduism, Shri Ramnath being the form of Shiva propitiated by Lord Rama before he embarked on his mission to save Sita from the clutches of the evil Ravana.

Khandepar
Hidden deep in dense woodland near the village of KHANDEPAR, 5km northeast of Ponda on the NH4, is a group of four tiny freestanding rock-cut cave temples, gouged out of solid laterite some time between the ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are among Goa's oldest historical monuments but are also virtually impossible to find without the help of a guide or knowledgeable local: ask someone to show you the way from the Khandepar crossroads, where the buses from Ponda pull in.

Khandepar Caves

Set back in the forest behind a slowly meandering tributary of the Mandovi River, the four caves each consist of two simple cells hewn from a single hillock. Their tiered roofs, now a jumble of weed-choked blocks, are thought to have been added in the tenth or eleventh centuries, probably by the Kadambas, who converted them into Hindu temples. Prior to that, they were almost certainly Buddhist sanctuaries, occupied by a small community of monks. Scan the insides of the caves with a torch (watching out for snakes), and you can make out the carved pegs used for hanging robes and cooking utensils; the niches in the walls were for oil lamps. The outer cell of cave one also has lotus medallions carved onto its ceiling, a typically Kadamban motif that was added at roughly the same time as the stepped roofs.
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