Sorry is the word you will be looking for, if you visit Goa during peak season, after having watched Dil Chahta Hai or Dear Zindagi with your friends and loved ones.
Every December, tourists from all over India flock in millions to Goa, jampacking the narrow roads north of the Mandovi. Ask anyone who has been to Vagator or Anjuna around the time of Christmas or New Year's Eve — nightmare is an understatement.
If you are visiting Goa, especially during peak tourist season, it may not necessarily be the best experience for an individual seeking to do something beyond the traditional beat of casinos and beach shacks.
Sure, one must visit popular places such as Mapusa's Parra Road, which is lined with palm trees on either side and one can view paddy fields for a distance. Other popular destinations which include forts, churches, beaches and waterfalls is what comes to one's imagination, naturally, when one thinks of a trip to Goa.
However, the state has much more to offer to a tourist beyond beaches. Goa's best kept secret is, in fact, its temples.
Newly Laid Roads Show The Way
Swarajya visited some of these temples in Goa which the government has renovated and is now trying to actively promote them as destinations of devotional tourism.
As soon as we arrived at Madgaon railway station, we hit the road to Panaji. From Panaji, the first pitstop was at the Shree Saptakoteshwara temple located in Narve. To get there, one has to drive for 30 minutes to the Diwar ferry terminal and enter the island. One can ferry their car across just at a cost of seven rupees!
Since we visited the state during monsoon season, it was lush green, and the roads were newly laid. Just a year ago, many roads in the state were not in the best condition.
A background: Shree Saptakoteshwar Temple was built by Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1668. The temple is known for being the only one to carry Sanskrit inscriptions of Shivaji Maharaj on its walls. The Goa state archives and archaeology department was tasked with refurbishing the temple, and when it was done, it was inaugurated by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and other leaders including MLA Shivendra Raje Bhosle, a descendent of Shivaji Maharaj.
This is around the same time when CM Sawant called for the decolonisation of Goa's history, and to 'wipe out Goa's Portuguese signs'.
"The temple witnessed many attacks by invading forces, but the locals rescued the deity almost every time it was under attack", says Gopal Marajker, chairman of the Shree Saptakotishwar Devasthan Committee in Bocholim.
"The temple traces back its origin to the time of the Kadamba dynasty. It was originally located in Tiswadi but was later desecrated by the Bahamani rulers. Rebuilt during the time of the Vijayanagara empire, the temple faced yet another attack by the Portuguese in 1540 AD", Marajker tells Swarajya.
Fearing another attack, the temple was then shifted to Narve, where it is presently located. When Shivaji Maharaj visited Goa in the 1660s, the temple was renovated. What is more unique about the temple is its feature of the 'Kaavi' art form — a wall art that is found in the region.
The Goan government has allocated Rs 20 crore as budgetary provision to restore many temples in the state that were demolished by the Portuguese.
Apart from temples, many monuments, including the Betul fort, have been revived by the state government.
Located in South Goa, the fort provides a panoramic view of River Sal and the Arabian Sea.
The Government of Goa is currently planning to restore the fort to boost tourism in the area.
From Betul, we drove to the famous Shree Mahadev Tambdi Surla temple located in the heart of the Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. It was located about seventy kilometres, or two a couple of hours drive from Betul.
The roads? — Fantastic. To our luck, we visited the site on a weekday. This meant roads free of tourist jeeps, continuous honking and littering. It is about two hours away from Panaji. The temple, constructed in the early 12th century, is one of the finest examples of the Kadamba architecture, and happens to be one of the few temples to survive the invasions in the north Goan region.
Primarily made from basalt rock, it features intricate carvings on its walls. It is believed that its remote location helped the temple remain untouched by invaders and tourists alike.
Up until now, the temple was visited by devotees from Goa and Karnataka, but thanks to the improved connectivity, the visitors who come to spend a day at the national park or the Dudhsagar falls nearby also make it a point to drive down to the temple and seek Mahadev's blessings.
Goa's true History
Goa originally went by the name Gomantak — the land of the gods. Swarajya's Associate Editor, Jaideep Mazumdar, writes:
It is said that Parashuram also got Saraswat Brahmins (they hailed from the banks of the ancient Saraswati river) to come to Gomantak. Sixty-six families found their home in Gomantak around 1,000 BCE. Today, the area is known as Salcete, meaning 'sassat' or 66.
Over a period, many temples were established across the region, only to be later destroyed by Portuguese invaders and the Catholic clergy who joined them.
Many deities were moved to safer places, fearing imminent attacks. The Portuguese desecrated many temples and built churches over the ruins of others. Many of the temples that survived these conquests can now be found in forested hills away from the coast.
Shefali Vaidya's is one voice that has been vocal about the role of the invading forces, especially the Portuguese, in the destruction of Hindu temples in the state. According to her, in 1546, the then Portuguese ruler issued an order allowing the destruction of temples across all Portuguese territories.
Furthermore, any celebration of Hindu festivals was not tolerated. In just three years time, by 1549, all Hindu temples on the island of Divar were razed to the ground. In his work The Goa Inquisition, Anant Priolkar mentions nearly 300 temples being destroyed in Salcete between 1560 and 1575.
Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace
When Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant called for signs of Portuguese rule to be 'wiped out' from Goa's history, it sparked an immediate controversy. His critics accused him of communalising the political discourse.
Apart from bringing light to the atrocities—killings, strictures imposed on Hindus, forced conversions—he also mentioned that it was the peace pact with Chhatrapati Shivaji that finally stopped the Portuguese from destroying temples in the state.
Following this statement of his, certain Hindu groups in the state called for a movie to be made on the atrocities called 'Goa Files' — on the lines of recent Bollywood flicks like The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story.
Speaking to Swarajya, Dr. Pramod Sawant said that Konkani literature details the numerous atrocities committed by the Portuguese during their erstwhile rule in Goa.
"Until our children start to read Konkani literature... the works of literary giants like Bhai Mauzo and Mahabaleshwar Sail, they won't know their own history and what their ancestors had to go through. Goa needs to be decolonised in that sense. People outside Goa are now beginning to read and hear about the atrocities committed during the Inquisition", he told Swarajya.
Furthermore, he stated that the diversification of the Goan economy is vital for the state to realise the vision of becoming 'Swayampurna Goa'. He added that the Government of Goa has been overhauling infrastructure in the state, and initiatives have been taken to promote cultural and heritage tourism in the state.
"While we welcome tourists to enjoy our pristine beaches and hills, I hope they also get to see the other side of Goa — the relatively unexplored side of the state. Do visit our temples, museums, churches and forts", he said.
According to the Goa government, more than 40 per cent of Goans are dependent directly or indirectly on tourism. From 2.3 million tourists in 2005, Goa now receives nearly eight million tourists annually (as of 2017) and continues to grow annually at a rate of 11 per cent.
Coastal tourism, leisure and entertainment also occupies critical mass in the tourism sector in Goa. To diversify, the Goa Tourism Policy (2020) has identified certain areas where tourism can be diversified — culture, heritage, nature-based tourism in the wildlife sanctuaries of south Goa.
Here Are Some Places You Can Visit
If you are planning a trip to Goa anytime soon, here are some temples you can visit:
Shri Saptakoteshwar Temple
Shri Shantadurga Temple
Shri Damodar Temple
Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.
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