The Goan Temple


Preserving Goan Religious Heritage - 2


Iris C F Gomes

(The conference titled Challenges for the Preservation of the Diverse Goan Religious Heritages was held at Fundação Oriente India in Panjim on the 18th of March 2018. Joaquim R Santos (University of Lisbon), Vishvesh Kandolkar (Goa College of Architecture), Amita Kanekar (Al-Zulaij Collective), and Gulafshan Khan (Deccan College of Pune) presented perspectives on the heritage of various religions in Goa.)

Amita Kanekar, independent researcher in architectural history and member of the Al-Zulaij Collective spoke on her topic The Origins of the Goan Temple and the Challenges for their Preservation. The problems that challenge the preservation of Goan temple architecture are: the style in which they are built is not really recognised as a specific type of architecture; the style is quickly disappearing; those who know the history of these temples are not inclined in the least to extricate them from a tangle of myth and legend by presenting their true history and origins; and the temples are not considered heritage even by those connected with them.


There are a number of temple forms in Goa such as the rock cut shrines in Khandepar and Arvalem of the first millennium of the Common Era (CE), the Tambdi Surla Temple of the 12th century and some of the more recent ones. All the temples in Goa cannot be given the distinction of being ‘Goan’ since the state became a political entity only after the first Portuguese conquest in 1510 (which by the 18th century also included the current land area of Goa) and was recognised as such by the Bijapur Sultanate, the Marathas, the Mughals and, in later times, the British Raj.


The temples built prior to the Portuguese conquest had the marks of the architecture of other regional formations that included parts of Goa. The Tambdi Surla Temple was built during the rule of the Kadambas of the South Konkan when they were feudatories of the imperial Chalukyas of Kalyani. The Chalukyas patronised a unique Karnata Dravida temple architecture of which the Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla is an example. Therefore, we cannot say that all temples found in present day Goa are typically Goan in style, as they may reflect the architecture of a kingdom that comprised of a section of Goan territory. In short, the temples would have to fulfil the terms of being regionally, chronologically, and stylistically Goan to be labelled as Goan temple architecture.

The Goan temples generally follow the basic Brahmanical layout with a mandapa (entrance porch), chowk, and a garhbakud (sanctum) laid out along an axis, but there is a huge difference in the overall forms of the temples, whether large or small. You can see temples with basilican floor plans, the European Renaissance domes with balustrade railings, rounded arches, pillars, pilasters, and mouldings, the Bijapuri domes topped by inverted lotuses, ogee arches, and pillars, the stepped pond that brings to mind the Adil Shahi Goan mosques, some Mughal and Maratha forms, and features that are distinctly Goan such as laterite or mud walls and pitched and tiled roofs. There are also the high lamp towers resembling Bijapuri towers and the nagarkhana or double storeyed gateway of Mughal influence, where the upper storey was used by musicians who were considered to be of a lower caste.


José Pereira says that the first of the temples had Europeans forms, and in the 18th century Islamic or Persian styles came into the picture. By the late 19th and early 20th century there appeared a refined amalgamation of the two forms, bringing a style that made the temples resemble a Goan mansion. The smaller temples were a simpler version of these, usually having the appearance of the basic Goan house form.


What makes these temples Goan is not the various unusual components separately but the distinct manner in which they were merged. The final product was to support the claim made by the persons and communities that they represented. For example, the Saraswats were patrons of the bigger temples from the 18th century who, although recognised by the Estado society, were fighting for acceptance as Brahmins from the Peshwa’s court. ‘The distinctiveness of the temples they patronised thus appears to be a statement of their arrival and prominence in both, the Brahmanical world and the European,’ says Kanekar.


The Goan temple has been recognised as heritage only very recently. The Goa Government began listing heritage sites in the late 19th century, becoming more inclusive in the 1930s with archaeological sites where investigations should be conducted. However, the temples that were listed included merely the destroyed temples. After 1961, the Indian Government did include some of the Goan temples. There was a successful campaign by the temple trusts to remove the temples from the list, such as the Mangueshi Temple in 1970, leaving only two Goan temples on the protected heritage list today. It is now pre-Portuguese sites with remains, which may or may not be Hindu, and the purported demolition sites of temples of the 16th century that are recognised as protected remains.


The Goan temple has rarely been included in architectural or archaeological writings on Goa. The writings of José Pereira speak of the connection of the temple architecture with the Goan church, and it is only in the last two decades that the Goan temple has gained a place in written works.


There is greater significance attached to the earlier or pure forms and therefore not much attention paid to the later, more syncretic Goan temple by scholars. Kanekar says, ‘The later forms are seen as derivative, not original…even though we know there is hardly anything actually original in the world. If something is considered original, it is just because its antecedents are unknown.’

Another reason for the lack of importance given to the Goan temple is that once Goa was liberated by India, it was found that the Goan temple did not resemble the other temple forms of South Asia. In the early modern period, temples that displayed architecture that was more typical to the region to which they were connected, became common. The Goan temple has European and Islamic influences and can be considered Islamic architecture and colonial buildings. ‘But how can a Hindu temple be considered both Islamic and colonial. Hinduism is akin to nationalism in India. This is very obvious and visible now, but it has always been there under the surface. This is the nationalism that sees the Muslims, Christians, etc as ‘others’. So how can this symbol of nationalism be clothed in Islamic or colonial garb? The Goan temple was clearly a problem,’ says Kanekar.


Any documentation by the temple authorities or worshippers contains little or no reference to the architecture, although there are photographs that show changes that have taken place over the last century. These temples have come into their own as tourist attractions, with the Ponda temples being advertised as such way back in the 1950s by the Goa tourism authorities. Indian worshippers have been targeted with the promotion of religious tourism. Unfortunately, this has not led to protection of these temples but rather attempts have been made to architecturally Indianize them to cater to the increase in worship tourism and appeal to Indian tourists.


There also is the problem of studying the origins of these Goan temples, which adds to the issue of giving the Goan temple its due. Hinduism under the Portuguese rule has not really been studied while an exaggerated history of persecution of Hindus has been promulgated. However, with scholars now studying the Goan archives from the 16th century onwards, we know that there were many temples in the 16th century and the main male deity in Bardez and Tiswadi was the non-Brahmanical Ravalnath and in Salcete there was the Brahmanical Narayana. The Sateri was the female, non-Brahmanical deity that was hailed everywhere. This probably means that when the Portuguese arrived, Brahmanism was not prevalent across Goa. Portuguese records show that the temples of the non-Brahmanical deities of the 16th century were mostly destroyed. This was not a deterrent in the growth of Brahmanical Hinduism because the richest natives were not under as much pressure to convert and the Saraswats came to have the status of being placed just below the Portuguese and above the local converts in social prominence.


We have been told the story about the destruction of temples that belonged to the Saraswats by the Portuguese and the Inquisition, and the transference of idols of deities to Bijapur where they were preserved in small shrines which were replaced by large ones under the Marathas. Most of the larger and more prominent temples belong to the Saraswat caste in these times. The owners are called mazanes (Mahajan), meaning ‘great people’, who hold a hereditary position taking all vital decisions about the temple. The lower castes who took part in the rituals and festivities, even with crucial roles, always remained subordinate to the mazane. These temples were not merely religious structures but were essential to survival and reproduction because they were social meeting grounds.


It was not just the Portuguese who destroyed temples but also the local converts, for example, the Brahmin converts at Cuncolim led the Portuguese soldiers to the temple to destroy it.


Another question that arises is the survival of the idols through this destruction by the Estado besides enduring through two whole centuries. It is interesting that 16th century records say that the idols were destroyed along with the temples. The current locations of the temples did not have smaller shrines with the same idols. One reason for the relocation of these idols could be land takeovers in the New Conquest regions (the Shantadurga Temple of Kavlem, Ponda, was initially in Keloshi in Salcete, an Old Conquest region).


The worship of these deities is interlinked with bahujan worship. The bahujans in the Madkai village of Ponda claim that the idol of the Navdurga Temple was a local one, and has been taken over by the Saraswats who, using the Regulamento das Mazanias of 1886, registered themselves as mahajans and assumed control of the Navdurga Temple.


There seems to be unreliable dating such as in the case of the Saptakoteshwar Temple at Narve that was supposed to have been rebuilt by the Marathas in 1668 after being demolished by the Portuguese. However, the day does not match the date on the temple inscription, as indicated by P P Shirodkar, the former director of the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Goa. According to Shirodkar, a study of the inscription suggests the temple belongs to the 19th century, a time for myth-making in Goa among ambitious communities. Kanekar says, ‘All these stories about rescued deities were spun with the same ambitions of high status and heroic past. An example is the Siolim zagor which commemorates the supposed fleeing of Hindus from Portuguese persecution in the 16th century, but itself dates only from the 1865.’


The New Conquest regions that were acquired by the Portuguese in the 18th century seem to have the oldest Goan temples. The Marathas are the first to have established these new temples for the alleged old idols in the late 17th and early 18th century when the Ponda, Pernem and Bicholim areas were captured by them. Shivaji, beginning with the Saptakoteshwar Temple, and the Brahmin Peshwas who followed are claimed to have built these new temples, with many Saraswats employed by the Maratha courts to lay the foundations for some of these temples. These regions were soon taken over by the Portuguese and the temples seem to have gained their singular Goan style of architecture only under the Estado, for example, the Mangueshi Temple’s European-Islamic architecture appeared only in 1890.


The temple architecture of the 16th century was not particularly noteworthy. The widespread destruction (usually by burning and dismantling) of temples in a short time suggests these were made of light materials with thatched roofs and timber pillars. The more elaborate and syncretic architecture was obviously not derived from these early temples. Judging by the sketches of Lopes Mendes, it seems the Goan temple form appeared from around the latter half of the 19th century and grew in popularity at the turn of the century.


In recent times, the particular Goan style is disappearing in an attempt to make them appear more ‘Hindu’ and ostentatious. Swollen coffers, thanks to an increasing number of devotees, seems to contribute to the continuous architectural changes. From 1961 to the 1980s, renovations have resulted in striking makeovers. The introduction of Indian forms such as the Nagara towers was also seen in Goa. Examples of these changes are the completely rebuilt Damodar Temple in Zambaulim and the Mahalaxmi Temple in Panjim. The 1990s saw more extensive modifications leaning more towards other Indian architectural forms and the use of expensive material like copper sheeting, silver and gold leaf, granite and marble.


Goan temples that retain their authentic Goan architecture of even 50 years ago are becoming increasingly rare. Kanekar says, ‘Even these are not likely to last for long if the government doesn’t get its act together and set up restoration and protection. If overgrown ruins like the Tambdi Surla Temple could be restored back into functioning shrines, why cannot renovated temples be restored or re-renovated back to their earlier architecture? Otherwise we lose an important artefact that reflects not just the cultural history of Goa but also its society and politics.’