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Namazgah: Bicholim’s symbol of communal harmony

Namazgah: Bicholim’s symbol of communal harmony

Sanjeev V Sardesai

One of the main pilgrimage locales, besides others in North Central Goa, is the famous Sri Saptakoteshwar Temple at Narve. Located after a short drive of about seven kilometres away from the town of Bicholim, the closest access to this site is from the village of Piligao through a mountain pass.

Readers will be surprised to know that this connectivity to Narve from Pilgao was initially over a traditional ‘paaz’ or a defined walkway from one point to another, especially over hills, created by laying a row of a set of three to four horizontally placed flat laterite stones and then one row of vertically placed laterite stones. The appreciative part of this architecture was to prevent pedestrians from slipping during monsoons and arresting their fall.

This temple of Lord Shiva was initially built by Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1668 and it was on the occasion of the 400th Year of the Coronation of the Chattrapati that the Government of Maharashtra carried out the widening of this mountain pass, thus opening a very important site to thousands of people.

There are many important Hindu temples that can be seen all over in nearby vicinities and Bicholim with a close proximity to Mayem Lake can be an ideal destination for pilgrimage tourism. All temples and heritage sites are well connected with tarred roads, and an on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision to visit these places can offer many culinary outlets with Goan fares too.

Goa is usually seen as a land of beaches and churches. However, these entertainment and heritage sites are only located in certain pockets along the shore line. The real Goa and its original flavour lies in the hinterlands, where one can experience the heritage, a period that takes one back centuries, to a time of a true priceless Goa.

The impression that Goans are a ‘unique people of a very distinctive kind’ is reiterated through various acts and instances of the past era that prove repeatedly that this land and its soil hold a very unique characteristic of toning down the temperament of people and even Gods (Sri Shantadurga).

Bicholim, an important township in North Goa and about 38 kilometres from Panaji, was initially under the tutelage of the Khem Sawant’s of Sawantwadi. Later power changed hands with the Adilshah’s and then the Maratha Kings Chattrapati Shivaji and his son Sambhaji and finally fell in to the Portuguese’s hands in the late 1700’s.

In Bicholim there lies a very beautiful and important heritage site where the proverb ‘enemy of the enemy is a friend’ is fructified. Overlooking the town of Bicholim and miles around it is a very old Muslim religious structure known as Namazgah. It can be seen prominently sitting atop a hillock just above the ward known as Dhabdaba (waterfall).

Presently located in a land of a very prominent mining company, vehicular access has to be cleared with prior permission as it is private property. However, the adventurous ones can walk up about 240 traditional mountain stone steps which reach out to this location from the north side.

Popularly identified by the locals as Nimuzgoh, this is the Namazgah and was allowed to be built by Chattrapati Sambhaji, son of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj for the spiritual use of Prince Muhammad Akbar (not Akbar the Great), one of Aurangzeb’s radical sons.

Prince Muhammad Akbar had revolted against his father Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who had decreed his capture and execution after a failed attack to take over power. Hence he had come to seek asylum in the Konkan region at Bicholim which was under the rule of the Maratha King Sambhaji.

History informs us that Prince Akbar created an alliance between his army and the Rajput army, and on January 1, 1681 with an intention of declaring himself the Mughal Emperor of India, led an attack against his father the reigning Mughal emperor who was at Ajmer. This attempt to wrest power from Aurangzeb failed miserably and Prince Akbar was forced to retreat after a bitter defeat to the safer havens of the Deccan, whose royalty were always at war with the Mughals.

It was then that Chattrapati Sambhaji welcomed him and gave him asylum at Bicholim, far from Aurangzeb’s reach. Sambhaji was in Goa to tackle the issue of the Portuguese regimes’ interference in his domain. And it was here that a Namazgah was constructed for the spiritual needs of the exiled Mughal prince. When one views this Namazgah or Nimuzgoh from the town, one can see a row of pillars with crescent moons atop each.

It is possible that a palace may have been constructed for the exiled prince in Bicholim, but there are no traces of such a structure having existed here due to massive development in Bicholim.

Compliments are in order to every mining company that has preserved this heritage structure over time by repairing it and keeping it safe from any damage.

Though mistaken by many as a mosque this is actually an idgah (open place for prayer) initially constructed for the prince’s namaz. Rectangular in shape, this entire area has a low masonry enclosure and the flooring is made of granite slabs. Towards the south east is a room with a plinth and six steps that ascend to it. The room is topped with a beautiful dome – a definite symbol of Muslim architecture. Though the area around is very hot due to rocks and mining activity, the inside of this room is amazingly very cool.

Towards its north west side is a high wall flanked with two domed-shaped pillars on both ends, the central part hosts a small open pulpit that can be ascended again by a flight of six steps. On enquiry, it was informed that Muslim brethren always face the Holy Mecca and so this wall is faced during prayers.

The north and east sides host a row of tall pillars, each topped with a beautiful moon in crescent shape and all the pillars connected with a single beam. The base of all these pillars from one end to the other have a masonry seating called sopes. From here one can get a panoramic view of the entire town of Bicholim as well as far off villages, making it a photographer’s delight.

Bicholim is also known as a hub for the manufacturing of processed cashew nuts – the symbol, icon and part of every tourist’s baggage as they return after a visit to Goa.

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