Sanjeev V Sardesai
As we continue our journey into the terrains of Goa, to visit the ruins of the once impressive forts and fortifications constructed by the many dynasties that ruled over this region, let us now venture into the island of Divar.
Divar may initially have been known by various identities viz, Dwipavatika, Devwadi, Diwadi, and later Diwar or Divar. If we see the deeper meaning of this identity ‘dev’ and ‘wadi’, it means the ‘Village (wadi) of Gods (Dev)’.
In all logical possibility, this identity of this island, may have been accrued due to the fact that much before the arrival of the Portuguese, this island was host to many very influential and revered Hindu temples like the one dedicated to Sri Saptakoteshwar in Naroa Ward built in the 12th century by the Kadamb Dynasty for their family deity; Sri Ganesh Temple in Navelim Ward, which has now been re-built just below the Piedade Church of Divar; Sri Mahamaya Temple in Goltim Ward, and another temple of Sri Dwarkeshwar, dedicated to Sri Krishna, Lord of Dwarka. Possibly there were many other smaller temples and shrines, which were razed to the ground during the period of religious persecution.
These temple deities were secretly removed by the respective devotees and villagers, and re-located to safer lands, across the River Mandovi, fearing desecration. The period of these shifting and re-location, could be anywhere from 1540 to 1560 AD. The reason why the Portuguese desperately wanted to control this island was that it had a very high strategic military importance. It was a very strong buffer against the enemy forces such as the Marathas and Ranes and could be an effective first line of defense, against any foray of the enemy towards their stronghold capital of Portuguese Goa – Velha Goa (Old Goa) on Tiswadi Island.
Once this island was taken over, its populace evangelised, all the temples and shrines were razed to the ground and its building materials shifted and used in other places. The magnificent temple of Sri Saptakoteshwar faced the maximum destruction. In fact a Portuguese traveller who had visited this island, had recorded that this temple was among the finest that he had seen even in South India, with the most beautiful carvings and aesthetics.
Divar initially had three communidades viz, Piedade, Sao Matias, and Naroa. In the later period, Piedade Communidade was sub-divided into Goltim and Navelim Communidades, and Sao Matias was given a new identity as Malar. Over a period, this entire island was to undergo a major revamp by the Portuguese, to suit their military and ecclesiastical purposes.
Once under the Portuguese, three churches were established on this island. The Sao Matias or St Mathias Church at Malar dedicated to St Mathias the Apostle, was established between 1590-97. Next to it was constructed the Nossa Senhora da Piedade Church, dedicated to the grieving Mother of Jesus – Our Lady of Piety and built atop the hill in 1625. This church later gave its identity to the ward around. The Holy Spirit Church at Naroa was founded in 1710. One can also see a very unique chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Candelaria in the Naroa Ward, with a domed structure dividing a long, hall-like structure.
Another unique feature seen here, in the Naroa Ward, is the ‘Cross of Tarir’. This cross is built on the edge of the River Mandovi, just behind the Naroa Cemetery, but surprisingly faces the riverside, without any frontal visibility from the land. This was built by the fishing community, who would carry out its litany by standing in their canoes in the water, while facing the cross.
Keeping the sensitiveness of this region, the Portuguese then decided to erect a fort in Naroa, close to the river crossing, which now has an established ferry ramp, commuting people from Naroa to Narve in Bicholim.
This small fort, which is now pitiably just a small stretch of wall, lies just across the road from the Church of Holy Spirit at Naroa. While thousands of people pass this main route, connecting the island to the Bicholim side, only a handful may be aware of its existence. The fort served the military purpose of deterring the Marathas or any enemy from crossing over with an intention of a surprise attack.
During its heydays, this fort may have held a small contingent for defensive purposes. A record by a Jesuit priest Fr Moren De Souza, in his book ‘Tiswadechyo Igorzo’ states that ‘once this fort was in place, a commander of the Portuguese made a surprise visit, only to find that the fort was vacant, as all its soldiers had gone to attend the weekly religious mass. He conveyed a request to erect a church nearby to solve this problem. His request was granted by the King of Portugal, on March 8, 1546, who directed the viceroy to construct an ecclesiastical structure and dedicate it to St Thomas, the Apostle.’
It is possible that initially a chapel was constructed. Later the Captain of the Fort, Diogo da Silveira is said to have constructed the church in 1710. Though this church is today popularly known as the Holy Spirit Church of Naroa, Divar, the icon of the St Thomas the Apostle adorns the central part of the main altar.
Today, the Naroa Fort of Divar exists only as a wall of about 10-12 metres in length and about 6 metres high. A unique feature that can be seen on this wall is a semi-circular protrusion, facing a window of the church across the road, which may once have been a small balcony, – enough for a single person to stand. On asking around, it was informed that when all the soldiers from this fort, went across to the chapel/ church to attend the Sunday religious service, one soldier was kept on duty at the fort. He would then stand on this verandah and keep a look-out across the river, for any enemy movement, while at the same time, heard the Word of God, through the window of the church.
It is indeed very pitiable that Goans as well as the administration, are displaying a very step-motherly treatment towards protection of this priceless tangible heritage of Goa. Sadly, this is one of the listed protected monuments of Goa by the Directorate of Archives & Archaeology, Government of Goa; but besides a ‘Protected Monument’ and ‘Liability of fines & imprisonment’ boards, there is no other information available, for visitors to take pride in this once affluent structure.
The need of the hour is to erect as many direction boards from the Old Goa- Divar Ferry Jetty to all the historically important locations on this island. It is an appeal to all Goans to take time off, and cross over onto this wonderful island of Divar and visit all these fascinating sites.