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Sattari – The honey and the sting

Sanjeev V Sardesai

In Sattari, a city dwelling visitor shall immediately feel the dramatic diversity between a ‘concrete jungle’ and the ‘real jungle’. One can relate, at close range, with the mighty Sahayadri Range, more commonly known as the Western Ghats. This Taluka of Goa, set at its North-East corner, is a paradise for many, wishing to either just loiter and relax, or pursue their adventurous spirit in mountain climbing, trekking, exploring, cycling or plainly scrutinising the natural world, first hand.

The Sahyadri hill range or the Western Ghats have been acknowledged as the worlds’ hotspot for flora and fauna – many species of which are still unknown to humans. So travelling from Sanquelim to Valpoi, the administrative capital of Sattari, one has to pass through a miles-long route, flanked by some of the most exotic flora, and draped in ‘thousands of shades of green!’ During monsoons, there seems to be unfailing competition, amongst the trees and shrubs, to portray their inherent beauty, through respective colourful inflorescences.

As visitors glide in their vehicles, along this route, one aspect that you experience is the absence of inhabitation for miles on end. The artistic perception would be that of being enveloped, in the healing green womb, of Mother Nature! The first sign of inhabitation, in such serene environ is the small shrine besides the road, at Redeghat. Many passing vehicles pay obeisance at this shrine, seeking a safe journey!

Immediately a short drive ahead, one can see a reverse “Y” intersection towards the left side. This road leads you to a small village ward called Nagve. About 1000 to 1150 metres down the road, you will come across a few modern day houses. Ask and you will be guided to an opening in the forest, at the dead end of the short road. Here you can lay your eyes on some wonderful granite carved idols, lying bare and open to the skies, weathering the harsh climate. The most interesting idol here is that of Devi Tarini, a presiding deity of River Mhadei, standing in a boat. The fact that these idols are in the open and still surviving impeccably, is a wonder! Such is the beauty of Goan heritage!

After laying eyes on these idols, we then proceed to Valpoi. ‘Sattar’ literally means ‘seventy’ in local parlance; hence could this be a cue that there are, or were, 70 villages in this taluka? Possibly!

Sattari was made famous by the brave local warrior, with Rajasthani ancestry, Dipaji Rane. He retaliated against the Portuguese regime for the atrocities laid upon his people in Sattari. His band mustered the courage to attack and literally conquer the Fortress of Nanus – a very strategic fortification on the banks of River Mhadei. The Portuguese feared him the most, as his capabilities of warfare, in such thick forestry, was beyond their physical control. Sadly, today, other than a portrait of him on horseback, there is no trace left of his possessions; however, the records of the Portuguese give him due credit.

Recounted by locals as folklore, Dipaji Rane is mentioned in an incident that took place at the Sonal village in Sattari, at a location called as ‘Mhovacho Guno’. Sonal Village is gifted amply by nature, with vast natural beauty. The River Mhadei flows from here, gurgling along its way to meet the mighty Arabian Sea. Just across this village was the now defunct ancient trading mountain pass that led to the neighbouring state of Karnataka.

This mountain pass made its way through huge granite boulders and these boulders were called as ‘Mhovacho Guno’. ‘Mhov’ in Konkani means honey and ‘Guno’ means stone; literally translating to ‘stone of honey’. What could have bestowed this sweet name, to these Mountain Pass? And what is Dipaji Rane’s connection to these ‘Mhovacho Guno’?

A very peculiar phenomenon takes place in the village of Sonal, every seven (7) years (last happened in 2017 summer). Every seven years, a flowering shrub known as ‘Karvi’ (Bot: Strobilanthes callosus) blossoms, creating a purple carpet of inflorescences, all over the Western Ghats. These flowers are known to secrete nectar and this attracts thousands of honey bees. Blessed with tranquillity, the area of the old mountain pass was an ideal site to create their honey combs. It is said that thousands of honeycombs dangled from most of these rocks; and hence these rocky mountain was called as ‘Mhovacho Guno’.

During one of Dipaji Rane’s escapades, it is said that once when he was furiously pursued by the Portuguese army he crossed the river at Sonal and made his way up the old rocky pass with his motley band of soldiers. It is recorded that as a military strategy, Rane instructed his men to hide behind the rocks, picking small rocks in their hands. Allowing the Portuguese soldiers to get as near and in the open, just below these honey combs, the shrewd Rane ordered his soldiers to target the honeycombs with the stones. The honeybees, very possessive of their territory, attacked the Portuguese soldiers in the open, forcing them to make a hasty retreat, not before being badly mauled by the bees and accepting defeat in this battle against Dipaji Rane. This act of Rane thus placed the ‘Mhovacho Guno’ in limelight!

Visitors here are cautioned to take precautions and not get too adventurous, and prevent avoidable attacks in the beautifully, wild Goan hinterlands. Also many a times, the silently flowing river waters are very deceptive; their depth and currents are often veiled from sight. When in such beautiful areas, the visitors must seek advice from locals about safety and follow their instructions to the T.

A few kilometres away from Valpoi, on another road to Sanquelim, is the village of Pariem. A very non-descript village, which one usually drives past without noticing, is a host to a priceless heritage. Just a few metres away from the main road, you notice an open ground, the size of half a football field; and on one side is a small masonry ruin under a cluster of trees, about 25 metres away from the road. These are the ruins of the Sri Sateri Temple, Pariem and exactly opposite here, is a short spike-like megalith or granite stone, affixed in the ground, under a huge ageing banyan tree. This stone is called ‘Ubho Guno’ or ‘a standing stone’. This granite stone, exposed to the vagaries of nature, dates to the early 3rd or 4th century AD. It is about 3.5 feet high, about 6 inches wide and about 3 inches thick.

This ‘Ubho Guno’ is significant as it has some carving in the Brahmi script towards its upper front portion; but due to pouring of oil by the locals the top most carvings have been eroded. Brahmi is the oldest script recorded in Goa and the existing script reads as Netravarisha, as per an article by Rajendra Kerkar.

It is time we travel and set eyes on such amazing undiscovered locales and sites and help to preserve the Goan heritage.

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