Sanjeev V Sardesai
Goa’s administrative jurisdiction comprises of two districts – North and South that include twelve talukas which were earlier divided in major areas like Pedne Mahal (Pernem), Bhatagram (Bicholim), Mathagram (Margao), and the central part of Goa comprising Ponda was and is still referred to as Antruz Mahal.
Let us now look at Antruz Mahal, a Hindu pilgrimage destination in Goa where one can find a multitude of beautiful Hindu temples spread across the region. This attracts thousands of devotees, tourists and heritage enthusiasts every year. This taluka is also famous for its folk artistes, litterateurs, singers and musicians.
An etymological legend has given this region the name ‘Antruz Mahal’. Towards the Northern periphery of Ponda taluka along the banks of River Mandovi, is the quaint village Savoi Verem – a treasure trove of archaeological artefacts, rare carvings and remnants of old settlements. There is a temple, built over a lake, dedicated to Lord Vishnu here as he is said to love cool waters. He is portrayed reclining on a cobra with five hoods – the Shesh Nag – and is known as Sri Madanant or Sri Anant.
The temple’s old structure has been remodelled to suit modern standards, keeping the aspect of running water surrounding it. This temple attracts a huge number of devotees. It is believed that this divine energy protects the entire Ponda region and hence the area is called the land of the divine energy of Sri Anant or ‘Anant Urja Mahal’ which has come through the generations as ‘Antruz Mahal’.
Legend tells us that present site of the temple once used to be an ashram of a ‘Buva’ or a sage. Lord Vishnu appeared to this sage in a dream saying ‘I have arrived in your village and I want to reside here’. The sage did not give this much thought at first, but over time the dream began to recur and Lord Vishnu said: ‘I have come from far across the seas, travelling through the seas’. The sage then informed the village elders about this dream.
The village elders, confused, then decided to go to the banks of River Mandovi to check on the trade ships that docked there. When they reached the river banks, there was only one boat that belonged to a Muslim trader from Surla, across the river. (Surla still boasts of housing one of the 27 mosques built during the Adilshahi era, known as Surla Taar Mosque.)
They approached him and enquired if he had any idol of Lord Vishnu on board. The trader informed them that he did not believe in idol worship and thus he did not have any such idol, but he requested the villagers to look around his sail boat. The villagers searched the entire boat but did not find any idol. When they were getting off board, someone noticed that there was a huge flat, black granite slab of stone lying at the helm of the ship.
On enquiry, the trader informed them that he had arrived sailing from Kathiawar (Gujarat) with goods; and that on disposing his goods, the ship had become light. So to weigh down the nose of the now lightened ship, he kept that heavy stone, that was about four feet long, two feet wide and about six inches thick.
Upon inspection and overturning the slab, they were surprised to see a beautiful carving of Lord Vishnu in a reclining position with many beautiful ancillary carvings of Mahabharat mythology on it. The Muslim trader heartily let them to take the carving off his ship. However, the devotees were faced with the dilemma of placing the stone in the right location, given that Lord Vishnu had to be kept in water.
A consensus was arrived at and a pit was dug near the river banks to keep the icon till proper arrangements were made. Today this pit is called ‘Pirachi Peth’, after the generous gesture of the Muslim trader. Later the icon was carried and established at the location where the present day temple stands. The present temple structure is built on a higher plinth than the surrounding fields, yet its temple lakes have water filled in them, to the brim, perennially.
The ritual of smearing the idol with coloured sandalwood paste in the “Gandha Puja” brings to fore the real beauty of this sculpture.
Owing to the Muslim man’s gesture, Savoi Verem may be portrayed as an ideal village, displaying the true ethos of communal harmony in Goa. Over the past centuries, in gratitude to the Muslim trader, a tradition is followed. Every year, during the famous Kalo or the Sakhya Hari festival, an heir of this Muslim trader is honourably invited into the temple, where he is served food and offered gifts. Rarely does one get to see such a bond of friendship between the Hindus and Muslims.
As a member of the Suryarao Sardesai family, one of the first families to settle here in Savoi Verem, I recollect my father, born and bred in the palatial 3-chowki house opposite the temple, telling me that earlier the precinct of the old temple had its floor covered with laterite stones. Every time there was a village event with the weight of the people on this floor, water would seep out of through the gaps, making it damp.
The palatial ancestral houses of the Suryarao Sardesai, the Raikar and the Singbal families are found in this village in the close vicinity of the Sri Anant temple. These huge houses are now either closed or have only a few inhabitants; however, during Ganesh Chaturthi, these houses come alive with their old charm.
These households welcome all visitors during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, which incidentally is scheduled next week. Visitors must take this opportunity to visit the ancestral houses of Savoi Verem and see the lifestyles of people of Goa in the past.