Sanjeev V Sardesai
Today in Goa, we have anglicised many of the original village names, due to Lusitanian influence of over four centuries, and are unable to relate to the places mentioned in the old scripts. However, one intangible heritage aspect that has kept the mythological connectivity alive are the stories and the ‘Puranas’ (old Indian scripts), passed on lovingly by grandparents to their grandchildren.
It is mythology that leads us initially to Salcete Taluka, to the Verna Industrial Estate. Little known to many people, ensconced between these huge industrial plots is the biggest Hindu temple precinct in Goa, dedicated to Goddess Sri Mahalsa Narayani. Still in a developmental stage, it is a site of prime history and heritage.
The ‘Varunapur Mahatmya’ of the ‘Skandapurana’, informs us that Lord Parshuram ordered Lord Varuna, the sea god, to retreat and make new lands for him to carry out his daily religious rituals. He also shot seven arrows and the sea retreated. Later when Lord Parshuram is supposed to have reached this huge plateau, he was mesmerised with the beautiful view and bountiful nature. It is said that he requested Lord Varuna to construct a huge palace for him, richly decorated with gems and jewels, on the same design of Lord Varuna’s palace. Varuna built a beautiful palace with the help of Vishwakarma, the celestial architect.
Upon its completion, Lord Parshuram was so elated that he addressed the entire land after Lord Varuna and named it “Varunyapuri”. We know this land today as Verna.
The temple that existed here, built around the 11th century, was the original location of the deity Sri Mahalsa Narayani, which today we find in Ponda Taluka at Mardol. During the era of religious persecution, around 1567 AD, this temple, along with 248 others, was the target of destruction by Captain Diego Fernandes and his marauding forces based at the Rachol Fort, under the orders of Fr Miguel Vaz. It is said that the temple devotees smuggled the idol across to safer lands of Ponda, fearing desecration of the same.
This deity is related to the beautiful ‘Mohini’ of the mythological churning of the sea to get the elixir of eternal life – the ‘amrut’. To avoid a fight between the gods and demons who churned the sea, she appeared and served the ‘amrut’ to the gods, and liquor to the demons. But Lord Mahadev was attracted to her, and she promised him that when he takes the form of ‘Markand’ she would be born as Mahalsa, in the house of Tima Shet. But Mohini having taken this form by Vishnu (Narayan) she is also referred to as “Mahalsa Narayani”. She is also surmised to be a form of Devi Parvati. The idol of Sri Mahalsa is seen wearing the sacred thread worn by men and by Devi Parvati.
The timeline of this deity takes us to Nepal. One of her ardent Brahmin devotees brought this icon and initially settled it at Bicholim, in the form of a “water filled pot”. On his demise, the Adilshahi soldiers and some anti-social elements started to defile the temple icon and robbed the ornaments placed on it. It is believed that the deity wanted to shift to another place and reached the Verna Plateau. Here, she saw a cowherd who had brought his cows to graze and asked him to inform his landlord and the villagers that she wanted to reside here.
She then touched her ‘toe ring’ to the ground, on top of the hill and from that spot a spring of fresh water started to flow. The cowherd went and called the people, who came and acceded to the deity’s wishes. This temple lake, seen at Verna plateau, is called as the Nupur Talli or the ‘lake from the toe ring’. Whatsoever be the legend, it was a fact that the temple of Sri Mahalsa Narayani was very architecturally aesthetic.
But after the increasing religious atrocities, it was shifted to Mardol, and a beautiful temple was built here. Today thousands of devotees from Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra arrive here to seek her blessings. One of the most interesting features of the Sri Mahalsa Temple is the entry gate and the three ‘stambhs’ (pillars) beyond it and in front of the temple. These are the tall, masonry pillar of lights (the deepstambh), the huge brass divli stand (a storeyed brass lamp, lit during major festivities) resting on tortoise back, and the ‘garud dhwaj’ (temple pennant mast). The temple lake is behind the temple; an architectural deviation, as compared to other temples, having their lakes in front. Atop the dome is a ‘kalash’, said to have been made of 50 kilograms of gold.
Though renovated in contemporary style, the temple has retained the old style of the ‘sabha-mandap’ or the ‘outer festivity hall’. One aspect of this temple, which was even acceptable to the Portuguese, was the ‘Bell of Truth’. A person under doubt would be made to stand under this bell and narrate his say. It is said that even the Portuguese accepted the statement of the person standing under this bell as true.
The temple jatra is celebrated in the Hindu lunar calendar month of Magh in the dark fortnight (Krushnapaksh) from the Chaturthi (fourth day) till Dashmi (tenth day). Immediately after this is the Mahashivratri. The weekly palanquin procession is held on Sunday and the major event hosted here is Navratri.
This year (2020) a plethora of events are scheduled to celebrate the feast or ‘jatra’ of the Sri Mahalsa Narayani Temple at Mardol.
After the regular religious rituals during the day, the deity is taken out in a procession on palanquins and chariots, with different themes. On the first day, at 7 p.m., is the procession of the deity on a ‘mayurasan’ (peacock palanquin). On day two, the ‘maharath’ or the huge main temple chariot is pulled by devotees; day three sees the deity proceeding on a ‘garud vahan’ (eagle themed palanquin); on day four, the ‘ambari’ (elephant chariot) is used; on day five, the ‘lalkhi’ or ‘sukhasan’ – a palanquin carried on the shoulders of the devotees, will be taken out. The sixth day of this jatra is exciting as the deity is taken for a row on the temple lake waters on a boat – ‘naukarohan’. On the seventh day, the deity procession is on a ‘vijay rath’ (horse chariot).
Set a few days on your calendar of schedules and visit Sri Mahalsa Narayani Temple at Mardol, during its jatra.