Sanjeev V Sardesai
At dusk, when a vehicle enters Panaji, he or she is greeted with a jewel shining on a hill.
One of Goa’s most famous temples, with a beautiful heritage and history, the Maruti Temple is dedicated to the most devout follower of Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Lord Hanuman, also known as Maruti (son of Marut – God of Wind).
The temple which sits atop a short hilly ridge offers a stunning bird’s eye view of the eastern part of Panaji city, and the suburban villages of Ribandar, St Cruz, and also the River Mandovi with its mangrove-clad adjoining salt pans.
Just below this temple, which has been renovated in 1980, is the famous Latin Quarters of Panaji or Fontainhas or Mala as the locals call it. This area is the original establishing settlement precinct of Panaji City, when the urgent need arose to shift the Portuguese capital of Old Goa (Velha Goa) to another destination, due to repeated epidemics. Late Percival Noronha, a historian and a resident of Fontainhas informed that the development of Mala – Fontainhas took place around 1810 – 1839. Prior to that, it was called as ‘Palmeira Ponte’ because of its coconut groves belonging to one Antonio Joao de Sequeira, whom locals called ‘Mossmikar’, since he had arrived from Mozambique.
The name Fontainhas arose in all probability, from the quaint spring developed by the Portuguese, with underground tunnels to its spring source and named as Fonte Fenix, after the mythological phoenix bird. The present spring structure was constructed during the tenure of the Portuguese Governor Viscount of Ourem, Joaquim Jose Januario Lapa (1851-55).
Probably the Portuguese thought it apt to name this spring after the mythological bird, as it is said that when this bird ages, it burns itself and then arises as a fledgling bird from those very ashes. In the same way Panaji City was born after the old city was dying out. Whatever the reason, the locals, not being able to pronounce the name Fonte Fenix, later corrupted it to Fontainhas. The Mala- Fontainhas region was declared as a conservation zone in 1974.
The Maruti Temple is one of the five major temples of Panaji and its suburbs; the others are Sri Mahalaxmi Temple (Mahalaxmi is the officiating deity of the Panaji City and Goddess of Wealth); the Sri Sai Baba Temple near the famous Boca da Vaca Spring, Sri Apteshwar Ganapati Temple at St Inez, and Sri Sati Temple of Portais/ Bhatlem.
In 1818 AD, the then liberal Portuguese Governor granted permission to the affluent Hindu community to construct a temple, and that was how the Sri Mahalaxmi Temple, Panaji, was established – “out of the Panaji City limits”. But at the beginning of the 1900’s, due to administrative as well as ritualistic differences, a section of the city people/ devotees, decided to come together and establish another temple, and this was the beginning of the origin of the Maruti Temple of Mala.
It is said that a group of distinguished people of the community under the identity ‘Gomantak Saraswetetar Samaj’ and visionaries like Nanu Tarcar Pednekar, Jano Redkar and others, met for the first time in a small existing shrine dedicated to deity Sri Vithoba or Sri Vithal-Rakhumaie in Mala. Late Jano Ram Redkar bought the lease of the ‘afforamento’ (land) from the Portuguese, and also bore the cost for the construction of the old temple, the deepstambh and the sabhamandap (hall) nearby. The construction work began in 1931 and it is said that the old edifice was inaugurated on January 25, 1934 – Magh Shudh Dashami, as per a marble plaque on the stairs below. It is said that the original statue of Lord Hanuman was donated by local businessman Ramdas Gokuldas Xete Gujir. Today, this temple is a larger edifice.
A majestic stairway rises from the base of Altinho Hillock and leads the way to the temple, which in turn displays a modern style dome over the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) looking like Japanese Pagoda architecture. A windy road makes accessibility to the temple possible from the eastern base, and cuts the stairway midway. There are two idols of Lord Maruti or Hanuman in the temple. One is in the ‘garbhagriha’ or sanctum sanctorum in white marble, and the other one (black marble) is placed in another room down below this. But when you go below and look behind the idol you can also seen the main deity idol through an aperture incorporated in the wall.
This temple is visited by plenty of devotees on all days of the week, but in hordes on Saturdays, which is the day of this deity. However, on the date of the Hindu Lunar Calendar month of Magh Shukla Dashmi and a few days after, towards the end of January or beginning of February, the temple activities go into hyper mode. The ‘jatra’ or festival of this temple attracts one of the largest crowd of devotees and a cross section of visitors. All streets heading towards this temple are packed with innumerable stalls. The serpentine beeline of devotees to take ‘darshan’ or wishing to offer their respect stretches for long distances. Given that the construction planning for Maruti Temple took place in Sri Vithal Rakhumaie Temple of Mala, till date, the festival palanquin or ‘palkhi’ starts here and makes its way to the temple on the hill. If you visit the temple today, you can see the original palanquin preserved by the committee in the main mandap area, along with other antique paraphernalia.
It must be noted that the holding of this ‘jatra’ started in 1944, when the Portuguese administration became a little liberal in allowing such public Hindu events.
This year the ‘jatra’ is scheduled for February 4, 2020. If in Panaji, do not miss a chance to be a part of this festivity and carry back great memories and a few sweetmeats from the fair stalls!