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Goa’s story etched in stone

Sanjeev V Sardesai

In Hindi there is a saying for the concept of trust and honour – ‘Patthar pe lakir’ or that ‘a person’s word, is a line drawn in stone’. Goa offers folk tales that inform us of the attribute of having clamed even the ferocious goddess Durga into a calm “Sri Shantadurga”.

There are many enlightening experiences in natural verdant surroundings that are waiting to be explored by those who want to venture into the Goan hinterlands.

The gateway to these eastern parts of Goa along the mighty Sahayadri ranges is Rivona. The name is said to be a corrupted version of the ancient ‘Rishi-van’ or the ‘forest of the sages’. The claims of many religious sects and ‘rishis’, residing and carrying out their rituals here can be attributed to the umpteen number of caves or carved-out hollows showing signs of early habitation.

In Goa any excavation carried out is often credited to the ‘Pandavas’ of the Mahabharata. This is fuelled by the writings about the five brothers – Yudhistir, Arjun, Bheem, Nakul and Sahadev with their wife Draupadi who had to fulfil a condition of residing in the forest, for 14 years and give up their ‘royal lifestyle’ due to a lost wager and that they would remain incognito and untraceable for one year.

In Goa, there seems to be no specific mention about the trail of the Pandavas. However, folk stories do relate some cave or a hollow to their endeavours. These tales prove to be a boon for the safe-keeping of these heritage sites, which are far away from dwelling areas. It is due to the attachment, faith and communal beliefs that many of these assets are protected by the villagers.

Goa is blessed with hundreds of such caves; many of these are formed naturally due to rain water seeping through and the soft mud collapsing underneath or due to the burrowing by bigger animals and loosening the upper layers. There are other caves cut out from hard rock by man, which show definite pattern of inhabitation with many geometric and culture related designs carved into its outer and inner sides. When you enter a cave, one must look up to the ceiling, to sometimes see a lotus pattern carved into it.

However, the heritage scenario in Goa, changed on May 7, 1993, when a team of historians led by Anant Dhume, Nandakumar Kamat and others were escorted to a part of land appurtenant to his plantation, where lay one of the finest heritage assets, previously unknown to the world – the Petroglyphs of Ponsaimol or Pansaimal dated to around 10,000 – 8,500 BCE

Petroglyphs are actually surface carvings on lateritic rock carried out by very old communities predominantly portraying animal figures. In all probability, these tribes could be huntsmen who had cultivated a trait for meat eating.

The name Ponsaimol or Pansaimal may have found its origin to the abundance of the jackfruit tree in the area. In Konkani language, ponos or panas means jackfruit; and ‘moll’ o ‘maall’ means an open and possibly flat area.

Ponsaimol lies about 9 kilometres from the famous Sri Damodar Temple of Zambaulim as you proceed east towards Netravali Wild Life Sanctuary. You have to drive down this road cautiously as you will barely find people who will be able to guide you to these famous petroglyphs. The Department of Archives & Archaeology has affixed their signboards – round, green with red identity strip in the middle, to the right side of the road when you are heading to Netravali.

A narrow motorable road takes you about 10 metres down to another board on your left. Keep to your left and you come to a rough mountain road that takes you further to an abandoned mining pit with its stepped sides and a beautiful lake formed here which now functions as a water harvesting pond. Proceed a little further over a sharp right turn along the tracks and another direction board tells you that you’ve reached the Ponsaimol precinct.  A very short walk across a Betelnut bark bridge, across a small rock cut deep drain will lead you to a flat rocky terrain on the banks of the Kushawati River. The river separates Quepem Taluka from Sanguem Taluka at this location. On the other side of this river, lies a spice plantation where you can quench your thirst with a tender coconut or some fresh plantation fruits. The exciting part is that you have to cross the narrow river over three betelnut palm barks laid across.

On the Sanguem side, is a flat almost 100 metres x 50 metres rock face right on the banks of River Kushawati and on this rock face there are almost 145-150 carvings of zebu bulls, hares, deer, peacock, humans, footprints and hooves. But the most fascinating is the one that looks like an alien elephant. Nearby is a carved ‘maze’ or as many call it the ‘labyrinth’ has similarities to other petroglyphs around the world. I have heard another interpretation of this ‘maze’ that it is the ‘Chakravyuha’ or the complex military formation that we hear of in the battle of Kurukshetra which was split open by Abhimanyu. There is also a rock carved ‘chula’ or a wood fireplace here under a huge mango tree but most of the time it is under water.

Protected by the Directorate of Archives & Archaeology, the most fascinating part of these rock carvings or petroglyphs is that you cannot see them easily when you reach there. Once you notice one of these carvings, your eyes acclimatise to the rest of the area and it is then that the archaeological world opens up for the laymen visitor. During monsoons, these petroglyphs go under water with the rise of the River Kushawati.

This site is not very popular among the locals but you may see a stream of foreigners visiting these ancient carvings. It is essential that you visit these Petroglyphs and add it to your Goan memory.

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