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Heritage of the banks of River Mandovi

Sanjeev Sardesai

The island of Divar, accessible from the Old Goa, with the ferry transporting you and your vehicle to the island, can also be navigated further at its North East point, to go across the River Mandovi to the Bicholim Taluka. After a fulfilling and educative tour of Divar Island and its various inter-communal treasures of archaeological and intangible heritage value, we will now follow a trail to link this wonderful piece of land existing in the embrace of River Mandovi, to the once Maratha stronghold in Goa – the  Bicholim mainland.

The topography of Divar Island and its strategic military importance was tacitly understood by the Portuguese immediately after they took possession, by conquest, of the Island of Tiswadi (Old Goa), on November 25, 1510. Divar, being a secluded piece of land, during the earlier Adilshahi regimes was earlier granted the significance of being a locality of a conglomeration of Hindu religious structures and other harmless institutions; hence the possibility of this island being identified as “Dev Wadi” (Ward of Gods) or “Divadi” as the locals refer to it, may have been established.

The ward of Naroa was significantly granted more weightage, as it housed the sanctified temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Sri Saptakoteshwar. Established as the family deity of the Kadamb Kings, many foreign writers who visited Goa during the Portuguese era, have written very eloquently about its aesthetics and the step-motherly treatment that was being accorded to it by the Portuguese regime vis-a-vis preserving the intricacies of art on it.

However, it was not to be! During the period before the advent of the Portuguese and the establishing of the Adilshahi regime, this temple had to face the fury, not only of the harsh Goan climate, but also the wrath of the raiding Muslim forces led by Mallik Kafur. The raiders not only damaged this temple, they looted the lands around. It was then that an able warrior from the Vijayanagar Kingdom, Madhav Mantri was deputed by the monarch there to drive out these raiders in the Konkan belt at Goa.

Arriving with his huge forces Madhav Mantri succeeded in pushing back these raiding forces and once again established the sovereignty of the Vijayanagar king. He also repaired the damages and rebuilt the temple to its earlier glory. Life went on smoothly until the takeover by the Bahamani dynasty, later passing on to the Adilshah.

But the ferocity of the religious persecution by the new regime arriving in November 1510 sounded the death drums of this beautifully carved temple. The tsunami force with which the process of evangelisation started in mid 1500’s saw those religious institutions facing the brunt being stones’ throw from the very epicentre of this regime.

Many of the century’s old and established religious edifices and institutions of the Hindu and Muslim faiths were brutally razed down. Many of these very sites became the new sites for huge churches and chapels. However, that was in consonance of the practice of those eras – to wipe out the traces of any earlier regime and leave the stamp of the conquerors’ identity. Such has been the volatile history of establishment of religious structures in Goa.

The Sri Saptakoteshwar Temple structure was no exception when it found itself at the end of the destructive pulverising pick-axes and hammers of the new power; the power had come to stay on this land for 451 long years. In all probability, the fury of destruction, must have led to a day or two for this beautiful edifice to go behind the curtain of time, never to be erected again. A mud path about five metres wide, in front of the Our Lady of Candelaria Chapel at Naroa, leads to the original site on a small hillock walking between modern houses.

The only remnants of the temple that linger over here are huge blocks of granite with a few carvings seen on them. Today, the remains are situated in a private property, but the common pathway displays a huge cross with a small fencing atop the hillock. This pathway rises from the North-West to the top and then proceeds down to the other side, where lies the wonderful rock-cut tank.

The folk legend informs us that after demolition of the temple, the sacred linga or icon was deliberately inserted in a “bandh” or a mud embankment to keep out salt water from fields. This “bandh” was also used as a traditional walkway, to traverse between wards. This fact did not find much appreciation amongst the many of the devotees and at the favourable opportunity, they are surmised to have removed the ‘linga’ and shifted it away closer to the part of the island, with the shortest distance to Bicholim Taluka.

The land across being ruled over by the Marathas would be a safe haven for this sacred icon of Sri Saptakoteshwar, but they encountered a problem. The Fort of Naroa, which today is in shambles, was close by, and being caught with this icon would mean certain death. So they buried it near a well, very close to the place. Today the Ferry from Naroa to Bicholim clearly defines the distance between the place of hiding and the fort.

Having the satisfaction that they had given it a safe location the issue was forgotten. But an amazing folk tale that surfaces is that one of the sardars by name Narayanrao Suriarao Desai (later a Sardesai from my family tree) got a dream. He saw a bearded person requesting him “to please shift him from the present place, as people were walking over him”. This dream is supposed to have been repeated in the days to follow. He did not understand the meaning and asked the village elders. They informed him about the ‘linga’ buried and hidden on the Portuguese side.

It is said that one dark night he braved the Portuguese in the fort and taking a handful of strong locals, crossed over to the Portuguese side. They dug the linga out and carried it to safety. However, the Portuguese came to know about the intrusion and fired shots in the direction of the fleeing braves. It is family legend that the brother of Narayanrao Desai lost his life here when a stray bullet hit him. However, no documentary evidence is found till date.

Today the well is still seen along with a few pieces of granite slabs. The ferry crossing is very, very short and the jetty is just about 15 mtrs away from the spot where the linga was supposedly hidden. The adventurous visitors can walk from the rock-cut temple lake to here along the river banks, and encounter a natural cave and a spring on the way. The people from this part of the village are very hospitable and go out of their way to assist the visitors. This ferry is the exit point of the Divar Island, and an entry into the heritage precinct of Bicholim.


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