Sanjeev V Sardesai
The lands of Ponda are cuddled between high mountain peaks, giving it the possible identity of a “phond”, which in local parlance would mean a ‘deep trough’.
The cherished child of nature, it lies between the Mandovi River to its North and the River Zuari to its South. Towards the East, as we proceed to Old Goa, we find the Cumbharjua Canal joining hands with both the rivers Mandovi and Zuari; while the Khandepar River meanders lazily towards the East.
Speaking of Khandepar River, the Opa water works, established here during the Portuguese era, supplies potable water to many parts of central Goa. During the era of the earlier dynasties, Khandepar was also the last point of river navigation in River Mandovi for the traders who used the river mode of transportation.
In Opa, we find a very interesting structure. Carved out of a single rock and with definitive animal figurine carvings on the roof top, is the ancient Sri Saptakoteshwar Shrine. Lying on the banks of the Khandepar River, the shrine has a very ancient ‘ling’ inside. During the monsoons, the river waters rise to an extent that the ‘ling’ is immersed. It is possible that this shrine was established during or prior to the Kadamb era, as this was the family deity of the Kadamb Kings.
Close to this temple are two semi modern structures hosting the deity of Sri Datta Maharaj, and a Sri Keshav Dev Temple, with a beautifully carved granite idol.
The most important event celebrated in the Sri Saptakoteshwar Temple is Mahashivratri. This ritual was earlier connected with another temple dedicated to Sri Saptakoteshwar on the Divar Island which was destroyed by the Portuguese.
It is said that the primary Mahashivratri ritual of Sri Saptakoteshwar started at the Opa shrine, early in the morning; with a bunch of “bael leaves” and flowers from this puja set afloat on the River Khandepar which then floated to Divar via the River Mandovi. It was only after these flowers reached the Divar temple that the puja started there. Today with the shift of the Sri Saptakoteshwar Shrine to Narve, Bicholim, this practice has stopped.
Having been under the regimes of Adil Shah, the Marathas, the Saundekar Kings and finally under the Portuguese rule, Ponda has witnessed the integration of the cultures of these dynasties which is portrayed on artistic platforms, as a secular portrayal of the culture of the present lands.
In fact Ponda has produced famous personalities like Master Dinanath Mangeshkar, the father of Indian Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar and her other famous siblings. Many other illustrious Goans have been born here like writer A K Priolkar; freedom fighter Shardataie Sawaikar, Ayurvedic physician Late Dada Vaidhya; tabla exponent late Malbarao Sardesai; Goan cultural anthropologist and former Member Secretary of Kala Academy Vinayak Khedekar.
But what also makes Ponda dissimilar from other talukas is its strategic connectivity to Tiswadi, Salcete, Dharbandora and Bicholim through its pre and post liberation bridges.
These bridges which were the main connectivity lifelines of Ponda to these neighbouring places were literally on the “bull’s eye” during the Operation Vijay, the armed action of the Indian Armed Forces to overpower the Portuguese forces. The last Governor General of Portuguese Goa D Manuel Antonio Vassalo de Silva had received orders from Portugal “to fight to the last man and destroy everything’, which he directly disobeyed as he did not want to harm the innocent Goan citizenry.
He instead decided to strategically delay the advancement of the Indian Forces, by destroying the bridges that connected the route to Panaji, Margao and Vasco. High explosives were used to blast the Khandepar, Borim and Banastarim bridges. However, the military engineers of the Indian Army set to work and erected pontoon bridges, which allowed the troops, the armoured vehicles and tanks of the attacking forces to cross over. Today at the Khandepar Bridge, a marble plaque on the left hand side pillar reminds us of the inaugural of this bridge by the then Military Governor and CO of the Operation Vijay Maj Gen Kunhiraman Palat Candeth.
The old Borim Bridge now stands forlornly with its middle spans missing. Many a times the huge metal piers of this bridge were victims of an errant mineral ore carrying barge, which would accidentally brush into it. There was a time in the post liberation era, when the very thought of the Borim Bridge being closed for traffic would be a reason of worry for the people of Ponda to cross over and go to Margao. But now, near the old bridge are two new ones – one for carrying the water pipeline and another new bridge for transportation.
As regards the Banastarim Bridge, the old metal bridge was dismantled during the first stint of the Manohar Parrikar government and restructured in a far off village in Sattari, to connect two villages. A new bridge over the Cumbharjua Canal allows free flow of traffic on a daily basis. A marble plaque on one of the landward piers of the old bridge, informs the reader that this repaired bridge was also inaugurated by Maj Gen K P Candeth.
Goa is on the threshold of seeing modern 6 lane bridges, and these old structures of connectivity, are but fading memories!