Sanjeev V Sardesai
The first impression of many Goans, as well as visitors to Goa, is that Ponda is filled only with Hindu temples. But one can be incorrect in their assumption.
One of the 27 most beautiful mosques, built during the Adilshahi era – The Safa Shahourie Masjid stands majestically right at the mouth of the route into Ponda.
Apart from this, there are many churches and chapels in and around Ponda. However, the first and original church was dedicated to St Ana or Santa Ana and was established in the year 1700 by the Jesuit order. It was only in 1962, post-liberation, that this church was handed over to the Franciscans, who later added a porch towards its fore as well as a residential area. Further this edifice was expanded and enlarged in 1987.
Besides this church, we have a church dedicated to St Francis Xavier and which was established in the second half of the 19th century. It was elevated as a church on December 26, 1946. The Holy Family Church of Marcel on the other hand was founded in 1630, as a chapel and elevated to a church on May 26, 1831 celebrating its feast on the 2nd Saturday of May.
In Mardol, right by the main road, we find a very beautiful church with an amazing facade. This church is dedicated to Our Lady of Pity or Nossa Senhora da Piedade. The foundation for construction of this original chapel was laid on June 8, 1866 and was blessed on February 6, 1868. Later by a decree issued on December 14, 1880, this chapel was made into a military chapel; and in 1938 this chapel was raised to a Parochial Church. The most aesthetic part of this church is the two turrets inbuilt into the ends of the facade. They are hexagonal and have ball finials and elongated openings on the sides, below.
In Panchwadi, Ponda too, there is a church dedicated to St Anthony. Originally, in 1888, it was built as a chapel and elevated as a church in 1932. The new church constructed in 1979 has a building that is a very unique and circular in design, with a dome, hosting a statue of St Anthony, and in the mid-fore of this structure hosting the cross and a bell below it.
Close to Ponda is the village of Khandepar and Opa. Opa is known to Goans because it is the supply point of potable water to Central Goa. Also meandering along these villages is the tributary of the Mandovi known popularly as River Khandepar. This heritage rich village sprang into prominence during the Operation Vijay, the armed action by Indian Forces against the Portuguese.
In their retreat, the Portuguese Army personnel were ordered to blast all major and minor bridges to slow down the advance of the Indian Army. One of the important bridges that was destroyed was the Khandepar Bridge. Later this bridge was reconstructed and was inaugurated by Maj Gen K P Candeth.
Khandepar has another unique feature. It has one of the biggest functional joint families of the Khandeparkar lineage. Almost 35 families live together, and congregate enmasse, especially during festivities like Chaturthi.
Another unique feature of this house, as is followed in few other house-holds in Goa, is the ritual of venerating a Ganesh idol made of papier mache’. Unlike the usual custom of immersing the idol after Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, in this case, the idol is kept on a special platform in their garden and then brought into their home. One can see many such idols preserved here.
Lord Ganesh, they say, is their family deity and they venerate, but do not immerse the idol every year. Once in 8-10 years, they immerse these idols, together in the Khandepar River.
Khandepar is also the home to very unique caves. In an area just about 250 mtrs from the main road, and accessible through a narrow tarred lane, you are led to a set of rock cut caves in a place locally called Ishwarache Bhat. This place is very close, about 50 mtrs from the River Khandepar. This part of the Khandepar River is the last navigational point for local crafts in River Mandovi
These rock cut caves are unique because these are a set of three separate units, carved out of a single rock. One cave is a 2-compartment single unit, while the second cave has two units joined together, each having 2-compartments. Both these caves units face the east, but the joined unit has a laterite carved Kalash atop it. The third cave is opposite to the joined compartments cave and is dedicated as a shrine to Lord Shiva, and one can see a granite carved ‘Ling’, which is the phallic Hindu religious icon. This is a single compartment cave.
The ceilings of these caves displays a circular lotus design carved into it. From what is local hearsay, these caves were used by Buddhists settlers and later were made use of during the Kadamb era. It is also said that these caves were part of the Chinese Silk Route, and were visited by these traders during their journey from China to the other destinations.
Nearby is the Opa village. Here too there is one of the most famous rock-carved temples dedicated to Sri Saptakoteshwar. Let us visit it in the next article.