Sanjeev V Sardesai
The patron deity or ‘gram devta’ of Panaji is Sri Mahalaxmi – the Goddess of Wealth – and she is considered as the consort of Lord Ganesh. The establishing of this temple, in 1818, at this most prominent spot in the heart of Panaji city, has a very intriguing story.
The transit journey of this deity was initiated due to the aggressive religious persecutions instituted by the Portuguese, in their process of evangelisation, which was carried out in gusto, in the period between the 16th to 17th centuries. It is surmised that initially this deity, was located in the prominent village of Taleigao, of which Panaji was just a small ward.
Taleigao, in the pre-Portuguese era, has the history of being host to the Sri Vetal Temple and a shrine of Sri Mahalaxmi among other temples and shrines. It is said that the original Sri Mahalaxmi deity was a palm sized granite carved icon, carried by the Havig Brahmins from Kumpta near Karwar. Today, this idol is placed behind the main idol of Sri Mahalaxmi of Panaji. These brahmins moved about the village and other destinations, along with the idol. However, in Taleigao, the idol was venerated in a small cave, which still exists, though not in immaculate shape, but well maintained by the society in which it lies.
However, from mid 1500’s, when the destructive winds towards the temples hit the lands comprising initial Portuguese Goa – Salcete, Tiswadi and Bardez, the locals escaped with their sacred icons to safer lands, including the idol of Sri Mahalaxmi.
The story is that the idol was initially hidden in a horse stable, by a follower of the faith, in Panaji, which we today know as “Fontainhas”. When the Hindu landlord, late Raghavendra Kamat Mhamai having cordial trade relations with the Portuguese, became aware of the idol, and fearing for his family, got it shifted to Mayem, in Bicholim. Bicholim taluka was then under the safer regime of Bhonsle’s of Sawantwadi and/ or the Maratha rule. Over a period, people forgot about this Sri Mahalaxmi icon.
About three centuries later, it is said that a devout member, late Narayan Kamat Mhamai of the family, started to get dreams, with the plea of bringing an icon of a female deity and establishing it near its original location or in Panaji. In his dream, he also saw a location. On asking his contemporaries, he was got the knowledge of his family’s part in the shifting of Sri Mahalaxmi idol of Taleigao. He decided to initiate the process to bring it back and establish it in Panaji.
The inquisition had finally come to an end in 1812. With the winds of communal stability favouring them, the devotees of this deity used their good offices and standing in society, to seek the permission to build temple in Panaji.
The Viceroy of that period of Portuguese Goa Diego De Sousa Conde de Rio Pardo, granted them the permission to establish a shrine. This permission was vehemently objected to by the then Archbishop of Goa, Dom Frei Manuel de Sao Galdinho, as this would affect the faith, which they had established here. With a standoff between these major administrative and Ecclesiastical powers in Portuguese Goa, the Governor came up with a brilliant elucidation. He ruled that, “the permission that he had granted would be honoured”; but also keeping the wishes of the Archbishop, he ruled that “the shrine should be erected outside the limits of the Panaji city”. Little was he aware, that in future, his action would position the Sri Mahalaxmi Temple, in the heart of the very city.
The narrative goes that around 1817 a delegation of citizens proceeded to Mayem, identified the location in the ‘dreams’ and transported the idol to Panaji, in a canoe. The canoe, used for this transportation, belonged to the fisherman of the Chodankar family. It is said that the canoe docked at a small jetty, near the present day People’s High School in Mala – Fontainhas. The present day shrine to the north-east of People’s High School, though not at the precise location, depicts the landing spot of this venerated idol, in Panaji in 1818.
The idol was placed in this opening, before its removal to the house of late Raya Kamat Ghanekar and establishing it at the shrine. Coincidentally, one can see that this small piece of land, is the only patch which is void of construction, and is still in its virgin state.
Till date, on the second day of Shigmo celebrations, the Chodankar family presently staying at Torda, arrive in huge numbers, in the evening at around 6.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and a prayer ritual is held at the very spot.
One late Purushottam Prabhu Sinari of Ribandar who owned a piece of land (where now the temple is situated), offered to donate it for this shrine. And in the year 1818, the idol of Sri Mahalaxmi was established on the Hindu calendar month of Ashad Shukla Saptami shaake 1739 which according to the Gregorian calendar falls on July 10, 1818, a Friday. The temple complex was completed in 1819.
A marble plaque informs the visitor, that in March 1870, the original main hall or Sabhamandap was donated by late Guiri Soiru Sinai Dempo; and incidentally, the new massive hall has been rebuilt by his great grandson late Shri Vasantrao Srinivassa Sinai Dempo. The same was inaugurated on January 9, 1983 by H H Shrimad Vidyadhiraj Teerth Shripad Wader Swamiji of Shree Saunsthan Gokarn Partagal Jeevottam Mutt.
The impressive ‘maha-dwar’ or main door, welcomes people from the Dada Vaidya Road. Flanked by traditional flower sellers, the temple precinct opens to a massive peepul tree. Nearby is a deepstambh or the pillar of lights. A hall donated by the Dempo family and a small shrine dedicated to the monkey-God Lord Hanuman or Maruti, lies to the South, while three shrines dedicated to Lord Mahadev – hosting a Ling, Sri Ravalnath – with an idol predominantly used to seek a prasad with petals and Sri Ram Purush Gram Purush are located to the North, under the shade of a starfruit tree.
A fresh water well, to the North, contains clear potable water and looking into it, on a sunny day, you can see an old granite idol and a ‘Nandi’. A new Ganesh shrine has been erected in the first decade of 2000.
But what people are not aware of, is a small semi-circular shrine, opposite the Lord Ganesh temple, towards the entry gate, which has been in existence since much prior to this Ganesh Shrine. It is said that if you lose any valuable and make a vow here, you are sure to retrieve it.
The Sri Mahalaxmi Temple of Panaji has a very rich history and a visit to this religious place, one can experience a spiritual comfort, amidst your hectic schedules.
Sri Mahalaxmi Temple – From outskirts to the heart of the city
Sanjeev V Sardesai