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Treasures of the island of Diwadi

Sanjeev V Sardesai

The island of Divar, just a stone’s throw away from Old Goa, is a host to many secrets of the past many centuries. If any visitor to Goa wants to experience the authentic Goan village life, then the destination to head for is Divar or the Diwadi island. It is just about 11 kilometres from the capital city of Goa – Panaji.

The only access to this island is through the ferry services provided by the River Navigation Department, that offers free transportation to pedestrians and two wheelers, and 4 wheelers are charged a nominal fee. The island is presently not connected with a bridge or causeway, but the future era may find it connected to the mainland, just like the Sao Jacinto Island on way to the airport via Chicalim village.

There are three ferry points on Divar for connectivity. From the Tiswadi side, one ferry wharf is near the Old Goa Medical College or the present GIM Institution at Ribandar; the next and the most frequented ferry wharf is opposite the Viceroy’s Arch, at Old Goa, and the third ferry connects the Divar Island to Bicholim Taluka of North Goa through the North East – Malar side.

The people of this island are administratively separated with two Panchayats are warmly hospitable and friendly, but they are also ferociously possessive about their land and culture; and they immediately bond together, irrespective of their communal identities in times of crisis, to celebrate and preserve the heritage and cultural aspects of their land. There are many separate villages – Piedade (Goltim-Navelim), Naroa and Malar on this island; each with a wonderful heritage – tangible and intangible.

The most impressive structure that one sees on this island when crossing the ferry, is the massive Church that stands atop the hillock right ahead of the route. This Church dedicated to Our Lady of Piety (Piedade), is the main hub of religious activity. It is believed that initially a chapel was built atop the hill, designed and constructed in 1541, on the site of an earlier Lord Ganesh temple and is considered as the first ecclesiastical structure on this island. The Ganesh idol was later shifted to Khandola, across the river, to preserve it from sacrilege.

It was in the year 1700 that the present day Church was taken up for construction, by architect Antonio Joao de Frias; the works were completed and the Church blest in 1724. The feast of this church is celebrated on the second Sunday of May annually.

Though Goa’s past had been turbulent on the religious front, we can see another practical example of communal harmony, existing very close to this impressive church, in present times. A very artistic Ganesh Temple lies to the North, just about 100 meters away from this church. The land, on which this Hindu Temple stands today, was donated by a Christian gentleman from the Gomes Pereira Family – the original native landlords from Divar island. What can be a better example of communal harmony!

A very long time ago, while still in college, I had the opportunity to visit this spot for NSS Social work. At that time, the water Department was installing the water pipeline and a long trench of about 3-4 feet deep and about 2 feet wide was dug. It was observed that about 2 ft below the ground and along the entire trench length, there were stacks of human bones, of all shapes & sizes. On enquiry with elders around, they informed that they were the bones of the people, who had died in epidemics at Old Goa in 1600’s and 1700’s, and the victims were interred on the island. Though this information could not be corroborated factually, it did seem logical.

Close to this Church is a cemetery, enclosed within a high wall. In this cemetery there exists a small room, which could be part of the old temple considering it has the lotus symbol, predominantly seen in the Kadamb architecture.

Another important facet of this island ward is Fr Jacome Gonsalves, whose canonisation process is underway, belonged to the island. Born on June 8, 1676, he died spreading the word of God at Bolawatte in Sri Lanka on July 17, 1742. His ancestral house in Divar is now donated to the “Our Lady of Divar High School” run by the Archdiocese of Goa. Known for his prolific ecclesiastical thoughts, his teachings and writings are still in use in the Sri Lankan Sinhala Churches.

The other Church on this island, at its North East end, in the village of Naroa is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It is here in this ward that the Naroa Fort existed. It was the Captain of this Fort, Diogo da Silveira, who took the initiative to establish this church and dedicated it to the Holy Spirit, to cater to the spiritual needs of the people in general and the soldiers of his fort, in particular, to hear the word of God.

This church has an asymmetric facade, with a single bell tower towards its right side. The bell, which exists on this Church, was originally brought here from the Holy Trinity Church which once existed in Old Goa.

A tarred road separates the Church from the fort, which is now in total ruin. The road leads to the Naroa ferry, which transports you across to the Bicholim taluka. Just about 40 metres before the ferry ramp, and towards the island side, are a few houses and a village well. It is said that the devotees of the original Sri Saptakoteshwar Temple had hidden the “sacred Ling”, near here before it was taken and later established in the village of Hindale at Narve in Bicholim. However, this tour will be taken up in the next article, as this can be a beautiful walking trail from the original site near Our Lady of Candelaria Chapel in Naroa ward to Narve in Bicholim Taluka.

The other very impressive Church that is seen is the one dedicated to St Mathias in the Sao Mathias ward of Malar, on this island. It is surmised that this huge ecclesiastical edifice, built from 1590-97, is an extension of an earlier chapel dedicated to St Anthony, and which is now connected to this church by an arch. The feast of this church is celebrated on May 14 annually.

Many visitors just visit this Church and return back, missing out on a very historic heritage asset of this ward. To the right of this church is a Cross across the road, under a huge banyan tree. Just about 20 metres down the bushy track, to the rear right of a residential house, is a rock carved, two-compartment cave. One has to take safety precautions when visiting such places, as huge black scorpions have been observed here under rocks.

Malar is also famous for its Bonderam Festival held in the month of August, a week prior to the major Bonderam event held in the Piedade Ward.

More historic walking and drive-around trail to follow in the next article.

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