Friday, 2 January 2015

The temples of Goa

My community – the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins contain various clans (called Kula) and each of them have their Kula deva sthaan (or the clan's temple) in the province of Goa.  This is also common to other communities from Karnataka and Maharashtra. 


At various stages in life it is customary to make a pilgrimage to your Kula devasthaan – some do this annually, a few only on special occasions (thread ceremony, wedding etc.).

My kula devi is Sri Mahalasa Devi and her temple is in Mhardol.  And, while I had been there a few times in my childhood, its only after my marriage that the  visits to this temple become more frequent, as my wife also hails from the same clan.


A benefit of this is that I also got a chance to visit various other temples within Goa.

Goa is this colourful gem within India which offers possibly the most gorgeous holidays possible and has the best party atmosphere, that no other destination can offer.  In addition to its natural beauty (beaches, hills, forests, backwaters etc.) there is the rich Portuguese history that offers a vivid  rich tapestry of influences from architecture to foods to lifestyle.  


You could broadly divide Goa into different parts / compartments depending on your outlook. There is the old/catholic Goa dominated by the churches and then the non-catholic parts of Goa where you find the temples.  Or the more current and relevant divide is that of the Partying Goa (sun sand beaches, bars, casino cruises etc.) and the staid, more relaxed Goa that plods along with its regular  duties, be it agriculture or business or others.

But IMHO the most colourful part of Goa – are the people i.e. the Goans themselves, and it is hard to describe a certain homogeneity within the people – you really wouldn’t be able to easily tell who’s who in terms of community if you were to meet them in a casual setting (which is mostly the case). 

The people are relaxed and possibly the most comfortable in their own skin – which I think needs to be celebrated (unfortunately now being corrupted by influences from good old advertising as well as the influx of tourism).  Susegaad is a term used to describe (IMHO wrongly) how the Goans love a good siesta as well as refuse to open their shops after 7-8 pm however lucrative the business they might miss.  Goans actually, I feel are among the more hard working communities within India, as evident from how well maintained the state (unlike others which are in terrible states of decay and neglect).

There is also a relatively easy way of life as well as harmony maintained across the communities – rarely seen in other parts of India. In various temples I have seen a lot of catholics visit and offer prayers, and similarly a lot of Hindus and other communities also visit the churches to make their prayers, offerings as well as participate in key celebrations.

When you visit the temples of Goa – it is all the richness, as well as the harmony (and hard work, and discipline) of Goa visible.  These temples are unlike others you might see in the rest of India where chaos rules, or there is a lot of stress in terms of long queues for a few seconds of Darshan.


So the first thing that strikes one, is how relaxed an atmosphere you encounter when you visit these temples.  Even the garland and flower sellers seem so tame and well behaved.  The functionaries within the temple (from administrators to the priests) go about their business very quietly, and silently – a few observe the visitors and devotees and might make a couple of polite enquiries, but it is so harmlessly un-intrusive, you don’t feel offended at all.

So, in this relaxed atmosphere, one feels no pressure at all to, unlike in other temples across India with aggressive priests, to take part in a ritual or do a special prayer for the maladies.


The next is how the temples are structured, it is unmatched by any others (possibly Maharashtra has similar temples but cannot handle the crowds).  Almost all the temples are fairly well spaciously designed to accommodate the crowds, and most do not enforce a system (of queuing) that makes it hard to view the God and makes the visit stressful and avoidable.

This makes it easier to take your time in studying the architecture, artworks and influences in these temples.  For e.g. you will notice frescoes and small angels (as well as the color schemes) very very similar to what you’d see in Portuguese churches. The Gods and Goddesses on display (on the walls) are quite similar sometimes to how the prinicipal deities in churches (Mother Mary, Jesus, saints etc.) displayed – some have similar clothing, expressions, a gold halo, or the rays of Sun behind their heads.

All of this is best experienced when there is no festival or temple celebrations or community events taking place. (and if any such are taking place, best to avoid even coming around the vicinity of the area).  The best time to visit the temples are in winter, and in the Pushya month of the Hindu calendar when they avoid all holy – rituals or related activities at the temple.

An important point to note is that Goa was a Portuguese colony and not easily accessible even after a few decades of freedom. It is only in the last couple of decades have visits become more often by devotees of different communities, as well as the infestation of tourists – so, while this has benefited investment and extra care being provided to the temples and infrastructure around the state – it also means greater crowds and more stress to the limited infrastructure, if you are visiting this state during peak seasons!

Even better, if you are so inclined, visit these temples during the year end on or around the 31st of December  where even the most devoted devotees might prefer to partake in the partying and year end celebrations that are happening in the rest of the state.  So you practically have the temples to yourselves and only the ardent devotees (usually meditative)

The lake at the Lakshmi Narasimha temple
If you visit the temples at such times in Winter, you can really spend a long time studying in each temple. (The one which I particularly liked was the Lakshmi Narasimha temple which is atop a hill surrounded by aromatic green forests and the thick foliage provide such a lovely surrounding it literally transports you elsewhere).  Visit this temple and you will not be blamed for mistaking this to be one of those resorts in Bali or SE Asian islands - its truly outstanding - highly recommended.

Do visit Goa and take the time to leisurely study and enjoy its temples - chances are you can meditate and be one with God...

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