Goa, the tiniest state of India and former colony of Portugal has a fascinating history. The land found mention in ancient Indian mythology and was called Goapakaparbat, Gomanta Nagari, and various other similar names. Goa, like rest of India, witnessed several invasions- from Muslim rulers from neighbouring Karnataka, Marathas kings from Maharashtra and eventually, colonials from Portugal.

Unfortunately, a lot of historic shrines of Goa were razed to the ground by Islamic rulers or Portuguese inquisitors. However, surviving ancient shrines of Goa have a rich history, a lot of which is somewhat obscure and merits further study. Here we list some of these historic shrines.

Devaki- Krishna Temple, Mashel

Located around 24km away from Goa’s state capital Panaji, the small town Mashel is famous for over two dozen temples dedicated to various Hindu deities. Foremost among them is the Devaki Krishna Temple. It is the only ancient temple in India where Hindu god Lord Krishna is worshipped alongside his earthly mother, Devaki.

According to legend in epic Mahabharata, Lord Krishna fled southwards from his kingdom Dwarka (in modern-day Gujarat) after losing a series of prolonged wars with King Jarasandha of Magadh Empire. He made Gopakaparbat (ancient name for Goa) his new abode. However, his mother, Devaki, fearing for the welfare of her son travelled to Goa to meet Lord Krishna.

However, Devaki could not recognise Lord Krishna since he had grown up. Hence, he appeared as an infant before Devaki, who took him in her arms. The temple has two statues, one showing a grown-up Lord Krishna standing before Devaki and another as an infant, in his mother’s arms.

The original temple was located on Chodan Island but was razed to the ground during Portuguese inquisition of Goa. The idols were spared on orders of Vasco Da Gama. According to another legend, one of these idols fell at the feet of the Portugues explorer.

Believing it was Mother Mary with Infant Jesus, he asked soldiers to spare the two statues. These were later removed to Mashel, where the present-day shrine, built in the 15th Century stands till date.

St. Cajetan Church, Old Goa

The Italian friars built modern history claims, St. Cajetan Church located in Old Goa from the Order of Theatines.

The shrine is also called Church of Our Lady of Divine Providence. Construction of this church was completed in 1661.According to historical records, three clergymen from the Order or Teatines were dispatched to the Golconda kingdom (modern-day Telangana state) to preach Christianity by Pope Urban VIII in 1639. Islamic rulers of Golconda opposed their work, causing them to seek sanctuary in Old Goa, the former capital of Goa, the Portuguese had wrested from Sultan Yusuf Adel Shah Bahman Shah of Bijapur. However, the Portuguese opposed their work.

One of these Italians, Domingo Pedro Avitabile travelled to Lisbon to meet King Dom Joao IV of Portugal and convince him about spreading Christianity in Goa. The king reportedly granted permission to the Italians to work with Portuguese inquisitors.

However, in recent years, the origin of St. Cajetan’s Church has come under the scrutiny of amateur researchers into Goa’s heritage. While the church built by the Italians and Portuguese features Corinthian style columns and pillars, the altar is designed with Baroque architecture. Interestingly, the church has a well beneath and features the Greek cross at various places. Additionally, the altar is built over a well.

These two features are what have attracted the attention of researchers. They argue that Roman Catholic churches usually do not feature Greek style cross. Additionally, the water tank has raised speculations that the shrine could have been a Bar Mikvah well typical of synagogues.

The speculation is further fueled by historical evidence that Sultan Adel Shah Bahaman Shah was or Iranian origin and had soldiers from the Middle East who were Jews and Greek Orthodox Christians. Owning to its rich history, tourists from all around the globe visit popular tourist attraction of Goa

Sri Mahadev Temple, Tambdi Surla

Though the Archeological Survey of India dates this temple dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu or Mahadev to 13th Century AD, there is some evidence to suggest it could be from the BC era. The Sri Mahadev Temple in Tambdi Surla was deserted but almost intact when a group of hunters around 1936 found it. At the time, Portugal ruled Goa, and its presence was kept secret due to fears the shrine could be razed.

Architectural style used in the temple suggests it was built during the reign of the Kadamba dynasty that ruled Goa from the 10th to 14th Century AD. Tambdi Surla, the location is about 12km away from Molem, a town on the state borders of Goa and Karnataka.

Interestingly, this temple is built of black basalt stone that cannot be found in Goa. Black basalt stone occurs in Deccan Traps of India. Carrying the rock from locations in Maharashtra or Karnataka would have involved considerable costs and labour. Hence, it appears unlikely that Kadamba rulers would incur the expense for this relatively small shrine.

Further, the significance of constructing a Sri Mahadev Temple at a location like Tambdi Surla also remains unknown, since there was no shortage of shrines dedicated to this Hindu deity at the time.

It is likely the shrine was constructed much earlier than the supposed 13th Century AD by some dynasty from southern India, notably, Karnataka. The Kadamba rulers may have enhanced the temple or given it a facelift by adding features such as the roof featuring lotus motifs. Further research is required to establish origins of this relative shrine, which generally would appear rather insignificant compared to others built by the Kadamba dynasty.

Safa Sahouri Mosque, Ponda

This majestic Islamic shrine of Goa dates back to 1560 and is the only surviving mosque among the 27 built in the state during the reign of Sultan Yusuf Adel Shah Bahman Shah of Bijapur. The remaining were razed to the ground or burnt by Portuguese inquisitors. Though the Archeological Survey of India protects the mosque, there are some intriguing mysteries about this mosque that require further research.

Firstly, the Safa Sahouri mosque is reflected architectural style typical to homes of the Portuguese colonial era especially those seen in tropical countries including Brazil. The most prominent feature of the Safa Sahouri mosque is the huge water tank built with Laterite stone. This tank is rather gigantic and measures 30x 30 meters. The main feature of this water tank is, it was made using Mihrab style architecture-meaning, and its front end faces towards the Holy Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

What remains to be explained, why the Sultan of Bijapur choose to design a mosque using architecture commonly used for Portuguese homes. The question becomes more pertinent since the water tank conforms to Mihrab architecture that is based on the holy traditions of Islam. The Sultan of Bijapur and Portuguese were at inimical terms, and hence, it is quite unlikely that Yousuf Adel Shah would invite the Europeans to design a mosque. Portuguese inquisitors also persecuted Muslims in ancient Goa and burnt at the stake if they refused conversion.

In conclusion

Unlike British colonial rulers who left almost every shrine of various faiths untouched during their rule spanning nearly two centuries, Portuguese resorted to destruction of holy places of other faiths. Several eminent historians have proved that Goa was home to Jews, followers of various branches of Christianity and Muslims, who lived in amity with indigenous Hindus.

Researchers are now trying to trace where Jews of Goa vanished before and during the Portuguese inquisition. Questions are also being raised over what happened to Muslims who resided in Goa during that era. Unfortunately, there are no accurate records of ancient shrines of Goa that were destroyed or made into churches by the Portuguese rulers.

This lack of records severely impedes Archeological Survey of India, amateur and professional historians and independent researchers from tracing origins of historic shrines of Goa.