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The story of Mahaganpati Temple of Goa: A classic case of religious persecution and tyranny against Hindus

Goa had to undergo tyrannical rules of Adil Shah and Bahmani, Khilji’s commander Malik Kafur’s plunder and loot, and more than four centuries of religious persecution under Portuguese rule

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It is the story of Shree MahaGanapati Temple of Khandola Village of Ponda Taluka in Goa. At a distance of 19 km from Panjim Kadamba Bus Stand, 35 km from Vasco Da Gama Railway Station this temple is amongst the oldest temples in Goa with the oldest deity of God Ganapati as the worshipped God. While there are evidences of worship of Sri Ganapati during Kadambas rule in Goa, the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi started during the times of Satavahana, Rashtrakuta, and the Chalukya dynasties who ruled between 271 B.C. and 1190 A.D.

 Goa had to undergo tyrannical rules of Adil Shah and Bahmani, Khilji’s commander Malik Kafur’s plunder and loot, and more than four centuries of religious persecution by Christian missionaries under Portuguese rule. The loot of its prosperity and destruction of culture, heritage and identity started first with Muslim raids and continued vigorously by Christian Missionaries under Portuguese. Goa faced persecution, discrimination, proselytization and a terrible form of mass-conversions and iconoclasm under both Muslim and Christian rule.

To escape desecration at the hands of Muslim invaders and later Christian missionaries the idol of Lord Ganapati had to be shifted not once but many times. The deity was first installed in Ella, then moved to Navelim and Goltim, then Khandepar and finally to Khandola.

According to the Archaeological Survey of Goa and temple’s website, the idols of MahaGanapati and Mahamaya (also referred as Durgadevi and Shantadurga) were located in Ella at Tiswadi, Goa along with Shri Gomanteshwar and its affiliates during 13th century.

The Muslim raid of the early 14th century saw the destruction of the temple. The idol was hidden by the Hindus. With the return of Hindu rule under Vijayanagar in 1378, the idol was again installed in a new temple with all rituals on a hilltop at Navelim on the island of Divar.

The record says having killed the Turks (Muslim invaders) who were established here, Madhav Mantri of Vijayanagar reinstated the God Saptkoteshwar and other temples who had been removed by them. The Konkan was conquered in 1380 by the Commander of the Vijayanagar empire and is referred to as the part of Vijayanagar positions from April 1380 (Goa gazette, page 127-128) .

But, a century later, the Muslims in the shape of Mahmud Gawan of the Bahamani kingdom, once again attacked Goa and Shri Ganapati temple at Navelim was desecrated. Deities went into hiding again and the idol was shifted to Khandepar and then to Narvem in Bicholim.

Then came the first Portuguese Viceroy Albuquerque who did not conquered the territory but was invited and received with acclaim by the people of Goa as the protector of the Hindus against the Muslim oppressive rule. Albuquerque infact gave an undertaking that the practices and customs of the community will be respected.

However, these promises were soon forgotten under the guidance of Church and its clergy.

How the policy of religious persecution was adopted by Portuguese under Church is extensively explained by Anant K. Priokar in his book “The Goa Inquisition”, he writes –

In a letter addressed to the king of Portugal on November 4, 1518, Friar (‘brother’ in Catholic religious order) Antonio writes:

“Sir there is a great temple in this island of Divar which has much free stone and a large part of it is already destroyed. We pray your majesty to make a gift of it to this monastery.”

The Portugese built a new church of Our Lady of Divar, at the site of the destroyed temple. The Church of Our Lady of Compassion is located in the village of Piedade, in Divar island. Build on the ruins of the ancient Hindu temple near the remnants of Kadamba period. It is also known as The Our Lady of Piety Church, Divar. This church was originally a Chapel in 1541, and was rebuilt in 1625 and converted into the Our Lady of Piety Church, Divar, Goa. Nossa Senhora de Piedade is the patron saint of this church. The Feast of this church is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of May every year.

The church has a huge statues of St. Francis of Assisi and Jesus on the cross. There are wooden paintings depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi on both side of main altar.There is a chapel enclosed in a tiny walled cemetery which is converted from the former Hindu shrine. The Ganesh temple was earlier housed here.

Priolkar further made a reference to a report submitted to the king of Portugal from Cochin on  12 January 1522 by Bishop Dumense, he quotes:

“Around the territories of the neighbours of Goa there exist in that island temples in which statues of the enemy of the cross are worshipped and every year their festivals are celebrated…. which is very wrong in that it promotes idolatry. It will be service to God if these temples in the island of Goa are destroyed and in their stead churches with Saints are erected, and it is ordered that whosoever desires to live in this island and have house and lands there should become a Christian, and if he does not wish to be one should go out of the island. I assure your majesty that there would then be no individual who did not turn to the faith of our Lord Christ because if exiled from this island he’ll have no means of livelihood.”

The Hindu Brahmin families refused all alluring benefits offered to them for conversion and without compromising to their principles and remaining loyal to their religion abandoned their lands, homes, and livelihood and moved to land outside of Portuguese ruled region. When the allurements and coercion for conversion failed Portuguese came with the first law of Hindu persecution in 1541. King’s orders were to destroy all Hindu temples on the land under Portuguese rule, burn or desecration of the Deities and use of temple revenues for Church and its activities. There was ban on public celebration of Hindu festivals and sacred rituals related to basic Hindu life. Everything related to Hindu identity was subject to persecution at the hands of Christian Missionaries. It is said that around 1560 the idol of Shri Ganapati was again shifted to Khandole in Ponda taluka which was in the Sonda king’s territory.

Further evidences of Ganapati temple destruction are given by Rui Gomes Pereira in “Goa Hindu Temples and Deities”. In this book Gomes Periera writes –

“Divar island consist of four villages: namely, Navelim, Goltim, Malar and Naroa. the temple of the deity Ganesha was situated at the site of the present cemetery of the village. In the Chapel of this cemetery, there can still be found three pieces of Blackstone of the old temple: namely, one ceiling plate in bold relief and two window frames (also of Blackstone) with lace like designs. As regards their style, these pieces are identical to those found in the temple of Mahadeva of Tambdem Surla of Sanguem, which is the only monument in Goa of the architectural type of the Kadamba.

-At the foot of the hill where the set temple was situated there exist vestiges of the old toloi

-This temple was transferred to Khandola of Ponda taluka. Before that it was in kondapur of the same taluka and in narrow of Bicholim taluka. as per chroniclers the destruction of all the temples of ilhas begin in 1540 or 1541 however there are 2 documents that lead us to believe that the temple of shree Ganesha(Ganapati) of Navelim of Divar island was an exception.

“Always praying very hard”, writes Gasper Corriea,” Albuquerque reached the shores of Goa on that day. On entering Aguada and on being told that the Church of Our Lady of Divar island could be seen he got up from his bed and was carried up to the door of his cabin on which he leaned with his shoulder. As soon as he held site of the Church of Our Lady he bent himself raised his hands and prayed after doing this he returned to his cabin…. …. and on 27th December 1515 he breathed his last.

Andrea Corsali , in his letter of 6th January 1515 return from Cochin TO Julio de Medici, states as follow:

“..In the city of Goa and all over India there is an Infinity of ancient buildings of the Hindus arena small island near the city, called delivery, the pod in order to build the city have destroyed and ancient temple called pagode, which was built with marvelous art and contained ancient figures brought to the great perfection in a certain Blackstone some of which remains standing and shattered because these Portuguese care nothing about them.”

 The architectural pieces of Hindu art which were found in the ruins of the Church of Serra and were preserved in the Museum of St K Tano must have belong to the temple of the Divar. This Church of Our Lady of Serra was constructed in 1513 by order of Alphonso de Albuquerque.”

The Muslim rule and Portuguese colonization of Goa tried to take away from Hindus their most exceptional relationship with their God. Even the beautiful cultural imprints in the form of temples were destroyed in frenzy.

(The writer,  a PhD in Sociology, has co-authored the book Ramjanmabhoomi : Truth Evidence Faith.)

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