The Pilgrimage Island

goa-map-1Its landscape of low-roofed traditional homes interspersed with very modern multi-storied villas and bright green fields is punctuated every few kilometers with white washed chapels and crosses along the narrow roads. It is difficult to imagine the island of Divar any differently.

To think that the tiny island was known as a Hindu pilgrimage centre far beyond Goa’s present boundaries requires a big leap of imagination. But the clues to reconstruct such a picture lie around us even today.

A large poster in the premises of Shree Ganapati Temple at Khandola narrates the story of Goa’s oldest-known temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha, which begins in Divar.

“In the early 1500s, the Portuguese conquest of Tiswadi forced devotees to remove the stone idol of Ganesha from its original temple atop a hillock in Divar. The idol found a temporary home at Khandepar in Bicholim taluka, before being moved to Khandola in Ponda,” the Khandola temple’s priest, Mahesh Sukhthankar, explains.

Stones from the demolished temple at Divar were found in the property of some Catholic families there less than two hundred years ago and brought by the families to be installed at the temple after they experienced some ‘unusual’ happenings, the poster at the Khandola temple premises explains.

The ancient idol of Ganesha at the Khandola temple, which sits besides the modern-day one, has been traced back by some historians to the 13th century, and is believed to bear semblance to Kadamba-Hoysala art. This probably gives an indication of how old the original temple at Divar was.

Other than the Ganesha temple, the then Hindu pilgrimage site of Divar was also home to the Shree Saptakoteshwara Temple and Shree Dwarkeshwar Temple, besides many others. The original temple of Shree Saptakoteshwar is believed to have been constructed as early as the 12th century by the Kadamba kings.

Former Goa governor and researcher Romesh Bhandari, in his book ‘Goa’, writes, “The forces of Ala-ud-din Khilji attacked Goa on three separate occasions. Gopakapattana, the capital of the Kadambas where all the wealth lay, suffered the greatest devastation. So did the island of Divar, which was a very prosperous area where some ancient temples were located. The Saptakoteshwar temple, which had become a major centre for religious worship and pilgrimage, was razed to the ground by the forces of the Delhi Sultanate.”

The temple of Shree Saptakoteshwar, which was the family deity of the Kadambas, was destroyed again and rebuilt twice. It was finally relocated at its present site in Narve in Bicholim talukas, just a few kilometes away from Divar.

Most of the other temples at Divar were destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century during the inquisition.

Historians believe that on the foundations of the original Shree Saptakoteshwar temple, a prayer and catechism house was constructed in 1563. And a cemetery now stands where the temple of Lord Ganesha was located at Khandola. Divar is believed to be one of the first places the Portuguese ventured to convert locals to Christianity, probably because of its proximity to the Portuguese capitals — first at Old Goa and then Panaji.

Another Hindu pilgrimage site that is flanked by Divar on one side and Narve in Bicholim on the other is what is known as ‘tirth’, or a place where holy water is found. It is frequented till date by scores of Hindus during Janmashthami. The original site of ‘tirth’ had to be shifted from Divar to Narve during the inquisition.

One elderly pilgrim at the zatra held near the tirth said, “After the conversion, the tirth was accessed from Narve by pilgrims. It is said that the new converts watched the zatra then from Divar unable to participate.”

The website of Goa’s archeology and archives department states: “Fort of Naroa, Diwadi in Tiswadi: Situated on the island of Divar which was opposite to the city of Old Goa. It was originally built by the Mohammedans. It was abandoned in 1834. It was the site of a ‘Tirth’ and a Hindu Temple which existed upto the time of the Portuguese conquest. The ruins of the fort are discernible on the northern part of the island, called Naroa and opposite to them on the bank of a tributary of the river Mandovi lies the modern ‘Tirth’ to which the Hindus annually flock in great crowds to perform their celebration.”

Source: The Times of India