Search for ‘Goa’ on Google Images and it will show you photos of beaches, churches, Portuguese forts by the Arabian Sea, beach resorts and shacks, and even Russians. One in a few hundred photos will be of the Dudhsagar Falls (made famous by the film industry).
But Google Images are unlikely to show you a medieval Hindu temple.
For that, you must leave the seaside and visit the ‘other side’ of Goa. We recently explored it, driving in the all-new Maruti Suzuki Baleno.
About 70 km east of Panaji, deep inside Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, is Goa’s oldest Hindu temple (dated to 13th century AD). Called the Mahadev Mandir Tambdi Surla, it shows that Goa had a thriving Hindu culture before the Portuguese planted their own.
Eastern Goa offers a relaxed driving environment. Here, roads are narrow but smooth. There are no tourists, no beer bars, no hotels; all around you are trees, wildlife (mostly monkeys) and isolated dwellings.
Driven at a relaxed pace, the petrol engine of the Baleno is so quiet that all you hear is rustling of dry leaves under the tyres and the occasional call of birds. It also returns very good fuel efficiency of more than 20 km/litre (the claimed is 22.94 km/litre).
Now under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the Mahadev Mandir was constructed by the Kadambas of Goa—a Hindu dynasty that ruled this region from the 10th to the 14th century AD.
“The late Kadamba period had weak rulers, who couldn’t face the might of Muslim invaders from the north,” an ASI official told us. “Goa then came under the Bahmani Sultanate, then the Vijayanagara Empire, and finally the Portuguese under Alfonso de Albuquerque (1510 AD onwards). The 450 years of Portuguese rule is seen everywhere in Goa (in culture, cuisine and architecture), but not here.”
As the name suggests, the Mahadev Mandir is dedicated to Lord Shiva and resembles the famous temples of Aihole in Karnataka. It has a linga, a statue of the Nandi (bull, Shiva’s vehicle) whose head has been vandalised, statue of a cobra, and that of an elephant trampling a horse.
It faces the east to let the first rays of the sun shine on the deity.
What saved the temple?
While the Portuguese razed many Hindu temples in the 16th century, the Mahadev Mandir survived. “It is hidden inside the forests and the Portuguese didn’t really bother with it. Destroying it would have consumed a lot of resources. A naval force, they were focused on the seaside, instead of the mountains,” the ASI official said. “It’s quite peaceful in here.”
Peaceful it is, but you can’t escape plastic pollution.
“Few tourists come here, but many of those who do, throw plastic bottles all around,” a shopkeeper told us. “The administration has set up a dustbin, but bottles are strewn all over.”
As we get back to our car, we realise that the temple may have escaped the Portuguese, but in the modern age it’s getting tough to escape plastic.