A long, long time ago a temple was built in a forest.
The temple was on the banks of a perennial stream and at the foot of a hill deep inside the forest. The man who built it was the administrator of the region, and a minister in the court of the king who ruled the land. The temple was not big or grand in size, but was rich in detail. The main deity in the temple was the man’s ishta devta, Shiva or Mahadeva in the form of a lingam.
For some reason, the temple remained known only to the man, his soldiers and the people who lived in the forest. This turned out to be a good thing for when invaders came to the area intent on destroying places of worship, the temple was spared as they weren’t aware of it. The man and his soldiers had to flee the region, never to return again and with this, the temple entered a into a state of neglect and disrepair as there was no one to maintain it or care for it.
Centuries passed. The forest claimed the temple as its own and a thick undergrowth added to the temple remaining hidden, ensuring that nobody knew what lay within save snakes and other animals that had made it their home. Subsequent invaders to the region did not even enter the forest.
And then one day, in the not too distant past, something happened. A bold or maybe a lucky explorer or perhaps just someone who lost his way in the forest came upon the temple or rather its ruins. He informed the authorities concerned who immediately set out to uncover it. It wasn’t an easy task, but once the trees and undergrowth were cleared it was to reveal a temple like no other in Goa.
The Mahadev Temple of Tambdi Surla turned out to be quite a discovery and studies dated it to12–13 CE making it the oldest temple in the state. A visit to the temple last November underscored everything that I have described this temple to be.
I first heard about this temple from my friend and fellow blogger, Anuradha (you can read her write-up here). It was a fascinating account and despite my ambivalent feelings towards Goa, I wanted to visit it. So, when my Goa trip got finalised, a visit to the Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla got pencilled into the itinerary.
It was a long drive from Colva, which is in West Goa (and where I was staying), to the temple at Tambdi Surla, which is in East Goa. I actually traversed the breadth of Goa that day travelling through pretty little villages, past abandoned mining areas, and finally into the forest where the temple is located in. Once inside the forest, it was a long drive through winding roads and DJ, my direction-challenged cab driver, got lost a couple of times before we managed to find the road leading to the temple.
It was mid-morning when I finally arrived at the Mahadev Temple. It was a bright, sunny and breezy day with just a few tourists about the place. There were a group of what looked like college kids on a picnic who, after a peek into the temple, headed straight to the stream to splash and play in the water; some families; and a group of football players who trooped in very solemnly and took turns to pray before the main deity.
Even though the temple has been restored and repaired quite extensively, and lawns created around it, it is not too difficult to imagine the state it must have been when found. The temple’s broken shikhara, the weathered sculptures on the external façade, the headless Nandi, and the forest just beyond the fence is testimony to its past. Some captures from that visit…
I spent a peaceful time at the temple exploring its nooks and crannies. As I was getting ready to leave, two groups of tourists came in who completely changed the nice atmosphere at the temple. The first group was an all-women’s group of international tourists led by a male Indian guide. The guide behaved as though there was no one else at the temple and pushed his way through people lined up for a darshan of the shivalinga. The group followed his lead and also pretended as if there was no one else at the temple.
The second was a group of Russian tourists who waved incense sticks at everything and everyone. I had incense waved around my face and would have had flowers showered on my head, if I had not ducked out of their reach. The whole thing would have been comical, if they did not look and smell like they were high on drugs or alcohol or both. I don’t like labeling people nor am I very judgmental by nature, but I had no hesitation in calling the groups new age invaders ! 😦
When I came out of the temple complex, I didn’t feel like getting back into the car. The forest begged to be explored and that’s what I did: I took a walk in the forest. After leaving instructions with DJ to give me a head start of about 90 minutes before setting out to pick me up, I left. Incidentally, the forest is not all that anonymous; it has a name — the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. It covers an area of 240 sq. km and is the largest of Goa’s protected wildlife reserves.
The walk was an invigorating one and I was accompanied by a cool breeze filled with birdsong and other sounds of the forest. There were little streams and brooks to cross, mushrooms and mosses and ferns to delight over, wonder about the age of an old gnarled tree, get mesmerised by the green light filtering through the canopy of trees, play guessing games in identifying trees, pass by hamlets and try to guess the lives of people living there, look longingly at tempting trails leading off from the road and into the forest…
There was one moment when I heard a rustling sound in the bushes ahead of me and something slithered out, crossed the road ahead and vanished into the bushes on the opposite side. Before I could even register what it was, a mongoose shot out of the bushes and in the blink of an eye crossed over to the other side and dived into the bushes. It was then that I realised that I had just seen a snake being pursued by a mongoose !
Sometime during this walk, I had actually started enjoying my Goa trip. When DJ picked me up about 2 hours later, I got into the car with real regret. He informed me with surprise that I had covered 5 km ! I felt quite fresh and would have loved walk some more. But I was headed to explore another part of Goa and needed to get going.
Come back in a few days to read the last of my posts in the Goa series. 🙂