The State of Goa, located along the western coast of India is known for its picturesque beaches, its natural landscape, and historical sites that portray the remnants of the Portuguese rule. Although the most well-known religious architectural attractions in the present day are frequented by tourists, there are many sites that remain hidden in the depths of small villages across the Ponda Taluka of the South Goa district. Many of ancient texts make references to the temples and holy sites of Goa; names such as Gopakapattan and Gomantak have been used to refer to Goa in the Mahabharata (Mugali, 2014). In fact, there are records of the existence of religious Agraharas in Goa since as early as the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries (Chavan, 1991; Gune, 1965; Heras, 1932). This resulted in the expansion of Hinduism, and subsequently Vaishnavism in Goa. In the latter years, circa 14th century, the establishment of the Kashi Math and the Parthagal Math – two significant religious institutes have promoted Vaishnavism in Goa.
Another Vaishnavic connection to Goa is from the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu as Sage Parashurama. The western coast of India has been referred to as ‘Parashuramakshetra’(Sonak, 2014). The legend of Sage Parashurama claims that, to command the territory along the western coast where he wished to reside, he fired an arrow into the sea and demanded that the Lord of the Sea recede, to form a land mass (Da Cunha, 1877; Priolkar, 1967). Research conducted by geologists has even suggested that receding seas have played a role in the formation of Goa (Mascarenhas & Kalavampara, 2009), but the claims of the legend of Sage Parashurama cannot be validated. Epigraphic documentation by various scholars also points to early existence of Vaishnavism during Satavahana’s empire which spanned across the central India (Mitragotri, 1992). With Goa’s strong links to Vaishnavism, there was a growth in the Vaishnavic sampradaya, and many devotees started worshipping Lord Vishnu in the various temples of Goa. There are many sculptures in Goa dedicated to Lord Vishnu –Padmanabha from Cuncolim village, Gopinath from Netravali village, Bindhu Madhav from Madkai village, Keshava in Loliem village, and Ananta from Savoi-Verem village as documented by research (Prabhushastri, 2019).
The Ananta idol, located in the Shri Madanant temple in the Savoi-Verem village of the Ponda Taluka has three very interesting features – its Sthala (the land), its Tirtha (the water body), and its Murti (the idol). These three characteristics are coincidentally the necessities of human habitation (Mani, 2008), and key requisites of the Agamas (Ayyar, 1982) that prescribe rituals and ceremonies to be observed in temples. With that in mind, this work aims to review some of the topics that are a part of temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and discuss the unique features of Shri Madanant temple in the context of Vaishnavism.
Iconography and Poses of Lord Vishnu
The Divyadesam temples refer to the 108 temples of Vishnu that have been cited in the writings of the Tamil Azhvars, who were considered as saints(Neelakrishnan, 1992). The term “Divya” denotes high quality or top-notch, while “Desam” signifies a location or specifically a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The postures of the idols in the Divyadesam temples can be categorized into three main categories: KidanthaThirukkolam (sleeping position) of which there are 27 temples, AmarnathaThirukkolam (sitting position) of which there are 21 temples, and NindraThirukkolam (standing position) of which there are 60 temples.
The manifestations of Lord Vishnu seen during Dashavatar depict many of His iconic poses. In most instances, these appearances portray his tenacity or courage, but there are some interesting poses of Him in the resting position. Lord Vishnu’s sleep (sayanams – Kidanthasayanam) is called Yoga Nidra or ‘Ari thuyil’ (sleeping while being aware of everything). By reclining on the coils of serpent Sesha or Anantha (as bed), Lord Vishnu takes the pose of ‘Seshasayana ‘ or ‘Anantasayana’. There are a few other postures of Lord Vishnu that are distinguished and interpreted as follows (Bose, 2021). In the Bhogasayanam posture, there is a space between the legs of Lord Vishnu as referenced in the Sastras, with Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi on either side of His feet. The term Yogasayanam refers to the posture of Lord Vishnu when He is lying down on a bed made of a serpent, with the right arm resting on a pillow and the left arm positioned close to the waist. His right leg is stretched out straight and the left leg is gracefully bent, and His eyes are partially open, reflecting a meditative state. Virasayanam is the pose of Lord Vishnu in which he is seen lying down with the right arm resting on a pillow, the left arm stretched out, and the two upper hands holding a Sangu (conch) and a Chakra (disc). In the Utharasayanam posture, Lord Vishnu is seen lying down on a raised bed of the serpent and is waking up. In the Vadabatrasayanam, Lord Vishnu is illustrated in a reclining posture on the Adisesha under the leaf of a banyan tree. The Darbhasayanam posture depicts Lord Vishnu in the Raama avatar, and shows Him laying on a bed of darbha grass. He is in a meditative state. In the Manikkasayanam, Lord Ranganathar is in the Kidantha (lying) position facing his thirumugham towards the South and is lying on the Adiseshaunder Ranga Vimana. The Dashavatara temple from the 6th century, located in Deogarh, depicts all the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu on sculptural panels (Entwistle & Bakker, 1981). Another important monument depicting the Anantasayana is the Anantashayi Vishnu sculpture carved on a rock in Saranga, Orissa. This sculpture was carved in the 9th century and is the largest rock carving of its kind depicting Vishnu in a reclining posture (Donaldson, 1987). Table 1 below shows a list of some temples in which Lord Vishnu takes the aforementioned postures.
Table 1: Vishnu Temples – deities, postures, location and temple tanks
Water possesses the ability to generate, maintain and destroy life. Its pliability implies modesty, and its value lies in its profound support of every living thing, indicating intelligence and sagacity. As one of the five fundamental elements in Hinduism, it serves as a means of healing and rejuvenation. In temple construction, the design of the water tank is a very important factor and it is called by various names such as Pushkarini, Kalyani, Thirtha, etc. The temple tanks were not only important for religious purposes. In fact, temple tanks fulfilled several important functions (Ganesan, 2008; Maya, 2003). They served as a means of storing water, providing insurance against periods of low rainfall and helping to replenish the groundwater in the surrounding area. This meant that water from the temple tanks was potable. Many large temple tanks were also used as swimming pools. Tanks have also acted as a control mechanism during flooding, preventing soil erosion during heavy rainfall. Some temple tanks have been perennial water source and have helped maintain local biodiversity. A list of the tanks at some of the famous Vishnu temples is listed in Table 1. It is also noteworthy to mention that the Sri Vidhya Rajagopalaswamy temple located in Mannargudi, Tamil Nadu, has one of the largest temple tanks in the world called HaridraNadhi. Another Vishnu temple in Tamil Nadu, NeelaMegha Perumal temple in Thirukannapuram has several water tanks: NityaPushkarni, KsheerapatiPushkarni, Bhootavadan, and Muthakaram which are of significance. The Rani ki Vav located in Patan, Gujarat is a one-of-a-kind stepwell. It can be viewed as an inverted temple of sorts, and consists of stone carvings that portray twenty-four forms of Vishnu – reclining on the Sesha, Vishwaroopa, the Dashavatar, and many more (Bhatt, 2014; Jain-Neubauer, 1981).
Temples of Goa
In Goa, there were a total of twenty-two Narayana (Lord Vishnu) temples, with five in Tiswadi, four in Bardez, and thirteen in Salcete. However, unfortunately, all of these temples were demolished by the Portuguese during the 16th century (Gopalrao, 2003). Idols from many other temples had to be moved to other locations in secret. The Ponda Taluka, which was formerly under the control of Hindu Sonde chiefs, was then known as the Atrunja Taluka and used as a safe haven. The concentration of temples and the rich cultural connection led to Ponda Taluka to being known as Antruz Mahal or Anant Urja Mahal. The new temples in Goa constructed during the last four centuries have a different architectural appearance compared to the traditional gopuram used in other parts of the country. Many of these temples have Islamic and European influences in their architecture which can be attributed to the Portuguese rule, the rule of Adil Shah and the Deccan Sultanate (Gupta, 1991). Some of the newer temples are designed according to the Nagara architecture with some alterations (Kanekar, 2022). The temples of Goa are noted for their exquisite wood work, symbols used and decorative motifs. Wooden carvings are seen around the Mantapa and the Garbagriha is usually decorated in silver with the main idol made of black stone or saligrama. The temple’s moola murtis are the ones that are decorated with alankars, and the Utsava murti (usually made of silver or gold) are used for festivals. Located in the central courtyard of the temple is the Deepasthamba which is a tower with notches for lamps (deepas).
Most of the deities worshipped by locals in Goa are considered to be folk deities. While they may be revered using distinct names, the source of their existence can typically be traced back to either Goddess Parvati (Durga) or Lakshmi, or to the deities God Shiva (Mahadev) or Vishnu (Narayana). Since Vishnu temples are of interest to this study, Table 2 compiles a non-exhaustive list of Vishnu temples in Goa, with the associated local deities and their locations.
Table 2. Vishnu temples in Goa – Deities and Locations
Shri Madanant Temple Goa
The Shri Madanant temple is located in the historic village of Savoi-Verem in the Ponda Taluka of Goa. The temple is situated very close to the Mandovi (Mhadei) river. There are a few unique aspects to this temple: the sthala, thirtha and murti which are key requirements of the Agamas. The sthalapurana (origin story), its iconography (murti), and the temple’s construction on water (thirtha) are discussed in the following sections.
Sthalapurana (Sthala – Land)
Before the Shri Madanant temple existed, there were a small group of sages that resided nearby in the Savoi-Verem area. Legend narrates that a sanyasi had recurring dreams of Lord Narayana (Lord Vishnu) being nearby and His requests to be brought home. One day, the sanyasi had another dream in which he was told that Lord Vishnu is waiting by a nearby water body. Upon discussing this with other sages, the sanyasi and others decided to explore the banks of the Mandovi river. They discovered that there was a boat belonging to a trader who was of the Mohammedan faith, Islam. They conversed with the trader, who was from a nearby village of Surla, and enquired whether the trader had any religious idol on his boat. Since Islam forbids idolatry, the trader denied that there could be any idol present on his boat, but permitted the group of sanyasis to inspect the boat nonetheless. The group canvassed the boat and its quarters, but did not find any object that resembled an idol. While the group was disembarking the boat, one of the sanyasis noticed a black stone that was placed on the bow of the boat. When they enquired with the trader, he told them that it was used as a counter-weight when the boat was unloaded to prevent the bow from rising. Upon inspecting the black stone, the sanyasis quickly realized that there was a carving on the underside that resembled Lord Vishnu in the Anantasayana posture along with other deities. The trader immediately offered the black stone to the sanyasis when he realized that it was a religious idol. Since the idol that was discovered was quite heavy, and there was no location to place it, a pit was dug near the river bank and the idol was placed in a pool of water. This location where the idol was placed is now known as “Pirachi Peth”(Times, 2018) .The temple was then constructed after which the idol was relocated to the sanctum sanctorum.
Shri Madanant Temple– Architecture, Tirtha (Water Tank) and Sthala Vriksha
The Shri Madanant Temple is located in the picturesque village of Savoi-Verem. The temple structure is built on plinths over a naturally existing water body (restructured as temple tank). The temple was constructed in a rectangular shaped design and includes various sections such as Garbhagriha, Antharala, Sabhamandapa, a porch, and a spacious Mukhamandapa (Gopalrao, 2003). The Garbhagriha and Antharala are both square-shaped chambers that have a surrounding wall with a pathway for circumambulation. The pathway has an entrance located on the eastern side. The Sabhamandapa of the temple is supported by three free standing pillars arranged in a row that support the ceiling structure. It is rectangular in shape and has an antechamber between it and the Mukhamandapa. The Mukhamandapa also is of a large rectangular shape that features two entrances on either side. It also portrays an enshrined Garuda, who is the vahana or mount of Lord Vishnu. The rear wall of the mukhamandapa also features an upsidal platform. The Garuda stambha and a Tulasi Vrindavan can be seen within the temple complex. A Tulasi plant at Vishnu temples serves as a reminder of the story of Goddess Vrinda and Lord Vishnu, and the Tulasi Vrindavans can also be observed across many homes in Goa.
This is one of the only temples in Goa in which the deity’s idol rests directly above a water body. In Goa, temple tanks are known as Devachi Tali (Lord’s Pond). The Rigveda states that the origin of Lord Narayana’s name is comprised of two words, Naar and Ayana which translate to water and residence respectively (Sah, 2023). Therefore, it is not a coincidence that the temple is located on a water body. In the past, the tank was used as a source of drinking water, but that has changed over the years. During the annual Jatra, there is boat procession with the utsavamurti and many lamps, making the temple tank shimmer in the dark.
The Peepal tree, considered to be one of the most sacred trees, is the sthalavriksha of this temple. It is said in the Puranas that the worship of the Peepal tree or the Kalpavriksha eliminates any misfortunes (Anupama, 2014). Lord Vishnu is also said to reside in a Peepal tree, and that Lords Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu gathered at forums under a Peepal tree. There is also a reference in the Bhagavad Gita in Lord Krishna’s words “Among the trees I am Ashvatta”.
Shri Madanant Iconography (Murti) and Pose
The main idol in the sanctum sanctorum is in the form of a black stone measuring five by two feet. The carvings depict an image of Lord Vishnu in the Anantasayana posture reclining on Sesha. The sculpture depicts a four-handed illustration in which the Shanka is in the upper left hand, the upper right arm is in touch with the Kirita near the head, the lower left hand is resting on the thigh with a lotus flower and the lower right hand is in kataka posture (Prabhushastri, 2019). The right leg is extended and the left leg is bent at the knee crossing over the right leg. The gada lays next to His right side. Lord Brahma is depicted to be rising out from the lotus at the navel. Lord Shiva is shown near Lord Vishnu’s kirita, and immediately under Lord Shiva is Lord Hanuman standing tall offering namaskaras in the Anjali mudra. The Goddess Mahakshmi is also near Lord Vishnu’s head beyond Lord Shiva on a tall seat and Her left hand is holding a Darpana while Her right hand is in her hair with the kataka pose. Holding the extended right foot of Lord Vishnu with both hands is Goddess Bhudevi. Portrayed just below Goddess Bhudevi is the Garuda, the sun-bird and king of birds. Also depicted are the Saptarishis on the upper right above Goddess Bhudevi. The Dashavatars are shown on the lower right of the sculpture. The serpent’s coils with scales can be seen behind Lord Vishnu, illustrating that He is resting on it. The Gandha Alankar vividly illustrates all the components of the sculpture.
(Figure 1: Credit: Facebook – Image of Lord Vishnu in the Anantasayana posture reclining on Sesha)
Shri Madananth Temple Rituals and Festivities
A seven-day Utsav, known as Jatra to the locals, is held in the month of Margseesh (Margazhi) – a month which is considered to be very auspicious for Lord Vishnu. The first day is the Khalotsav, in which the deity in the form of a smaller idol (utsavamurti) is taken in a palki from the Devasthan (main temple) to the Narayan devasthan which is located about 5 km away in the village of Savoi. The palki starts in the late afternoon (at around 4:00 PM) and a procession is conducted until the next morning (till around 4:00 AM) for a twelve-hour event. The entire village participates in the palki, making it an annual ritual. They dance to the tune of ‘Hari maja panduranga, Sakhyahari maja Panduranga’ to the accompaniment of dhol (drums) whilst carrying arecanut palm leaves in their hands. The second day is the is the Sangod Utsav, in which two locally built country canoes are tied together and decorated with the fruit, leaves, and stems of the banana plant with various flowers. The two canoes with boatmen and a few devotees take the utsavamurti around the temple tank in a floating procession known as Nauka. The utsavamurti is placed in a small tent after the boat ride. It is a very unique custom and portrays Lord Vishnu’s affinity to water. The third day is Garuda vahanalalki, in which deity is taken around the temple in Garuda vahana (bird vehicle). The fourth, fifth and sixth days of the Utsav consist of a Vijay Rath on a horse chariot, Simhasana ritual on the Simhavana and Hatthi Ambari rituals on Ambari (elephant) Vahana. The seventh day has puja for Seshasan and the utsava murti is taken around in a Seshavahan. The eighth day is the Dashami palki, in which a procession is conducted on the day of Dashami. Other than this, on every fortnight Dashami is celebrated with rituals. During Ananta Chathurthi, an abhishek is performed followed by a Maha aarti with lamps, and a palki procession.
A unique ritual that is largely prevalent only in Goa is the ‘Prasad’ or ‘Kaul Prasad’. It is considered to be a special consultation of the oracle. It means that one can get the blessing or guidance of the deity. Devotees from all walks of life ask the deity’s advice on various problems through the priest. The ritual is deity-specific, and flowers, petals or leaves from plants grown locally are placed on the deity or a wooden platform using water. A person can seek guidance by asking questions to the priest, and the deity answers by dropping the leaf, petal or flower. In the Shri Madanant temple, Tulasi is used. This ritual is not performed during any of the Utsavs, Amavasya, Ekadashi, etc. After paying respects to the deity, the Tulasi is stuck to the Kaul Prasad murti and the devotees pose a question or make a wish. The priest interprets the decision of the deity on the basis of order and position in which the Tulasi falls. Locals are known to strictly adhere to the decision of the deity.
Many temples of Goa have been destroyed, and their idols have been relocated due to the temple destruction by the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, few temples remained in their original state in pockets of Goa. The Shri Madananta temple in Savoi-Verem is one of the few temples that was not affected by the inquisition. The uniqueness of this temple lies in its sthala (land), thirtha (water) and murti (idol); which are coincidentally the key requirements of the Agamas. Lord Vishnu in the form of Narayana or Anant arrived at this temple via water, and currently sits on a temple tank that is full of water. The sthalapurana also narrates a story of communal harmony between communities that resided in Goa. The Anantasayana posture of the murti is the only one of its kind in the state of Goa.
The information obtained from committee members of the Shri Madanant Temple at Savoi-Verem and the Gomantak Tirupati Balaji Temple at Cuncolim, and its devotees are greatly appreciated. The priests at the Shri Madanant Temple have also been of a lot of help and their service is valued.
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