The 12th Century Mahadeva temple in Goa is said to have been built by the Pandavas in a hurry. And, is believed to be housing a cobra!
Forests are dense and mysterious, hiding several stories within them. One such takes me to the 12th Century.
I am in the village of Tambdi Surla in South Goa, looking for a Mahadeva temple built in the forests on Anmod Ghat; no house or a shop around. Everything seems to have a holy air around it — to begin with, the forest that houses the temple is called the Bhagavan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. And, the locals believe a cobra resides on the temple premises.
A lone peacock dances for us as our journey concludes at the end of a stream. “This is the Rabada river, it later joins a rivulet that flows on to become the Mandovi,” explains our guide, Ramesh. We look into the water, and see a checkered keelback gliding. The gates open, and we stare, awestruck, at the carved temple that stands right in the open, against the forest, the mountains and the sky in the background.
Surviving the odds
Built by the Kadambas in the 12th Century, the temple borrows heavily from the Yadava style of architecture. “This is the oldest temple in Goa today — several temples were built by the Kadambas, but most of them have been destroyed during the invasions. This probably survived, as it was inaccessible, built right in the middle of the forest,” says Ramesh.
The temple has a garbagriha, an antarala and a pillared mantapa. A headless Nandi stands in the middle of the mantapa, in front of the main deity. Sculptures adorn the walls, pillars, roof and the tower of the ancient temple. Influences of Hoysala and Jain architecture are evident. Built with basalt, it is believed to be constructed in Hemadpanthi style. A few historians believe the temple was built by the Kadamba queen Kamaladevi.
A group of locals walks over to the shrine. I learn that a local jatre or festival is being celebrated in the evening. The locals believe that the temple was built in a hurry by the Pandavas when they were on exile, and it remains unfinished as it was built in a single night. I ask them about the cobra, and they say several snakes do reside around the temple.
Ramesh, an expert in handling snakes, offers to take us on a reptile trail around the temple. As twilight sets in, we walk right inside the forest, and lose ourselves in the dense vegetation, cutting through the creepers.
The shadows of the branches do look like snakes curving around us as we cross the stream. Finally, we spot, not the cobra, but another venomous snake — the Malabar pit viper that's just getting active.
As I slowly take a photograph of it, the snake darts at us, before coiling away. Darkness sets in as we walk back to see the ancient temple merging with the night sky.