A strange statement from me, an ‘almost aethist’, but there is something about family and Goa and the environment that makes even me amenable to such an outing. The relationship of the Gaudd Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) have with their Gods is fairly unique, as are the temples. The temples are not as old as those in other parts of India, because their current location is the second home for these deities. When the Portugese ordered the destruction of temples in their areas of control,in the mid-16th century, devotees escaped with the deities into the interior hills to build these second homes. The architecture of these structures that were built in the succeeding centuries was greatly influenced by Muslim and Christian traditions. Each, GSB family (irrespective of where they reside, often settled for generations in Mangalore, Mumbai or elsewhere) is attached to one of these deities and so each temple is supported by a set of families, the mahajans.
We made an early start from Panaji on a Monday, as there were multiple temple related activities on the agenda for the day. The first of these was the ‘Prayaschit’ (repentance) pooja that my brother-in-law was to do at the Matt at Kavlem. The pooja, I learnt was being done because, having gone to the US to visit his son, Ramesh had lost caste – and needed to undergo cleansing before he was allowed to enter the temple sanctum again.This came as a complete surprise to me – I had only heard of such a ritual undertaken by my father’s elder brother, when he returned from ICS training in the UK in the 1920s. But the priest doing the pooja, said that many of those who go abroad perform the pooja, and he did a few hundred every year.
The Matt was a lovely, grand building set in a large piece of land, with beautiful corridors and a cool, green central courtyard. Ramesh had to change into his silk dhoti for the pooja and change back after it. Having completed the formalities, we moved on to Nagueshi, which is the Naik family deity.
This is a typical Goan style temple, which for the historical reasons I mentioned above, does not have the prescribed temple layout that is seen in most temples of South India. Of course, I am not competent to comment on the specific differences, but any visitor can immediately sense the difference in aesthetics, layout, the lack of the jostling devotees, the cleanliness…….
Here Ramesh and Sheila planned to perform an abhishek, to seek blessings for completing 50 years of their marriage. This involved a bath, and changing back into the pooja clothes. Following the ‘abhishek’, we joined the rest of the family who were gathering in another part of the temple complex for a family wedding.(Of course, Ramesh and Sheela had to change back into their party finery for the wedding, Change 5)
The temples are privately owned by the Trust and have over the years become fairly wealthy. The present complex is far from the one I saw for the first time in 1973. Just after that, the double storey building along the outer boundary was built with halls and other amenities on the ground floor and rooms and dorms on the first floor. The families of the pujaris lived here as well, in traditional houses with the central open to sky courtyard. This was designed by Manohar Khaunte, to merge with the original architecture and was much appreciated at the time. The facilities allowed out of State devotees to stay, and we too had stayed in those rooms on a few occasions. The halls were used for marriages and various other functions.
Over time, much has changed with re-tiling of the roof of the main building, coats of paint, fresh flooring for the outside courtyard etc and one half of the perimeter structure has been re-built with air-conditioned hall for functions and rooms for staying. THe homes of the pujaris have also been modernised. It was in this hall that the wedding took place. After a brief post-lunch siesta (another local custom, which seems just right when you are there and eat the food! and Change 6 for our power couple!), we decided to visit Santha Durga at Kavlem, and Mahalaxmi. (Change 7 into street clothes). It turned out to be warmer than we had anticipated, and so it was not a pleasant walk. But Santa Durga is a larger temple, on the regular tourist circuit and so was full of bustle and activity. The target was the saree shop – all Devi temples have these shops which sell all the hundreds of sarees that are placed as offering to the Goddess – they are brand new and at less than half the price of a new saree. I could pick up 3 silk Narayanpets for 7.5K.
The trip done, we got back to Nagueshi. But all was not over – it was a Monday, and every Monday night there is a ritual palki. The palki murthy (temples have a special idol for the palki) is place cerememoniously in the palki (a decorated carriage, in this case without wheels) which devotees carry around the temple. It is popular with the devotees and on any given Monday there will be 100-200 or more attending. This particular Monday was special – my other brother-in-law Anand and his family do an abhishek and offer prasad to all those attending the palki on one Monday a year and this was the designated Monday.
As Anand was still recovering from a surgery, he had requested Ramesh to do the Abhishek – and so there he was back to bath, pooja attire (change 8 for Ramesh, Sheela was not needed for this) and ready to go at 8pm. The great thing that I always have admired is the clock wise precision of the event, it rolls out sharp at 8.30 pm and all is over by 9.30. And after a simple dinner, (and change no 9 for Ramesh) while I was exhausted and ready to head home, I could not even imagine the state of Ramesh and Sheela/ My admiration for them cannot be expressed – part enthusiasm, but so much the faith, it is something I envy!
As we were leaving the crowds had departed and the temple took on a serene and beautiful atmosphere……..
P.S. Apologies for any errors on the customs etc….. from an adopted GSB. Please feel free to add, delete, correct.