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On a royal heritage walk

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Among the best villages in Goa for accessibility and heritage importance are undoubtedly the villages of Pilar and Goa Velha.

Pilar is a very historic village situated along the NH66 bordering Goa Velha Village, about 10 kilometres from Panaji, and about a kilometer before the Zuari Bridge. This village, and the nearby Goa Velha, was identified as Govapuri or Gopakapattana during the Kadamb era.

The Kadamb Dynasty (960 AD – 1350 AD) shifted their capital from Chandrapur or Chandor in present day Salcete Taluka, to this Tiswadi island region, around 1049 AD as per an inscription on a copper plate of King Jayakeshi I. The reason of shifting was the silting of their main trading lifeline – River Kushawati, on the banks of which Chandrapur was established in a huge fort – now extinct.

At Gopakapattana, there used to be a huge trading port, constructed during the Shilahara rule, where traders from all over the world, stretching from Europe, the coast of Africa, the Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, the Chinese and extending well into the South Asian countries, interacted to trade in a variety of products. Many historians profess that this ‘port wall’ may have been a retaining wall, with square bastions, as the huge trading galleons would anchor out in the deeper part of the River Zuari and smaller vessels would unload the goods and ply them here to shore.

Until a few years ago, one could see a long, majestic and solid masonry port wall, stretching to about four-five kilometres along the Goa Velha Village coastline. Today, this is reduced to a meek sighting of a few of its huge, well manicured laterite stones. It is an amazing architectural feat that the huge – 4 feet long x 1.5 feet wide x 1 foot thick laterite stones, used in its construction, defied nature’s daily atrocities, to retain their angular dimension, even though the tidal waters of the river enveloped it completely, everyday.

Many of these stones however have fallen prey to theft by unscrupulous people who may have robbed them for construction purposes. A few stones can still be seen, when the beach is accessed from a motorable road, between the present day fields, along the by-pass road between Siridao and Agassaim.

Being the capital of the Kadamb Dynasty, this village as well as those surrounding it saw the zenith of opulence and luxury in its lands. One such royal appendage still seen in motley bits, along the NH66 by-pass and ravaged by shameful encroachments, along its journey to Old Goa or Ellapuri is the Raj Vithi or the Royal Road.

Towards the midway of the NH Bypass, towards the shore, we can see a huge banyan tree connected to the highway with a mud road. This mud road passed across the highway and proceeded northward to Govapuri or Pilar of the present, and made way to Old Goa, over the hill and passing through Gouli-Moula and Talaulim villages. This was the very old road, over which people and royalty traversed; and hence known as Raj Vithi.

At the point where it meets the old NH Road at Pilar, we see many artisans carving marble plaques and this location is marked by a huge cross. Just down the road towards Goa Velha, is another beautiful cross with an aesthetic pillared design. And across the road between these crosses, on a huge ground, is surmised to be the location of the palace of the Kadamb Kings.

We can see well defined seven wells at this place. A few granite/ basalt stones with slight carvings are seen lying at the entrance of the access; and we can also lay eyes on huge grinding stones, possibly used to extract coconut oil. The residents of the houses in this upraised plinth area claim that they have found a small gold Ganesh idol and an earring, while digging here.

Towards the west of this raised plinth area, and bifurcated by the old national highway is a well defined water body, opposite the old Provedoria building. This is identified by locals as ‘Kuzmorayache’ Tolle’. In all probability, this water body, which is square/ rectangular shape, was used by the royalty or the people of the surmised palace for their recreation of daily bath. Today, negligence to maintain this possible heritage water body, has led to a thick growth of shrubs and its value is being degraded.

The village of Pilar is indeed a rich repository of Kadamb heritage. Today, much of the village lands and its hillock are under the tutelage and usage by the Pilar Seminary Management. They have developed the area for the purpose of establishing educational institutions, as well as pastoral houses. The jewel in the crown, during a visit to Pilar is a must-do visit to the Pilar Museum. This is a treasure house of Kadamb era artifacts and many other displays.

There are two accesses to drive up to the seminary. One access is by entering the left hand side road passing towards the North; however, there is one more aspect of heritage to be seen if you take the road proceeding to Mandur/ Dongri/ Karmali. Just about 500 metres from this junction, and about 100 metres before a small office of the Department of Electricity, right by the roadside, we can see a huge water tank. This was the location of the Sri Chamundeshwari Temple, and what we see is the temple lake. This temple was later shifted to Vargaon in Bicholim Taluka, when it faced the wrath of the religious persecution. It is a deep rectangular tank, and as per Fr Cosme Costa, the passionate curator of the Pilar Museum, is ‘about a coconut tree deep’. The stones and artefacts found inside this tank during desilting are displayed at the Pilar Museum.

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