The Hindu festival of Diwali (Deepavali) has multiple interpretations, all having their basis in the triumph of virtue over vice.
One version tells of the vile Narkasur, embodiment of the forces of darkness (tamas), ignorance (avidya) and baseness (adharma). The puranas recount his comeuppance at the hands of Krishna who deployed the sudarshan-chakra to behead the fiend. Narkasur‘s vanquishment lead to the restoration of dharma, and the Diwali celebrations represent a renewal of the memory of Krishna‘s triumphal moment.
In Goa is prevalent the quaint practice – perhaps unique in India – of the reenactment of the Narkasur mythos. On the eve of Diwali, effigies of Narkasur are mounted at village squares and towns. After a night of boisterous revelry, they are consigned to flames at dawn. In recent years, the merriment has assumed comical proportions with an explosion in the count of Narkasurs on display (perhaps an apt allegory of the times).
As a boy I looked forward to the Narkasur Nite, and the preparations in the days leading to it animated us little fellas. Although much has changed since those days, the spirit of the event persists. These photographs were taken in 2007.
The tiny settlement of Usgalimol (also referred to as Pansaimol) near the village of Rivona in Sanguem taluka in south Goa is host to an extraordinary site – a gallery of petroglyphs inscribed on a bed of laterite. The objects set in stone include human and animal forms, symbols, and implements. The area of interest covers approximately 60 x 30 sq. metres and is located cheek by jowl along a flank of the River Kushavati. During the monsoon season, much of it lies submerged under water.
The significance of this locale was realized only in the early 1990s. By then, navvies had begun hacking away at the laterite bed. The timely intervention of the Goa State Dept of Archives & Archaeology averted a major cultural tragedy. Look at the bottom-right in the first photograph below for the damage inflicted.
A serious study of the site awaits inauguration, but preliminary surveys have been done by, among others, the former Director of the Goa State Dept of Archives & Archaeology Dr. P.P. Shirodkar, and researchers at the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa.
The Church of Nossa Senhora de Belém (Our Lady of Bethlehem) cuts a smart picture in the diffuse light of the setting sun. Located in the Goan village of Chandor – corruption of “Chandrapur,” the ancient capital of the Bhojas (4th – 6th century AD) and the Kadambas (10th – 13th century AD) – the church was built in 1645. After the frontispiece gave way in 1949 “it was reconstructed in Neo-Gothic style, but the nave and sanctuary of the church retain their Mannerist character.” (vide The Parish Churches of Goa – A study of façade architecture by José Lourenço.)
The tiny village of Mauxi (pronounced “Mao-shi”) lies in the densely forested and as yet unmolested taluka of Sattari in northeastern Goa. I set out very early one morning from Panjim for the 60 or so minutes drive to sample sunrise in Mauxi and its pastoral purlieus. These tranquil settings and experiences, not long ago readily accessible, are becoming increasingly scarce in a Goa that is fast becoming uncivilized. As we shall see, even in this fairly remote settlement, unmarked on most maps of Goa, there are surprising delights to be found for the discerning.
Nearby in a grove and out in the open lie ancient sculptures, among them an exquisite Vetal, au naturel.
The villagers then point me to a mass of rocks bearing prehistoric petroglyphs, unmarked and with no official protection. Only the recent intervention of a committed Goan environmentalist – Rajendra Kerkar – has alerted the villagers to the significance of this site.