“The crisis in which the Avatar appears, though apparent to the outward eye only as a crisis of events and great material changes, is always in its source and real meaning a crisis in the consciousness of humanity when it has to undergo some grand modification and effect some new development. For this action of change a divine force is needed; but the force varies always according to the power of consciousness which it embodies; hence the necessity of a divine consciousness manifesting in the mind and soul of humanity. Where, indeed, the change is mainly intellectual and practical, the intervention of the Avatar is not needed; there is a great uplifting of consciousness, a great manifestation of power in which men are for the time being exalted above their normal selves, and this surge of consciousness and power finds its wave-crests in certain exceptional individuals, vibhūtis, whose action leading the general action is sufficient for the change intended. The Reformation in Europe and the French Revolution were crises of this character; they were not great spiritual events, but intellectual and practical changes, one in religious, the other in social and political ideas, forms and motives, and the modification of the general consciousness brought about was a mental and dynamic, but not a spiritual modification. But when the crisis has a spiritual seed or intention, then a complete or a partial manifestation of the God-consciousness in a human mind and soul comes as its originator or leader. That is the Avatar.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 19: 168-169)
We celebrate this auspicious day of the descent of the Avatar Sri Krishna by taking our readers to a highly unique temple in Goa. Devaki Krishna Ravalnath temple, located at Marcel in Goa, is said to be the only temple in India where Krishna is worshipped with his birth mother Devaki.
Hindu temples in general are always much more than mere places of worship. They are, first and foremost, the abode of the deity. But that is not all. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian temple is in its inmost reality “an altar raised to the divine Self, a house of the Cosmic Spirit, an appeal and aspiration to the Infinite” (CWSA 20: 273). Additionally, most Hindu temples are also great expressions of the artistic and architectural genius of Indian civilization.
Traditionally, temples have been the cultural, social and spiritual centers of the surrounding communities. Thus, most temples, regardless of the time of their construction, are also living repositories of the historical-socio-cultural lore of the region. This is particularly true of the temples in Goa, where temples also hold records of family lineages. This Devaki Krishna temple has a special significance for Parrikar clan of Goa for whom this form of Krishna with Devaki is principal deity.
History of the Temple
Most Indians today have grown up with delightful stories of Krishna playing all sorts of games with his friends and creating trouble for his mother Yashoda. We have also seen countless portrayals of baby Krishna with Ma Yashoda in various visual and performing arts throughout our land, including the special jhankis displayed around Krishna Janmashtami. But other than a few songs and some stories, not much remains in our collective memory about the practice of worshipping Sri Krishna with Devaki, his biological mother.
People in Goa believe that a small ancient temple of Devaki-Krishna existed on Chorão island (also known as Chodan or Choodamani prior to that) in the Mandovi river. The presiding deity of the island and the temple was Devakikrishna, who is represented as Ma Devaki holding on her left side baby Krishna and supporting him with her left arm. It is said that once Vasco de Gama during his visit to the island saw the mūrti (originally made in black stone), and mistaking it to be an image of Mother Mary holding infant Jesus immediately went down on his knees. But when his companions pointed out what the mūrti represented, he quickly got up and was visibly annoyed!
This ancient temple was destroyed by the Portuguese Christian missionaries whose sole mission was to bring every Hindu into the fold of Christianity, which they saw as the ‘only true religion’. Sometime between 1530 and 1540 CE the devotees first shifted the temple from Chorão island and installed the deity in Mayem in Bicholim taluka. There the temple remained and the worship continued for more than two centuries. But when Bicholim also came under Portuguese control, the temple had to be moved once again, this time to Marcel in Ponda.
This was the story of many Hindu temples in Goa. The 400+ year Portuguese colonial rule from 1510 onwards was a brutal period for Hindus of that region. They were not only not allowed to practice their religion, but were also forcibly converted, prosecuted, tortured, their property confiscated. Several temples were levelled to the ground. Even books written in Sanskrit, Arabic, Marathi or Konkani were destroyed. The infamous Goan Inquistition (1560 to 1812) was established to enforce Catholic orthodoxy in the Indian dominions of the Portuguese Empire.
Faced with such tormenting circumstances, Hindu devotees with steadfast faith in their deities took great risks and stealthily managed to shift away the deities from almost all the temples in the Portuguese controlled districts to areas that were not controlled by the Portuguese. Most of the deities were transported across the Cumbarjua waterway and the Zuary river to Ponda in the territory of the Sonda Rajas (feudatory vassals, first to the Vijayanagara kings, then to Bijapur Sultanate, and later to Maratha Empire).
Ponda was a safe haven for Hindus fleeing persecution by Jesuits and the Portuguese. The forests in the area allowed Hindus to design makeshift temples and install the deities they had salvaged from the temples destroyed in other regions, particularly the area known today as Salcette. By housing their beloved deities in small huts and modest dwellings, hidden from the destructive gaze of the missionaries, Hindu devotees managed to ‘save’ their gods, and patiently waited for the time to turn so they could build grand temples for their beloved gods. To this day most of the major Hindu temples in Goa are found in Ponda.
The Story of the Deity: When Devaki Met Krishna
We hear a delightful story behind this unique rūpam of Devaki-Krishna. It is said that once when Krishna and Balarama were taking rest on Gomanchala Parvat, they happened to meet Devaki. But Devaki could not recognize Krishna as she had only known him as a child, Balakrishna. The all-knowing Krishna read her confusion, and in his infinite compassion took the form of a child Krishna, exclusively for her. He climbed on to the lap of Ma Devaki. Not only that, the all-attractive Krishna also gave Devaki the ananda of witnessing the delightful play, līla of Balakrishna — all that we hear in the countless stories of Krishna with Yashoda. Devaki’s joy knew no bounds.
It is believed that this meeting of Devaki and Krishna happened at the island of Chodan or Choodamani, which was a dense forest at the time. Later a temple came up on the island as an abode of Devakikrishna; some traces of the old temple still remain there.
This Devaki-Krishna temple is an expression of the eternal love of a mother. The garbhagriha houses the beautiful mūrti of Devaki with Balakrishna. This is believed to be one of the most rare mūrti-s of Sri Krishna as a child, resting comfortably on the hips of Ma Devaki who is standing with her arm encircling and protecting her son. It is also believed by some that perhaps this form served as an inspiration behind the iconography of Mother Mary with baby Jesus seen in the nearby churches.
At the time of our visit to this beautiful temple, the doors of the garbhagriha had been shut close, but the beautiful Devaki Krishna could still be seen clearly through the bars. The priest was kind enough to allow us to take a picture of the beautiful deity through the bars.
These bars actually remind any Krishna-premi of the prison where the Lord took his human birth when Devaki and Vasudeva were kept in captivity by Kansa, the brutal king of Mathura.
Krishna’s birth in the prison is symbolic of the humanity imprisoned by the chains of a limiting and limited consciousness, from which liberation is required in order to be ready to consciously participate in the creation of a new world in the greater and more luminous Light of the Supramental Consciousness.
“Krishna is the Anandamaya, he supports the evolution through the Overmind leading it towards his Ananda.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 28: 499)
In the garbhagriha, we also see the beautiful utsava mūrti of the Lord which is made of the stem of the sacred Tulsi tree. While we could not take a picture of this delightful rupam of Sri Krishna, we were able to find a stunning image via the trusty google!
All the original temples in Goa were demolished by the Portuguese, and the deities were saved and moved by Hindu devotees to safer places. Most of the old temples were built using sedimentary rocks, stones, wood and limestone. Tambdi Surla Mahadev temple is the only ancient temple of Goa that survives today.
The present-day Goan temples are unique in India. This is because while they follow the basic layout of Nagara style temple architecture, they also incorporate several key variations. The Goan temple has an entrance porch or mukhamandapam, sabhamandapam or hall and a garbhagriha or inner shrine, all along an axis. But the main hall has several doors, which is something typically seen in churches in Goa and elsewhere. There are clear influences of the basilican floor plan, with European Renaissance style arches, pillars, pilasters and mouldings. We see these features in Goan churches as well.
In the Goan temples, we also see Islamic architectural influences such as the dome-like shikhara; domes are typically seen in the mosques. In addition to the use of bright tropical colours, there is also good use of local materials in construction as seen in the mud and laterite walls, as well as in pitched and tiled roofs. When seen from different angles, a present-day Goan temple could be perceived even as a mosque, church or simply a palace.
Sri Devaki Krishna temple also has a similar layout: a porchway leading to the pillared mandapam, and then a smaller garbhagriha, surrounding which is a free area or a passage for pradakshina or circamambulation. Above the garbhagriha is the dome-shaped shikhara.
Time for darshan of the Lord, once again!
Sit quietly in the hall for some time. Concentrate and contemplate on the beautiful baby Krishna with his mother. Recall to your inner eye all his bala–līla. He is the same Krishna who is also “the Krishna of the Gita who is the transcendent Godhead, Paramatma, Parabrahma, Purushottama, the cosmic Deity, master of the universe, Vasudeva who is all, the immanent in the heart of all creatures, or the Godhead who was incarnate at Brindavan and Dwarka and Kurukshetra” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 35: 431-432).
“The historical Krishna, no doubt, existed. We meet the name first in the Chhandogya Upanishad where all we can gather about him is that he was well known in spiritual tradition as a knower of the Brahman, so well known indeed in his personality and the circumstances of his life that it was sufficient to refer to him by the name of his mother as Krishna son of Devaki for all to understand who was meant. In the same Upanishad we find mention of King Dhritarashtra son of Vichitravirya, and since tradition associated the two together so closely that they are both of them leading personages in the action of the Mahabharata, we may fairly conclude that they were actually contemporaries and that the epic is to a great extent dealing with historical characters and in the war of Kurukshetra with a historical occurrence imprinted firmly on the memory of the race. We know too that Krishna and Arjuna were the object of religious worship in the pre-Christian centuries; and there is some reason to suppose that they were so in connection with a religious and philosophical tradition from which the Gita may have gathered many of its elements and even the foundation of its synthesis of knowledge, devotion and works, and perhaps also that the human Krishna was the founder, restorer or at the least one of the early teachers of this school. The Gita may well in spite of its later form represent the outcome in Indian thought of the teaching of Krishna and the connection of that teaching with the historical Krishna, with Arjuna and with the war of Kurukshetra may be something more than a dramatic fiction. In the Mahabharata Krishna is represented both as the historical character and the Avatar; his worship and Avatarhood must therefore have been well established by the time—apparently from the fifth to the first centuries B.C.—when the old story and poem or epic tradition of the Bharatas took its present form. There is a hint also in the poem of the story or legend of the Avatar’s early life in Vrindavan which, as developed by the Puranas into an intense and powerful spiritual symbol, has exercised so profound an influence on the religious mind of India. We have also in the Harivansha an account of the life of Krishna, very evidently full of legends, which perhaps formed the basis of the Puranic accounts.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 19: 15-16)
As we begin to walk out of the temple, time to take in some views of the outside.
“Whether Krishna existed or not in a human form, living on earth, is only of very secondary importance (except perhaps from an exclusively historical point of view), for Krishna is a real, living and active being; and his influence has been one of the great factors in the progress and transformation of the earth.” (The Mother, CWM 10: 61)
We are thankful to Sawani Shetye of Exclamations Goa for organizing and accompanying us on a beautiful heritage trail which covered several relatively ‘off-the-tourist-map’ places in Goa and also included a visit to this unique temple. Anyone interested in exploring ‘Goa beyond the beaches’ should definitely reach out to Sawani for more details.