Thursday, 3 May 2018

Lesson From Goa - Temple to Shriva.

Shri Nageshi Temple, Ponda, Goa, India
First a confession; I know very little of the Hindu religion other than that there are multiple gods and that the stories of these gods are contained in the sacred books, the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Agamas. The Bhagavad Gita is itself part of a much larger work, one of two Indian epics, Mahabatha. These books also contain the basic philosophies of Hinduism.

So, all of our guided visit to the temple to Shriva or Shri Nageshi, at Ponda, Panjim, Goa, was new to me and to my partner. Neither of us had been to a Hindu temple before.

The Shri Nageshi temple is reputedly on the site of the oldest Hindu temple in Goa which was destroyed by the Portuguese colonialists who tried to impose Catholicism on the inhabitants. Ironically, we visited the Shri Nageshi temple immediately after visiting the Catholic church of Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) which contains the body of St Francis Xavier, co founder of the Jesuits and responsible for imposing Catholicism on the people of Goa. The church of Bom Jesus proudly boast of being the oldest religious building in Goa. Something it achieved by default when all the older Hindu, Jain and Muslim religious buildings were destroyed.

The temple is dedicated to Shri Nageshi (Lord Nageshi), a manifestation of Shriva. Nageshi is closely associated with the cobra (nag) the raised, hooded head of which is used extensively in the architectural decoration. The central symbolic representation of Shriva is the Shriva Lingam, which, to put it bluntly, is a representation of Shriva's penis in the vagina of his wife, Parvati, representing creativity and fertility. Hinduism is described as a way of life covering all aspects of life, of which sex and sexual pleasure are unashamedly a parts; a sacred duty even.

Apart from the pink colour, the colour associated with Shri Nageshi and not to be confused with it's association with homosexuality in the West, the most noticeable structure on entering the temple complex is the ornate, multi-tiered and domed tower - a fairly obvious phallic symbol. The tower, an essential part of a temple, supposedly derives from a time when the temples were located in jungles. A lantern was placed in each of the arched niches at night so travellers could see the nearest temple from any high point and could seek refuge for the night. Nowadays, electric lights decorate the structure.

Providing a refuge for the night is still an important function of the temple and travellers can usually obtain a bed for the night for a minimal payment of a few Rupees, though guest are expected to pay according to their ability. Close to the temple and within the complex is a large swimming pool where worshippers were formerly required to bathe before entering the temple. It is now used by local children.

The temple itself is entered barefoot, via steps leading up to a porch in which there is a representation of Brahma as a black bull, forever gazing at the shrine to Shiva. The statue of Brahma is from the original temple destroyed by the Portuguese. Weathering and erosion shows it to be of some considerable age. Photography is not allowed past the door. The threshold of the door consists of a step up then down again. Our guide explained that this is to force you to look down, so bowing your head as you enter. I expect Shiva appreciates inadvertent acts of submission.

The temple itself is a rather pleasant, cool and tranquil place with a long passageway leading to the shrine proper and the Shriva Lingam. Parvati's genitalia are yellow while Shriva's is red. It can just about be made out in the photograph which was taken from outside the entrance door. The shrine itself is richly decorated in silver, hammered over carved wood to give a stunning effect of carved ornamentation. Visitors are not allowed to enter the passage leading to the shrine.

There is the usual ostentatious display of riches in contrast to the poverty of the worshippers common to many religious buildings, although this is low-key compared to Christian Catholic and Orthodox churches, but the most notable difference is the absence of the overt death cult that characterises Christianity with it's worship of instruments of torture and execution, the veneration of dead saints and martyrs and it's emphasis on 'sin' and the threat of consequences if forgiveness and redemption are not achieved.

There appears to be a complete absence of the fear of an afterlife and a hideous torture and torment that awaits the dissident. Shiva is there to help, not to punish and is accessible to all, requiring no intermediaries. All that is required is due respect and to follow the basic tenets of personal conduct: honesty, refraining from injuring living creatures, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion. And of course, Shiva expects his followers to be having an enjoyable sex life.

Curiously, this patience, forbearance and self-restraint doesn't seem to translate into behaviour in driving, where complete disregard for other road users is the order of the day. Rules are for the rule book only, consequently traffic is chaotic and stationary for much of the time, horns are used freely and frequently and even motorways will have traffic driving the wrong way, to the extent that the left-hand lane (Indians nominally drive on the left) is left for oncoming traffic, the right-hand lane is the normal driving lane and the central lane is for overtaking (both ways). The important thing is to not give way and to push into any available gap.

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