Tambdi Surla’s Mahadev: Goa’s oldest surviving temple

Nestled amid forests and water streams in the Amogh Ghat, Goa’s 12th-century Tambdi Surla Mahadev stone temple has been built without any mortar. Still an active place of worship, it is the only temple that survived after the Portuguese invasion in 1561

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The 12th-century Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple, Goa

The 12th-century Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple, Goa.

Goa is well known for its beaches and seafood, but a 12th-century temple tucked away in a forest is no less than a dream travel destination in the coastal state. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the medieval Mahadev Temple is in the Tambdi Surla village in the Sanguem district, about 65 km from the state capital Panjim. 

With a water stream next to it, the temple in Amod Ghat stands out for many factors. 

One, it is the only temple in Goa to have survived the Portuguese destruction that followed their invasion in 1561. 

After the Goa Inquisition in 1561, the Portuguese razed down hundreds of temples across the state. The Mahadev Temple survived because it is deep inside a dense forest and was not easily accessible in the 16th century. Today, there are roads to take tourists and locals to the temple.

Two, the Mahadev Temple remains an active place of worship over 900 years after it was built. Most of the historic temples going back centuries, like the temples in Hampi, do not perform ‘puja’ and other rituals because the idols have been partially or fully destroyed. But the tradition has continued uninterrupted in this Goa village.

Kadamba architecture

Three, it is the only surviving specimen of Kadamba architecture in Goa as all other monuments were destroyed by the invaders. The Kadamba Dynasty ruled over Goa between the 10th and 14th centuries. 

It is said that the temple was built by Kadamba queen Kamladevi. It was constructed according to the principles of Hemadpanti architecture, which does not use any binding agent or adhesives. 

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Shivalingam at tambdi surla goa
The Shivalingam in the sanctum at Tambdi Surla is worshipped even today. Pic: Wikipedia

The architectural style is named after its founder Hemand Pandit (1259-1274 CE), who was the prime minister of Seuna Yadavas of Devagiri. Because of the use of this architectural style, some credit the temple to Hemand Pandit. While some say the temple has been built using basalt brought from the Deccan Plateau, others say that grey-black soapstone is the primary material.

For constructing the Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple, the stones were precisely cut by skilled masons and placed on top of each other to maintain structural integrity without using any mortar or adhesives.

The temple consists of garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum or shrine), antarala (foyer) and a pillared Nandi mandapa. The mandapa has balustrade entrances on three sides with a seating arrangement. Four pillars embellished with fine carvings of elephants and chains support the stone ceiling, which is decorated with intricately carved lotus flowers of ashtakon (octagon) variety.

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water stream tambdi surla
Water stream next to the Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple, Goa. Pic: Flickr

The Shiva lingam is mounted on a pedestal inside the inner sanctum. 

Locals believe that a huge king cobra has been living in the temple premises for ages. However, no sighting has been reported.

According to the Archaeological Survey of India or ASI, the antarala and sanctum of the temple resemble the Kalleshwara Temple at Balambi in Dharwad, and the Jain temple at Belagavi. The outer wall of the sanctum is made using a perforated stone lattice screen and is suggestive of the strong influence of Hoysala art. It has Devakoshta or subordinate deities carved on it.

Nestled at the foothills of the Western Ghats, Tambdi Surla is about 18 km from the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary gate. It is now frequently visited by tourists as well as local picnickers because of its greenery, serenity and the temple’s historical importance. Some more pictures here:

stone work on the ceiling
Carvings of octagonal lotuses on the ceiling of the temple. Pic: Wikipedia
basalt rock tambdi surla
Stone carvings at the Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple. Pic: Flickr
elephant tambdi surla
The symbol of the Kadamba kingdom, an elephant trampling a horse, is carved at the base of one of the columns of the temple. Pic: Shankar S/Flickr

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