Location: 28-km Southeast of Panjim, Goa
Main Attractions: Sri Mangesh Temple, Sri Mahalasa Temple & Safa Mosque
Significance: Administrative Headquarters & The Main Market Town
Ponda can be described as the Hindu heart of Goa. It is famous for the five important temples that are situated around the town, and also has the largest mosque I n Goa. Most of these temples look relatively new as they have been restored after being destroyed by the Portuguese. That explains why there are no temples around the coast, which was the prime territory of the Portuguese. Ponda is also an important transport link.
Safa Mosque: Adil Shah constructed the Safa Mosque (also known as Safa Shahouri Masjid) in 1560. The architectural style of the mosque is predominantly Goan, with the exception of the arches that indicate a distinct Bijapuri influence. The mosque has a beautiful backdrop of wooded low hills that rise in the background.
TEMPLES AROUND PONDA: Scattered among the lush valleys and forests around Ponda are a dozen or so Hindu temples founded during the 17th centuries, when this hilly region was a Christian free haven for Hindus fleeing persecution by the Portuguese. Although the temples themselves are fairly modern by Indian standards, their deities are ancient and held in high esteem by both local people and thousands of pilgrims from Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The temples are concentrated in two main clusters: the first to the north of Ponda, on the busy NH4, and the second deep in the countryside, around 5 km west of the town. Most people only manage the Shri Manguesh and Shri Mahalsa, between the villages of Mardol and Priol. Among the most interesting temples in the state, they lay just a stone's throw from the main highway and are passed by regular buses between Panjim and Margao via Ponda. The others are farther off the beaten track, although they are not hard to find on motorbikes: locals will wave you in the right direction if you get lost.
Sri Mangesh Temple: The 18th century, Sri (also spelt as Shri) Mangesh (also spelt as Manguesh) Temple, lies on the north west of Ponda in Priol. Considered to be the most important temple in Goa, it belongs to the typical Goan Hindu temple style of architecture, which is a curious mix of the Hindu and Portuguese style. This picturesque little temple is built on a hilltop amidst sprawling farmlands. The temple has shrines of Parvati (consort of Shiva - Destroyer of the Universe) and Ganesha (the elephant-god of Prosperity and Wisdom). A beautiful seven-storeyed "Deepstambha" (lamp tower), typical of Goan temple architecture, stands in the temple complex.
Mahalasa Narayani Temple: 2-km from the Shri Mangesh Temple, is the Mahalsa Narayani Temple. The Vishnu (Preserver of the Universe) Temple is known for the 'Garuda' pillar (the half-man half-eagle vehicle of Lord Vishnu), which stands on the back of a turtle with Garuda perched on top of it. The temple also has a "Deepstambha", and finely carved columns depicting the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Nagesh Temple: The Nagesh Temple is situated 4-km west of Ponda. 'Nagesh' (also spelt as Naguesh) or the 'God of Serpents' refers to Lord Shiva (Destroyer of the Universe). The temple was built in 1413. The 'Mandapa' (an assembly hall, generally pillared, preceding the sanctum sanatorium) has woodcarvings that narrate stories from the Hindu epics - 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata'. The temple compound also houses a five-storeyed "Deepstambha". Not far from the Nagesh Temple, is located the Mahalakshmi Temple, dedicated to Goddess Durga (the Goddess of War). According to the date inscribed in Marathi on the temple, the monument could have been built in 1413.
Shantadurga Temple: Set amidst tranquill forests and hills, the Shantadurga Temple lies 3-km from Ponda in Queula. Shantadurga, one of the consorts of Shiva, is a form of Durga (the Goddess of War) and the Goddess of Peace. Legend has it that once; the Destroyer and the Preserver had a mammoth fight that plunged the entire universe into chaos. Shantadurga stepped in as the arbitrator and succeeded in reconciling the warring parties, thus saving the universe from eternal doom. Hence, she stands in the temple shrine in between Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu (Preserver of the Universe) as a symbol of peace.
The Shantadurga Temple was built in 1738, and is the biggest temple in Goa. A distinctive six-storeyed Deepstambha and 'Ratha' (chariot) with some gilt work adorn the temple grounds. It is interesting to note that amongst some other features of the temple, the dome shows a definite influence of Church architecture.
HOW TO GET THERE
Road: Ponda is served by regular buses from Panjim and Margao, and lies on the main route east to Karnataka. The Kadamba Bus Stand is on the main square, next to the auto-rickshaw rank.