What you didn’t know about Bhagwati plateau in Canacona

With its rich biodiversity and unique traditions, the region is culturally and ecologically entwined with the land and its people. But now, it is under threat..
In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.
In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.Photo: Arti Das

Goa is an ecological diverse place, with forests and beaches, plateaus and wetlands. All these spaces are very important from an environmental point of view and, thus, need protection from habitat loss as they are critical in nature.

Plateaus are one such example, and are generally termed ‘barren lands’ as they do not have thick vegetation or forest cover. But, that’s a very wrong notion. They are biodiversity hotspots which are reservoirs of our water bodies, flora (mostly endemic) and fauna.

In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.
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The recent news of the Communidade of Loliem-Polem, Canacona, granting 250 acres of Bhagwati plateau land to the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG) to set up a film city, and 494 acres area to WAPCOS Limited to set up a wind solar hybrid park, is shocking!

This only shows that how the concerned authorities and citizens, in general, are not aware about this ecologically sensitive place.

Bhagwati plateau wears a carpet of green during the monsoons.
Bhagwati plateau wears a carpet of green during the monsoons.Photo: Arti Das

Experts state that digging the plateau even for planting trees is not advisable. Thus, having mega projects on such plateaus is no less than a death knell for the villages of Loliem and Poinguinim.

BHAGWATI PLATEAU BIODIVERSITY

Plateaus are home to endemic species of plants and some are very rare. Scientists claim that plateaus in Goa have more endemic plant species compared to that present in forests.

In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.
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Since plateaus look barren for around 8 months in a year, people think they are always barren. But, that is far from the truth. Plateaus have 26 different micro-habits and each of them has different types of plants growing there.

This is best seen during the monsoon season, in the month of September, when the rain subsides, and plateaus can be seen blooming with wildflowers.

Bhagwati Temple at Loliem, Canacona on Bhagwati plateau.
Bhagwati Temple at Loliem, Canacona on Bhagwati plateau.Photo: Arti Das

The Bhagwati plateau is filled with colourful flowers on beds of laterite stones of the plateau. It is particularly known for insectivorous plants like the Drosera Indica (which traps small ants in its tentacles), Drocera burmanii, Utricularia malabarica—this species is endemic to the laterite plateaus of the Western Ghats.

Recently, in the year 2022, a new species of a plant called Eriocaulon goaense was also discovered here in the shallow seasonal ponds of the plateau.

In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.
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Other flowers include Silver Cockscomb (Celosia argentea), Little Persian Violet (Exacum pumilum), Little Tree Plant (Biophytum sensitivum), Buttonhead Pipewort (Eriocaulon heterolepis), Tiger claws or Glory Lily (Gloriosa suoerba), which is also known for its medicinal properties.

In winter, a variety of wild grasses add beauty to this place. These grasses also have  ecological significance.

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

The Bhagwati plateau, which sits atop of two villages of Canacona, has much cultural significance.

It is named after the Hindu goddess, who resides here, and locals believe that she selected this location due to its serene and quiet surroundings. She is the protector deity, who looks after the plateau, the villagers and also their fields and livestock.

Along with the temple deity, the tiger is also worshipped at the Bhagwati Temple.
Along with the temple deity, the tiger is also worshipped at the Bhagwati Temple.Photo: Arti Das

There’s a small temple here where this goddess is worshipped. Along with this deity, the idol of tiger (locally called vaghro) is worshipped as a secondary deity along with Lord Ganesha. This is yet another example of tiger worship in Goa.

A small cave near the temple is believed to be the location where a tiger lives – indicating that this place is a tiger habitat and in need of immediate conservation.

In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.
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The temple, which is closed for most of the year, comes alive in the month of January on the day of full moon, Paushya Punav, when villagers trek up to the plateau to celebrate the festival.

They even cook in the temple during the festival and by evening, all villagers leave the plateau as it is believed that no one should stay there after dusk. This year, it was on January 25, 2024.

In winter, Bhagwati plateau looks very different compared to its appearance during the monsoons.
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All this cultural significance indicates the importance of these habitats for our ecology and, in turn, for our well-being.

Such ecosystems, in this era of climate change and global warming, are our only hope and need to be protected and conserved at all levels.

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