Sawant government woke up 400 years too late

The grand scheme of the government to restore temples destroyed by the Portuguese has come a cropper with no one forwarding any claim
Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)
Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)Pic courtesy: Iris Gomes

In December last year, on the occasion of Liberation Day, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had announced that his government would allot Rs 20 crore for the restoration of temples destroyed by the Portuguese.

Nearly a year has passed and the government has failed to identify a single site or shrine destroyed or demolished during colonial rule.

Initially the government’s army of bureaucrats scoured through the archives to glean out evidence of sites destroyed by the Portuguese, but failed. Then an appeal was made to the general public to make claims, appeals and what not.

Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)
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Three days back Minister for Archives and Archaeology Subhash Phal Dessai told the media that no one had come forward with documentary evidence to identify such sites.

Instead, the department received several requests for restoration of existing temples and shrines. Now it finds itself in a bit of a quandary.

How or why this scheme was floated by the Sawant government is a bit of a mystery. One had assumed that Sawant had already received such requests and had hence decided to formulate a scheme or policy to tackle it.

Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)
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Then, it also seemed like a plan to rake up history to consolidate the BJP vote bank, on the false assumption that all members of the minority community were Portuguese supporters and those of the majority community were anti-Portuguese.

History does not show this to be true, but then how many in the Sawant government actually know their history?

When the Portuguese first came to Goa, religious persecution followed. Conversions were forced and laws were made to ensure that the process was hastened.

Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)
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Entire communities were converted, temples were destroyed, churches were built and temple land handed to church authorities. Deities were shifted overnight to safer places outside the Old Conquests.

People migrated to avoid conversion, while some stayed back and accepted the Gods of the Portuguese as their own.

Today, there are scholars who go out of their way to prove that the conversions were benign and willing. The Cuncolim Revolt alone shows that the case was otherwise.

Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)
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And the scattering of people of Goan origin in Karnataka and Kerala point to a different version of history. Also, the belief of forced conversion in the Catholic community in Goa points to an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation.

However, this is history. The destruction of shrines is so far in the distant past that it is accepted and assimilated as something that does not need to be and cannot be changed.

What emerged from this common history is a deep respect for each other’s religious practices on the understanding that we all have the same roots. That is why Milagres Sabinn of Mapusa is believed to be the sister of Goddess Lairai of Shirgao. This has become the basis for Goa’s envied communal harmony.

Shantadurga Temple in Ponda. (For representational purpose only)
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Given this background, it appears that Pramod Sawant woke up 400 years too late to restore temples and shrines destroyed by the Portuguese.

The fact that members of the majority community do not want or cannot find evidence of what the Sawant government hopes to find, is proof that this scheme should be either closed or modified to facilitate repairs and restoration of existing shrines and temples.   

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