THE TOWN OF FONDA is a busy commercial centre, and its main sight is the Safa Shahouri Mosque, 2 km (1.3 miles) to the west. Built by Ibrahim Adil Shah (a successor of Yusuf Adil Shah) in 1560, it is a rectangular structure, with window arches, topped by a slanting tiled roof. A ritual tank to the south has the same designs as those on the mihrabs (arched niches). Fonda also lends its name to the taluka (sub-district) of the same name, which is renowned for its numerous Hindu temples, tucked away in thick forests. As the Portuguese expanded their territory in central Goa, they destroyed over 550 temples. Hindu priests fled with their religious artifacts to regions that lay outside Portuguese control, especially the area around Fonda town, where they built new temples in the 17th and 18th centuries.
More than half of Goa’s population is Hindu, and Goan temples, unlike those elsewhere in India, are a fascinating blend of European Baroque, Muslim and Hindu architectural styles. Their basic plan remains Hindu, but often Muslim domes replace the usual shikharer (spires) over the main sanctum, and the prayer halls are decorated with ornate European chandeliers.
Shantadurga Templer 3 km (2 miles) southwest of Ponds at Quela, is Goa’s most popular shrine. Built by Shahu, the grandson of the Maratha chief Shivaji the russet and cream coloured temple has an unusual pagoda-style roof, dominated by a five-storeyed octagonal lamp tower, unique to Goa. Grand chandeliers hang from the gilded roof in the huge central hall, and embossed silver screens shield the main sanctuary, which holds the silver deity of Shantadurga (a form of Shiva’s consort Farvati), brought from Mormugau taluka. Also of interest are the huge rather (chariots) that are used during the Jatra in January. The Shri Ramnath Temple, a short walk away, is noted for the grand silver screen embossed with animal and floral motifs, in front of its sanctum. Its linga , originally from Loutolim is worshipped by devotees of both Be Shiva and Vishnu. The Shri Nagueshi Temple, 4 km (2.5 miles) west of Ponda at Bandora, dates to 1780, though a temple may have stood here earlier. Built for the worship of Nagesh (Shiva as Lord of the Serpents), it is one of the oldest temples in this region. Its entrance loll has carved wooden friezes depicting scenes from the epics Ramciyana and Mahabbharata.
The 18th-century Slid Lakshmi Narasimha Temple is situated in Velinga village, 5 km (3 miles) northwest of Fonda. Its majestic image of Narasimha, Vishnu’s man-lion incarnation was brought here from Mormugao in the 1560s. Surrounded by forest, it is one of Goa’s most attractive temples, with-a sacred tank and an elaborate gateway. A tower standing close by houses the temple’s musicians during the annual Jatra festival, held here in May.
Dedicated to Vishnu, the Shri Mahalsa Temple is 7 km (4 miles) northwest of Fonda, in Mardol village. The main deity (either a female form of Vishnu or his consort Lakshmi) was taken from Verna. The temple’s distinguishing feature is an exceptionally tall brass pillar, 21 tiers in all, rising from a figure of Kurma (Vishnu’s incarnation as a turtle), with Garuda (his vehicle) perched on top. The pillar symbolizes Mount Kailasa which, according to Hindu mythology, was placed on Karma’s hack and was used to churn the primordial ocean. The original shrine is a wooden structure with a sloping roof, and the entrance porches have carvings of musicians and intricately carved pillars, while the central part of the ceiling is raised, with painted images of gods set in niches. A short distance to the northwest, at Friol, lies Goa’s wealthiest temple, the 18thcentury Sari Mangesh Temple, dedicated to Shiva. The courtyard has a sacred tulsi (basil) plant growing in a bright green urn, a characteristic Goan feature.
There is a large sacred tank and a sevenstoreyed lamp tower. Dance-dramas are performed here during the Jatra festivities in April and May. A vividly painted elephant on wheels stands at the entrance to the white and yellow temple. Inside, 19thcentury Belgian chandeliers hang from the ceiling, while the main sanctum has a linga transferred from Mormugao. The childhood home of Lata Mangeshkar (h.1929), India’s most famous singer of film songs, was near the temple.
About 4 km (2.5 miles) northeast of Ponda town, near the village of Khandepar, is a cluster of Hindu Rockcut Caves from the 10th-13th centuries, with carved lotus decorations on the ceiling, simple door frames and niches for oil lamps. A few spice gardens that grow aromatic spices such as cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, make interesting day trips from Fonda. The Pascoal Plantation, 8 km (5 miles) east, and the Savoi Spice Garden at Savoi Verem, 12 km (7 miles) north, are easy to reach.