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Goa’s temple restoration drive brings back scars from the Colonial Era

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Although bulldozers in Goa are not the main focus, it is possible for old Portuguese colonists’ scars to be seen resurfacing in this peaceful holiday state.

Pramod Sawant, the Chief Minister, proposed in his budget speech this fiscal year to earmark Rs20 crore for the restoration of temples damaged during the Portuguese colonial period. It sparked a debate in state about a subject that its residents had often dismissed as an unfortunate savagery in a past age.

Nearly 26 percent of the state’s population are Catholics. However, both faiths have lived in relative harmony for centuries.

The state government has yet to develop a policy to identify temples that were damaged in the early Portuguese occupation of Goa. However, the Adil Shah of Bijapur, who ruled the region at the time, was defeated by Portuguese forces in 1510. According to Subhash Phaldesai (Goa’s Archives & Archaeology Minister Subhash Phaldesai), only sites that aren’t disputed will be restored by his Ministry.

“What’s the opposition to restoring an area where there is not controversy or dispute? Phaldesai stated that if there is a dispute, it can be resolved. There are mechanisms to keep law and order.

A series of attacks on temples in Goa occurred before the Portuguese arrived. These assaults date back to an era when the region, once a prosperous port city known for its lucrative trade, was still under the control of the Adil Shah kingdom.

“Goa’s earliest mosques were constructed in the 14th and fifteenth centuries C.E. as a result of Muslim occupations at this important trade port. According to Timothy Walker’s research paper titled “Contesting Sacred Space In the Estado Da India: Asserting Cultural Predominance over Religious Sites” (Contesting Sacred Space, Estado da India), the Portuguese arrived in Goa in a time of conflict and fluctuation in religious power.

“With each new oscillation the victors would assert themselves religiously by supplanting religious buildings. The destruction of temples is nothing new in India. This was a tool of conquest, dominance, long before Europeans arrived to South Asia. Such acts remain politically charged and culturally relevant in India today.

“Because they had previously experienced the destruction of sacred sites by invaders for political purposes, the Goan population may have instantly understood that the Portuguese destructions mosques and temples was just another example in a ‘legible Grammar’ of cultural/political domination.

The Portuguese destroyed more than 300 temples during their early incursions into Goa. This forced the Portuguese colonists to relocate temples out of reach in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Opposition has criticised the drumming of temple restoration rhetoric at a time that the state witnessed a clash of two religious groups this month on Ram Navami.

“There is a systematic pattern in which communal hatred and venom are being spread amongst the communities. Goa is not an exception. The recent statements by Goa Chief Minister show the direction given to the party high command,” Rahul Mahambre, ex-state convenor of Aam Aadmi Party, stated.

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