The unique ‘Bot Devi sculptures of Sattari’
by Pratima Kamat
GEOGRAPHICAL and historical factors have crafted a maritime identity for Goa that is visible from the coast to the sub-ghat region. A unique aspect of this maritime heritage is the boat motif carved on the Devi sculptures found away from the coast, located against the backdrop of the towering Sahyadris, in remote villages of Sattari, nestling along the banks of River Mhadei (and its tributaries).
The River Mhadei flows through Sattari, whose etymological roots have been traced, amongst other interpretations, to Sateri, the predominant female deity of Goal I he Mhadei, as the Mandovi is known in its upper reaches, has contributed in no mean measure to the economic sustenance and cultural ethos of Sattari. Hence, it is hailed as the ‘Great Mother’.
Sattari is particularly noted for the worship of female deities such as Sateri-Shantadurga, Kelbai-Gajalaxmi, Brahmani, Bhagvati, Mahishasuramardini and the Saptamatrikas. Here, Sateri/Shantadurga, the mother-goddess associated with fertility, also becomes the protector deity, Mahishasuramardini.
The Mhadei not only promoted agriculture and cultural interactions, but also sustained trade with the up-Ghat country and the coastal ports. In times of yore, Sattari, located in the lap of the Western Chats, had served as a vital commercial link between the up-Ghat Belgaum-Khanapur region and the ports of Chandrapur, Gopakapattana and Ella.
It is no wonder, then, that the sculptures of the Devi in a boat are located in the remote interiors of Sattari, sprinkled along the banks of the Mhadei, from Bondir to Ganjem.
Three images of Mahishasuramardini-in-a-boat have been identified so far. During my field work, chiefly along the left bank of the Mhadei, I was able to locate these images and several more, lying either inside a Sateri/Shantadurga temple or in the open, weather-beaten, subjected to the vagaries of nature amidst lush greenery.
Most ‘Boat Devis’ are ashtabhuja Mahishasuramardinis who are either seated in or standing on a boat A buffalo is depicted on some sculptures, while on others it is a lion, resembling the emblem of the Goa Kadamba rulers. She is generally venerated in the Sateri/Shantadurga temple, in the company of other deities, including Gajalaxmi, Brahmani, Saptamatrikas and warrior male deities. The images have been carved on schist stone and exhibit a strong local influence. In most of these sculptures human heads are shown in the boat, with boatmen on either side of it.
At Zarrne, which is famous for the worship of the Saptamatrikas, I came across a unique Gajalaxmi sculpture inside an ancient shrine which depicts a boat as a howdah, carrying two riders, on the back of an elephant. Then there is an unnamed goddess in the Ganjeshwari temple who is seated on a fish-shaped boat or a fish.
Stylistically, these sculptures may be dated to the Chalukya-Shilahara-Kadamba period, with two images, in particular belonging to the Goa Kadambas as suggested by the simhalanchan that they proudly display.
This unique ‘Boat Devi’/ ‘Maritime’ Mahishasuramardini of the Mhadei is, indeed, the Great a syncretic vision of the Shakti of the Mhadei River Valley, the syncretic saviour ‘Tarini’. (The writer is a lecturer at Goa University.)