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Goa's Golden Age

In 1623, the pope went so far as to allow the "Brahman Catholics" to wear their sacred thread and caste marks. This seems an extraordinary concession, almost an admission of defeat. But Hinduism, challenged successively by Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, is nothing if not tenacious. When a viceregal decree in 1567 called for the destruction of all Hindu temples, and forbade the practice of Hinduism, some unconverted Hindus smuggled out the idols from the temples and set them up across the Zuari River, just outside the old conquests, so that they could still be visited by the devout.

The 18th century was a time of Hindu consolidation in what are now the neighboring states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, and many of the idols were elaborately reinstalled. By the time the Portuguese acquired the wooded valleys in the hinterland where about 50 of these the idols from the temples and set them up across the Zuari River, just outside the old conquests, so that they could still be visited by the devout.

The 18th century was a time of Hindu consolidation in what are now the neighboring states of Maharashtraand Karnataka, and many of the idols were elaborately reinstalled. By the time the Portuguese acquired the wooded valleys in the hinterland where about 50 of these "refugee" idols had been carefully hidden, the religious fervor was gone and the new temples were allowed to stand. Goa followed the rest of India in developing a syncretic culture of which both Hindus and Christians partook, one that depended not on coercion but on the unselfconscious interplay of cultures.

Of the more prominent temples built at that time, Mangesh lies north of the town of Ponda, on the national highway leading to the city of Old Goa. Like many other temples in the region, it was built by Goan masons and craftsmen trained by two centuries of Portuguese church-building. And so, instead of the tower over the sanctuary with the Shiva lingam, there is a dome; on top of the dome there is a cylindrical European-style lantern quite like that of the St. Cajetan church in Old Goa. The roof is tiled and steep. Separate from the main buildingstands a seven-storied lamp tower with multiple columns and pilasters, and it is with the same astonishment of coming across a cathedral in a temple courtyard that you recognize its resemblance to Baroque church towers. The large water tank outside seems the only wholly indigenous element in this unparalleled fusion of Hindu and Christian styles.

In the far north of Goa, beyond the beaches of Anjuna and Chapora where old hippies still hang out, lies the village of Siolim, where I went one evening to meet Remo, one of the more well-known and original rock musicians in India. Remo, a short dark man with boyish looks that conceal well his 49 years, was standing on the wide porch of his old bungalow when I arrived. There was no power; Remo hadn't been able to work on his new album that day. But he was used to these Indian deprivations, he said as we walked through the dark house to the long garden at the back; he had worked without a phone for most of his career.

Remo could remember being given a recording of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" by a cousin from London. He started composing songs when he was just 14. The Beatles were an influence, and he grew very excited when I told him that a friend had seen Paul McCartney on a South Goa beach the previous day. It was George Harrison's interest in Indian music that first led Remo to the sitar and the fusion music he later came to produce. "This is what colonialism does to you," he said. "You discover your own traditions through the West."

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