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Goa’s Unknown Holy Towns

India’s smallest state, Goa is best known for its idyllic beaches. Unknown to most Indian and foreign tourists, Goa is also home to some of the holiest shrines of various faiths. Unfortunately, a lot of these places of spiritual interest remain largely unknown for various reasons.

The reasons

Over 60 percent of Goa has forest cover. Additionally, a large portion of the state is agricultural land. By nature, indigenous people of Goa are peace loving and welcome tourists. However, large influx of workers from neighboring Karnataka and an increase in number of crimes by migrants have led to xenophobia of sorts.

Added to these are environmental concerns and rumors floated by self-styled activists that tourism activities and infrastructure development leads to pollution and consequently, health problems. The state-run Department of Tourism and Goa Tourism Development Corporation continues focusing on attracting traditional sun-and-sand tourism while other excellent avenues implore for attention.

Here we list some locations in Goa of spiritual interest that tourists seldom visit or know little


Located about 24 km from Panaji, the state capital, Sancoale is one of the most significant places of interest to historians and followers of the Roman Catholic faith.

On January 14, 2015, Pope Francis canonized a personality from Goa known as Blessed Father Joseph Vaz. The canonization ceremony was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka were Joseph Vaz was canonized as saint. Today, he is venerated as St. Joseph Vaz, Apostle of Ceylon and Patron Saint of Sri Lanka.

It was in Sancoale that Joseph Vaz, born in Benaulim, Goa on April 21, 1651 and studied in Sancoale. In 1677, he took an oath to serve Mother Mary at Nossa Senhora de Saude Igreja em Sancoale or, Our Lady of Good Health Church of Sancoale. He dedicated himself as ‘Slave of Mother Mary’ and sealed his oath as a document called “Letter of Enslavement.” The oath took Blessed Father Joseph Vaz to Canara (now Karnataka), remote parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and eventually to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) which was then a Dutch colony. St. Joseph Vaz played a pivotal role in spread of Roman Catholic faith in Sri Lanka despite persecution by the Dutch and local rulers. His life story is nothing short of an adventure.

The ancient church of Sancoale was destroyed by invaders and rebuilt by Portuguese. The new church structure houses a crucifix given to him by the Pope Clement XI. A jackfruit tree dating over 350 years old, where the saint played as a kid, remains till date and so does his ancestral house in Sancoale. Though the church now features a statue of Blessed Father Joseph Vaz offering “enslaving” himself to Mother Mary, this shrine is relatively little known outside Goa. An annual feast dedicated to St. Joseph Vaz is held on January 16 every year at Sancoale.


Also called Marcel, Mashellan and Marcella, the town is located about 24km away from Panaji. Unknown to most, Mashel is home to some 26 shrines dedicated to almost every Hindu deity. Mashel has the unique distinction of having the world’s only ancient temple where Lord Krishna is worshipped along with his earthly mother, Devaki. Legends about Lord Krishna also refer to Mashel as Mahashaila.

The Devaki Krishna Temple has several interesting legends. According to one legend, Lord Krishna found abode in Goapakaparbata (now Goa), after leaving Dwarka (in modern day Gujarat) after defeating Jarasandha, the ruler of Magadh. Indeed, this flight from war, where Lord Krishna’s small army was defeated by the stronger one from Magadh, earned him the name Rancchoddas (deserter from war). Lord Krishna is called Ranchhoddas in Gujarat till date.

His earthly mother, Devaki had not heard from Lord Krishna for long and decided to travel to Goapakaparbata the meeting occurred on the island of Chodan. However, Devaki could not recognize Lord Krishna since he had grown up. To convince his earthly mother, he assumed the form of a child, which forced Devaki to carry Krishna in her arms. Devotees of Sri Krishna built an ancient shrine on Chodan Island to commemorate this unique meeting.

Hence, there are two statues in the Devaki Krishna temple- one depicts Devaki carrying Lord Krishna in her arms while another shows him standing before the mother.

Another legend, slightly modern is, when Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama visited the original shrine on Chodan Island. The statue of Devaki Krishna reportedly fell near his feet. Believing it was an idol of Mother Mary, the Portuguese conqueror ordered his soldiers to leave the idol alone.

Some years later, during the Portuguese inquisition of Goa, Roman Catholic inquisitors called for destruction of shrines of other faiths. Portuguese raiders destroyed the original shrine on Chodan Island. However, members of the Saraswat Brahmin clan learned of this imminent attack and fled with the idols of Devaki-Krishna to a Mashel, which was under Maratha rule. They built a temple to house these idols, which stands till date.

St. Augustine Tower, Old Goa

Though known widely as a Roman Catholic monument, the St. Augustine Tower in Old Goa is now a subject of debate among modern-day historians. Archeological evidence points out that the tower and the complex that now stands in ruins was never built by the Portuguese as claimed. And nor was it a Roman Catholic shrine.

Researchers claim, the original site and tower was built by Sultan Yusuf Adel Shah Bahman of Bijapur. This ruler hailed from Iran’s Bahman dynasty. His army consisted of thousands of men from Middle East and North Africa. The original structure, according to historians, has unmistakable traces of Judaism, including a Bar Mikvah well and ancient paintings that are used by Ethiopian Jews till date.

Interestingly the site of ruins of St. Augustine Tower was the location where the 1965 Bollywood thriller, Gumnaam was shot. While tour operators take tourists to the nearby Bom Jesus Basilica where mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier are kept, they skip St. Augustine’s Tower.

Much more

There are several lesser and unknown places of spiritual interest in Goa. Research to uncover facts of shrines and these ancient places continues with efforts of private researchers, foreign organizations and the Archeological Survey of India.

How it began?

My interest in Sancoale was aroused when my Filipina companion bought a packet of local sweets at Panaji bus stand. The plastic wrapper indicated, the manufacturer was based in Sancoale. The name rang a bell as I searched my memory to relate with it. A driver from Kadamba Transport Corporation elucidated me about the religious significance of Sancoale. Further quizzing led me to Mashel.

Goa for Cheap

Goa can be a rather pricey destination for any traveler. The state ranks among the top 10 seaside destinations of the world. However, considerable savings on our trip were made possible due to coupons I procured online. These coupons from MakeMyTrip allowed us to get hefty discounts airfares as well as accommodation at some top hotels in Goa.

Should you wish to travel to Goa during peak tourism season, which run from mid-October every year to mid-May of the following year, try availing online reservations for air, bus and rail tickets? You can also grab excellent discounts on star-rated hotels and resorts at popular locations in Goa.

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