Why Damodar is Lord Shiva only in Goa
If the names of all the males living in Hindu households in Margao and surrounding areas were to be surveyed, Damodar, or its shorter version, Damu, would, in all probability, emerge as the most popular one. This trend is seen as an offshoot of the devotion the residents of Margao have for the deity, Shree Damodar, an idol of whom has been housed at a temple in Zambaulim ever since it relocation to escape the Portuguese inquisition.
The name, Damodar, is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘dam’ (cord) and ‘udhar’ (belly), and signifies the cord that Lord Krishna’s mother tied to his waist to keep him in check when he was little.
But, while Hindu mythology and the rest of the country recognizes Damodar to be Lord Krishna’s alternative name, in Goa, Shree Damodar is worshipped as Shiva, the principal god of the Hindu Brahmin sect of Shaivism. This is interesting, given the fact that Krishna, as per popular Hindu mythology, is actually a reincarnation of the Lord Vishnu, the principal deity of the rival sect, Vaishnavism.
Across South India, the rivalry between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites was even cause for violent episodes, especially during the Chola period. Both sects traditionally believe in opposing philosophies. While Shaivites regard Lord Shiva’s asceticism as the ultimate state to achieve, for Vaishnavites, Lord Vishnu represents the fine balance between fulfilling worldly duties and attaining divine goals simultaneously.
But in Goa, the two sects merge seamlessly. In fact, the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, who call Lord Damodar of Zambaulim their the ‘kuldevata’ (family deity), actually belong to the Vaishnavite sect.
Researchers point out that Shree Damodar became synonymous with the Shaivite god only in Goa due to the intermingling of the Vaishnavite and Shaivite sects over the years.
“Damodar is worshipped in Goa in the form of linga at Zambauali in Quepem taluka and Ravalnath is also worshipped in the form of linga in some Goan villages. This goes to indicate that harmony prevailed among the Vaishnavites and Shaivites,” writes V R Mitragotri in his paper for the book, ‘Essays in Goan History’, edited by Teotonio R de Souza.
Scholar V P Chavan in the book, ‘Vaishnavism of the Goud Saraswat Brahmins and a Few Konkani Folklore Tales’, states, “Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, who were originally Smartas and followers of God Shiva, would not cut themselves altogether from the worship of God Shiva, even when they were converted to Vaishnavism generations and generations ago. There is practically no difference, either in the form of worship or ceremonies performed in the temples connected to both the sects.”
Besides Margao and Zambaulim, Lord Damodar is also revered in Vasco, which celebrates the week-long Saptah during the month of Shravan in the deity’s honour. It is believed that in the late 19th century, Vasco was affected by a plague and that a prayer to the deity in Margao was able to rid the town of the disease, leading to the annual celebration that has been held ever since.
Chavan states that when the Vaishnavite religious leader, Madhavacharya, visited Goa, he gained a large number of followers as he was not opposed to the simultaneous worship of Lord Shiva. “This is why Gaud Saraswat Brahmins never left their old Shaivite family gods such as Ramnath, Nagesh and Ravalnath, nor the Shakta goddess, Mahalsa,” he writes.
The Vaishnavites in Goa did not even establish a separate ‘math’ (religious place) till some 200 years after Madhavacharya’s passing away, Chavan states.
The chief family deities of the Shaivites are Shree Mangesh, Shree Shantadurga and Shree Saptakoteshwar. Those belonging to the Vaishnavite sect are Shree Nagesh, Shree Ramnath, Shree Mahalaxmi, Shree Mahalsa, Shree Laxmi Narsingh. Kamaksha and Damodar are also among other well-known Vaishnavite temples. But all the later deities are ‘shiv swarupi’. Many of these temples, in fact, contain a shivlingam with the sacred bull in front, practically worshipped as Shiva deities. Their consorts, Mahalaxmi and Mahalasa are also God Shiva’s ‘shaktis’ or consorts,” states Chavan.