Goa – The roads less travelled

Away from the beaches of Goa, nestled within the verdant forests of western ghats, lie the hidden treasures of Goa's distant past.

Goa – The roads less travelled

The western coastal state of Goa is famous for its beaches brimming with water sports along with its numerous churches such as the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Catholic Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, Chapel of Saint Francis Xavier and the Church of Saint Cajetan. Goa’s vastly rich Hindu heritage has mostly been ignored as the urban areas get most of the attention.

Goa was under the colonial Portuguese rule for around 450 years, even after India got its independence from the British in 1947. It had to be forcibly freed from the clutches of the Portuguese and became an integral part of India only in 1961. It remained a Union Territory till 1987. It may be a new state but the fact remains that Goa is as ancient as the Indic civilisation and is a treasure trove of heritage sites. The oldest have been dated to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic period with some of the earliest traces of human settlements.  

Usgalimol Rock engravings (Petroglyphs at Pansaimol)

These petroglyphs are etched into the river bed of Kushavati River on laterite rock. The site is just outside the Usgalimal village (near Pansaimol village), around 18 km south of Rivona in Sanguem Taluka of the South Goa district. The path to the site is not obvious at first but there are red markers maintained by the State Archaeology Department that guides the visitor to the site. Due to its remoteness, it was hidden from and was only rediscovered in 1993 by a team of heritage experts, who recognised its importance.

These carvings are situated right on the river bed and get submerged every monsoon when the river is in spate. It was discovered with heavy siltation and now it is cleared regularly to ensure that these carvings are visible when not underwater. The location and frequent submergence create difficulties in actual dating. The estimates are based on the similarities of patterns at the other locations. The dates assigned by various experts vary between 8000 BCE to 1500 BCE, although there is a school of thought which believes that it may be really old, dating back 20,000 years or even more.

(The laterite bedrock next to the river Kushavati)

Petroglyphs are found throughout the world and help disclose the areas of ancient human settlements. The ancient humans had an artistic and spiritual flair that is visible from cave paintings and rock engravings found at various regions in the world. Figures of indigenous animals, humans in hunting scenes, symbols, and abstract markings are the common symbols. The most intriguing carvings on rock faces and rock floors are the labyrinths or the geometric maze depictions. Labyrinths formed with concentric circles have been found at Winnemucca Lake in Nevada and Casa Grande in Arizona, both in the USA, Maui in Hawaii, Mexico, Peru, Val Camonica in Italy, France, Ireland, England, Scandinavia, Crete, Sumeria, Egypt, India and many other places across the globe. What is most significant about these circular labyrinths is that they are all very similar to each other despite being so far away from each other. From rock surfaces, these symbols reached homes of people in the form of pottery art and symbols on coins and even places of worship.

The ancient humans appear to have been in touch with those at a distance maybe through migrations on land or via the seas and oceans as these ancient labyrinths found across the globe strongly purport this understanding. The 7-circuit Labyrinth at Pansaimol is a sight to behold which researchers claim are spiritual symbols. It may denote the journey through life- a path that leads to the centre and then out again as a new birth. The maze is made in such a way that one can easily find a way to the centre and out again. It is to be noted that petroglyph experts from across the globe have identified the Pansaimol Labyrinth as one of the oldest labyrinth carvings in the world.

(The 7 circuit labyrinth at Pansaimol)

Not far from the labyrinth, there is a very clear depiction of a deer facing a humped bull. The etching is deep. It appears as if the two are in conversation.

(A deer and a Bull)

One etching appears to depict a bison due to the heavy hump above the comparably small head and strong torso.

(Bison)

Another area has a herd depicted as it seems to walking together towards the riverfront to quench their thirst. This area must have been home to many wild and domesticated animals as is evident from the engravings. This area is still full of lush greenery although animals have gone down in number.

One of the first petroglyphs to catch the eye on reaching this area is the peacock. The crest above its head, a long neck, full plumage and long legs all come together to form this magnificent bird.

(A peacock)

How can rock art be complete without the depiction of the maker! A man with outstretched arms and legs has been etched on the floor. No embellishments are seen. Just the outline of a human.

(A man)

Another intriguing etching is the pair of giant feet just near the water tank. This again could have had spiritual significance as it depicts a form that is much bigger and more powerful than the humans.

(Giant feet)

The journey from the town of Goa to Pansaimol is not easy as the roads are rugged at many places, but the greenery at Pansaimol along the cool scenic Kushavati River is a rejuvenating force. One can spend some time sitting in the shade and feeling the cool breeze while contemplating the significance of these ancient human endeavours that have lasted thousands of years. There is a narrow bridge made out of thin logs that helps villagers to cross the river. It is a very serene and beautiful locale.

(Kushavati River)

About Author: Ruchi Pritam

Ruchi is a History and Law Graduate from Delhi University with an MBA from Madras University. She is a Bank-empaneled lawyer and has taught at several MBA institutions as a visiting faculty. She has always had a fascination for Indian art, temples and culture that has led her to travel and write on the various architectural wonders of India. She believes that making one connect with the ancient roots through an understanding of heritage brings one closer to others. After all, humans are one big family.

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