Goan Temples

“When one speaks of the Goan temples as an architecture type, one does not refer to all the temples in today’s Goa, but only those temples that are chronologically Goan”. This was written by Amita Kanekar, inspired by Paulo Varela Gomes’ definition of ‘Goan Church’ for the Portuguese-era churches of Goa.

Goa’s temple architecture reflects a diverse range of styles and cultural heterogeneity, influenced by the Portuguese presence in Goa, which spanned over five centuries. This can heavily be seen in Sri Shantadurga Temple at Kavalem.

Sri Shantadurga Temple, Kavalem
Sri Shantadurga Temple, Kavalem around 1900
© Souza & Paul (Central Library Archives)

However, it is important to note that prior to 1510, temples in Goa belonged to various religious formations. Notably, the Sri Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla (Karnataka Dravidian) stands as a remarkable survivor from the 11th century, built during the Kadamba rule, who were vassals of the Chalukyas. In the 16th century, numerous temples were destroyed, including 280 temples over a span of one year in Salcette. The ease and method of their destruction, which involved burning and dismantling, suggest the use of lightweight materials like wood and thatch in their construction. Supporting this notion, 19th century images depict smaller temples adorned with thatched roofs and wooden pillars, further emphasising the prevalence of such light materials.

Temple of Shri Lakhanewhar, Agonda
Temple of Shri Lakhanewhar, Agonda.
Old Wooden structure, protected by an outer shell of concrete.


Goan Temples are a combination of the following:

  • Basic temple layout
  • Sweeping entrance steps
  • Grand doorway in a decorated wall
  • Pillared hall with stout circular pillars holding up an ornate wooden ceiling
  •  Square unventilated garba-kud (Sanctum) fronted by a porch
  • Anteroom (or two)
  • Renaissance Basilican floor plans (Similar to Goan Churches)
  • The larger ‘Typical temple’ often had an ambulatory corridor around it.
  • They were also often seen with prominent side porches resulting in the type of plan that was similar to Renaissance Basilican floor plan.
  • European Renaissance
  • The temples were built in plastered laterite, brightly painted, and picked out with pilasters, cornices, balustrades and window forms.
  • Archways for entrances, windows and niches may be round-headed Renaissance ones, Bijapur ones, or foliated Mughal ones.
  • Bijapur
  • Domes that topped the Sanctum tower
  • Santum Tower – An octagonal tower treated with arched niches and a balustrade railing.
  • Onion shaped arches and Pillars.
  • Lamp Towers – Reminiscent of Goan church towers and corner towers seen in Bijapur architecture.
  • Adilshahi Goan mosque
    • Stepped tank
    • Agrashalas

The combination of these diverse influences and architectural vocabularies, along with mughal architecture and local influences, resulted in the creation of a distinctive architectural style by the late 19th century, extending its influence not only in Goa but also beyond its borders. As a result, the Goan temple emerged as a unique architectural type deserving recognition in its own right. Unfortunately, as temples lack protection under heritage or conservation laws, this type of architectural style is rapidly disappearing. 


  • Traditional Shikara – Traditionally seen in a stepped pyramid form in Dravidian temples, it was replaced by a dome resting on an octogonal base or drum, in Goan temples. It became a feature as early as the Vijayanagar occupation in the 14th CE, and was rarely seen outside Goa.
    • The design of temple towers was influenced to some extent by European architecture, specifically by the churches in Velha Goa, such as the Se Cathedral (1562-1623) and the Church of St. Cajetan (1656-1661). These European structures had an impact on the design of temple towers.
    • The development of temple towers eventually led to the creation of the remarkable double-storeyed tower of the Shantadurga temple, constructed in 1738.
    • The domes of the temple towers were crowned with various finials, influenced by European lanterns or Indian symbols. These included the ‘amalaka‘, a vertically grooved flattened globe representing a fruit, or a spherical pinnacle symbolizing the ‘Kalasha‘, or a combination of the two.
  • The Deepasthamba – The Deepasthamba is a concept that is hardly featured in any other part of India. The Deepasthambha or Dipmal is a lamp tower that transforms into a pillar of light during festivals.
    • Octogonal in plan, it is often split into two levels and is altogether five to seven stories high.
    • It is inspired by Baroque elements and christian iconography, often articulated with dwarf columns at the corner and niches for lamps.
  • Stepped Tank – characterized by its expansive rectangular pool enclosed by laterite walls, the tollem is a temple tank in Goan architecture. It features a series of steps that gracefully descend to the water level. Interestingly, similar tank designs can also be found in the Bijapuri masjids of Ponda, including the Safa and Surla-Tar.
  • Mantaps – In Goan architecture, many of the larger mantaps (pillared halls) differ in their arrangement of pillars compared to temples outside of Goa, such as the Mahadev temple at Tambdi Surla. Instead of a grid pattern, these mantaps feature two rows of pillars, creating a spatial division reminiscent of a church. The division forms a nave and aisles, with the nave being slightly elevated from the aisles and referred to as the chouco.
  • Tulasi – The tulas plant is set in a large planter – resembles the church cruzeiro.

The smaller temples are similar in layout but adopted a simple Goan house form, with thick laterite walls, rounded arches and pitched tiled roofs.


The systematic destruction of temples that occurred in the mid-sixteenth century was recorded in documents which contained details of the temples that existed in every village. For the case of Salcete, there are records that tell us that many of the destroyed temples had wooden structures, and these existed at a very large scale and much of it was salvaged and used to build boats.

The 17th and 18th century was a time of internal disarray and external threat in the Portuguese controlled areas of Goa. Despite this, the two Old conquest districts of Bardez and Salcette saw the reconstruction and building of various churches. At the same time, beyond the Portuguese jurisdiction, rebuilding and reconstruction of Hindu temples began, reaching a climax in the 18th century, continuing onto the 19th and 20th centuries.

The rebuilding and renovating of temples had four distinctive periods:

17th AND 18th CE

The 16th century saw a systematic destruction of temples, with areas like Salcette losing over 280 temples over a span of a year, in 1567. Following this, the 17th and 18th century temples in Goa were built in adherence to a traditional Hindu architectural style, serving the needs of both gods and devotees. The engravings and photographs of the time indicate that there was a fair amount of renovation and even some rebuilding. Neo-romanisation was seen in temple building, with even the Marathas building temples that had western mannerist forms, where the dome came to replace the pyramidal tower over the sanctuary. These rebuildings and renovations developed the Goan language of Temple Architecture.  

19th and 20th CE

By the middle of this century, RCC construction started to be seen, especially with open halls and expanded agrashalas.

According to Jose Periera, the earliest influence was the European Renaissance, via the churches of Goa, and the Bijapuri and Mughal forms, via the Marathas. The combination of these two were achieved by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where the temple comes to resemble a grand Goan manor house.

1961 TO 1990

Post the Portuguese rule, there was a burst of temple renovation, expansion and re-building.


Example: Kavlem’s Shantadurga (Renovated in 1966) an Priols Mangueshi (Renovated in 1973)

  • New halls, nagarkhanas and agrashalas
    • Timber roofs and Timber eaves were replaced by RCC ones.
  • Zambaulim’s Damodar
    • Altered out of recognition
    • Goan house form in the 19th CE to semi-Modernist building in RCC
    • Latina tower (from north India) over the sanctum.
  • Mahalaxmi temple, Panaji (founded 1818)
    • Changed into an RCC building in 1983
    • Latina tower added


Example: Priol’s Mangueshi, Kavlem’s Shatadurga, Marcaim’s Navdurga

  • Retained some old forms like the basilican plans, arched windows, pitched roofs and Renaissance domes over the Sanctum.
  • Rebuilding in concrete altered things like the roofs, the boxu-window eaves and the agrashalas.

1990s Onwards

The process of Indianization witnessed in temple architecture involved several nuanced aspects. One significant aspect was the expansion of front halls, along with an increase in the number of halls and secondary buildings. Additionally, alterations were made to the height of sanctum towers. Material changes included the use of copper sheeting for roofs, silver and gold leaf adornments for pinnacles and internal walls, as well as the introduction of granite and marble flooring. These modifications collectively contributed to the transformation of temple structures, reflecting a blend of cultural influences and aesthetic enhancements.


Shantadurga Fatorpakarin temple at Fatorpa

  • Rebuilding began in 1988-89
  • Kept the Goan manner, but made larger and grander.

Shantadurga Cuncolkarin , Fatorpa

  • Work began in 1991
  • Monumental scale, pitched roofs, Non goan domes on a tower
  • Multiple attached shrine niches on the walls
  • A giant khambo in the form of a Rajasthani victory towers
%d bloggers like this: