The Shri Mangeshi Temple is located about 15 miles outside Goa’s capital city of Panaji. The temple is dedicated to Bhagavan Manguesh, an incarnation of Shiva. I was in Goa as a guest of Goa Tourism, and one of the things they suggested I do was visit a temple. I love having authentic cultural experiences, so I caught a ride to the temple to check it out. When I arrived, there was a line of devotees filing into the temple grounds. Everyone pauses in front o f the entrance to remove their shoes and socks, an ancient tradition, made modern with the addition of signs reminding you to silence your mobile phone. I left my shoes and followed the line of Indians inside the temple. Candles burned in every corner and at least 10 chandeliers hung from the ceiling. It was quiet inside, only a few hushed voices and the shuffling of bare feet on the cool marble floors.
The far wall is made entirely from silver with embossed images of gods and serpents. A doorway in the silver wall leads to another room with a gold and silver shrine to Shiva in the form of Bhagavan Manguesh.
Facing the shrine is a silver statue of a bull, called Nandi, the mount of the god. The room is crowded, but quiet, and people line up, pushing closer to the shrine where there are Poojari (Hindu priests) waiting to bless them. The Poojari wear white cotton dhotis wrapped around their waists, and no shirt. They pour a small amount of water into the outstretched hands of each devotee. As I get closer to the shrine, I realize that I’m about to recieve a blessing as well, so I watch carefully to see how to act.
I get to the front of the line and the Poojari pours some water into my hands. Just like the others, I raise my hands to my lips and sip a small amount of the water, then I pour the rest of the water on on my head, running my hands back through my hair. Following the others, I slowly move to the sitting area which is separated into sections for men and women.
I sit quietly, watching the others receive their blessings, and find a place to sit. It’s relaxing and serene, and cool inside the temple. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do (meditate, perhaps?) in that sitting area, but I enjoyed the cool tile, and the moment of rest. Eventually, a large bell in the center of the room is rung repeatedly and somewhere outside, men begin to bang drums. The gate at the entrance to the temple is locked and everyone stands in unison.
I scramble to my feet, not sure what’s coming next, and straining to see into the shrine room. Incense burns in all corners of the room, the sweet smoke rising through the still air and mingling with the silver chandeliers that hang from the ceiling. We wait.
Finally, a few men bring out banana leaves with food on them, and another man follows behind with a stick of burning incense. The food is offered to the Shiva shrine and then it is considered blessed and offered to the people, along with another blessing of water from the Poojari. I take my blessing (not the food, I figured there were those who needed it more than me), and follow the line of people leaving through a second door near the front of the room. We emerge into the hot Indian sun, and back to the front of the temple. Feeling refreshed and introspective, I find my shoes and head back down the path to the main road.