Welcome to Divar Island
The largest settlement on the island is sleepy but picturesque Piedade. But Divar, whose name stems from the Konkani dev and vaddi (translated as ‘place of the Gods’), has an important Hindu history that belies its modern day tranquillity.
Before the coming of the Portuguese, Divar was the site of two particularly important temples – the Saptakoteshwara Temple (moved across the river to Bicholim when the Portuguese began to persecute the Hindus), as well as a Ganesh temple that stood on the solitary hill in Piedade. The former contained a powerful Shivalingam (phallic symbol representing the god Shiva), which was smuggled during the Inquisition to Naroa on the opposite side of the river, just before more than 1500 Divar residents were forcibly converted to Christianity. It’s likely that the Ganesh temple, meanwhile, was destroyed by Muslim troops near the end of the 15th century, since the first church on this site was built in around 1515.
The church that occupies the hill today, the Church of Our Lady of Compassion, combines an impressive facade with an engagingly simple interior. The ceiling is picked out in plain white stucco designs, and the windows are set well back into the walls, allowing only a dim light to penetrate into the church; the views alone, however, make Piedade and its church worth the trip.
Beside the church, a small cemetery offers one of only a few fragments of the once grand Kadamba dynasty. The small chapel in its grounds was converted from an older Hindu shrine, and the carving, painted plaster ceiling and faint stone tracery at the window all date from before the death of the Kadamba dynasty in 1352. Look around for the priest, who’ll unlock the chapel for you to take a look.
Divar Island Retreat, a divine family-run homestay in a beautiful old Portuguese mansion, is reason enough to stay on Divar. The 12 individually decorated rooms come with bathroom and flat-screen TV and are arranged around a pretty garden and pool. It’s in the main village but there’s no sign – call ahead.
Divar Island can only be reached by one of three free vehicle ferry services. A boat from Old Goa (near the Viceroy’s Arch) runs to the south side of the island, while the east end of the island is connected by ferry to Naroa in the Bicholim taluka (district). Another ferry operates to Ribandar from the southwest of the island. Ferries run frequently from around 7am to 8pm.