If you’re a history or temple buff, don’t miss the atmospheric remains of the unusual little Hindu Shri Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla, 12km north of Molem. Built around the 12th century by the Kadamba dynasty, it’s the only temple of dozens of its type to have survived both the years and the various conquerings and demolishings by Muslim and Portuguese forces, probably due to its remote jungle setting.
No one quite knows why this spot was chosen, since historically there was no trade route passing by here and no evidence of there having been any major settlement nearby.
The temple itself is very small, facing eastward so that the rays of dawn light up its deity. At the eastern end, the open-sided mandapa (assembly hall) is reached through doorways on three sides. The entrance to the east faces a set of steps down to the river, where ritual cleansing was carried out before worship. Inside the mandapa the plain slab ceiling is supported by four huge carved pillars. The clarity of the designs on the stone is testimony not only to the skill of the artisans, but also to the quality of the rock that was imported for the construction; look out for the image on one of the bases of an elephant crushing a horse, thought to symbolise Kadambas’ own military power at the time of the temple’s inauguration.
The best examples of the carvers’ skills, however, are the superb lotus-flower relief panel set in the centre of the ceiling, and the finely carved pierced-stone screen that separates the outer hall from the antaralya (main shrine), flanked by an image of Ganesh and several other deities. Finally, beyond the inner hall is the garbhagriha (shrine room), where the lingam resides.
The exterior of the temple is plain, with a squat appearance caused by the partial collapse of its shikhara (sanctuary tower). On the remains of the tower are three relief carvings depicting the three most important deities in the Hindu pantheon: on the north side is Vishnu, to the west is Shiva and to the south is Brahma.