Once upon a time in a forest, the demon Malla was fighting Arjun (one of the Pandava brothers from the Hindu epic Mahabharata). At the time, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a hunter and saved Arjun’s life by killing the demon. This incident rechristened Lord Shiva as Mallikarjun, and around this story, rose one of the most significant temples for Konkan Marathas–the Mallikarjun Temple.
Constructed in the 16th century, Mallikarjun Temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the Indian state of Goa. Surrounded by lush green mountains, with soft floating clouds overhead, the quaint structure is situated near Shristhal village in Canacona district, Goa.
Lord Mallikarjun, also known as Adavat Sinhasanadhishwar Mahapati Canacona among the locals, is represented by a Shivaling covered with a metallic human face mask. The face is said to be the face of the hunter he was disguised as.
What really sets this temple apart from other Hindu temples in the state is the Shisharanni ritual.
Inside the temple
The main temple structure has gorgeous, intricate wood, stone and metal carvings of over 60 Hindu deities. The mandap (main hall) is held up by six pillars carved with stories from the Mahabharata. One of the pillars is said to possess the properties of an oracle. Those seeking solutions to their problems offer a bunch of small, yellow flowers to the pillar and then pose their problems to the presiding priest. He then tells them the solution.
As you walk through the expansive grounds to get to the main structure, the ambience exudes peace. During festivals the atmosphere turns boisterous.
The unique rituals
On the day of the Jatra (the annual festival), the idol of Mallikarjun is taken to the Kindlebag beach and given a special bath. A sea of devotees also takes a dip at the same time. But what really sets this temple apart from other Hindu temples in the state is the Shisharanni ritual. Held at the time of the traditional Shigmo festival, the ritual alternates with the Veeramel celebration and is organised every other year. Seen as an appeasement to Shiva to make sure he showers his blessings on the community, Shisharanni (cooking on sheesham wood) is a ritual of cooking rice on the heads of three devotees.
Three men, dressed in traditional costumes and turbans, lie down on the ground with their heads touching each other, forming a C like a brick stove. Their heads are covered with wet cloth and layers of plantain trunk. A vessel of rice mixed with human blood and water is kept on their heads and a fire of sheesham logs is lit between the heads to cook the rice. After the rice is cooked, it is sprinkled among the gathered to spread the blessings of prosperity around.
The hustle bustle of the elaborate festival days aside, the temple radiates a serene vibe that embraces the visitor in a cocoon of calm.