Anjediva - 1

A Contribution to its History

 Francisco S. d’Abreu


[TGF foreword: The Island of Anjediva is the site of one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the East. For The historic  Anjediva Church made out of boundscenturies, Goan Catholics from all over the world traveled to the island to worship at the "Brotas" church. Without consultation, the Indian Navy has banned any further access to the church after early 2003. It cites security reasons. India has displayed callous disregard of the feelings of Goan Catholics by allowing the churches on the island to disintegrate]


Though quite small and almost forgotten, this island played a crucial role in the history of Goa and the Indian subcontinent. 

It is the largest of an archipelago of five, the other four being Kurnagal, Mudlingud, Devgad and Devragad. Its name means “fifth”, as Anji stands for “five” and div for “island” in Malayalam and Tamil. 

It is situated 4 km south of Baticala, the ancient kingdom of Garsopa, in present day Karwar, its latitude being 14º 45’ North and longitude 74º 10’ East. Its area is of about 1.5 sq km, the North-South length being 1.5 km and the width 0.25 km. 

The Hindu Past 

Several tales and myths exist as regards the past of the island, namely its Hindu period. 

One of them states that the island was inhabited by Hindus who worshipped a deity by the name of Algi. The Portuguese occupation of the island led to the deity being shifted to the village of Hanumantha in neighbouring Ankola, where the temple dedicated to it is now situated. The Goddess however refused to enter the new abode and stayed in the sea between Angediva and Binaga. She floated in the waters on a plantain leaf and blessed the newly married couples with gold coins and ornaments. 

Some people attribute the name of the Goddess to the island, but the reverse could also be true, namely that it was the island that got its name from the Goddess. The Goddess could have been known as Anji Diva and later on transformed into Algi Devi. Another possibility is that the island’s name was linked to its good and potable water and thus the name of the deity itself was derived from Ambu (water) and Dvipa (island). 

Another short legend associated with the island is the one mentioned in Sahyadrikland, wherein Parshuram is said to have arranged his yajna in Goa. Being in need of some goat milk for some of his rituals, and since the same could not be obtained in Goa, he brought it from Angediva. Hence Ajyudvipa or the island of clarified butter. 

It is also atrributed to the story that Ajyudvipa was in existence before Parshuram reclaimed the Konkan from the sea. 

Excavations carried out some time ago by the Department of Archaeology and Museums (Goa) found some pillars of the Chalukyan and Hoysala periods. The temple to which they belonged might have been built by the Goa Kadambas, feudatories of the Chalukyas, and apparently dedicated to God Narasinha. 


Foreign Sources and the Island 

Angediva came to the notice of the geographer Ptolemey (Claudius Ptolemaeus), who marked it as Insurd Ijidburum in his map drawn in 150 A D. It is also mentioned by the Greek author of  Periples (247 A D.). It was probably important to the Greek travellers as a place of call for the ships plying between the Red Sea and the Malabar Coast. 

Arabs visited the island for horse trading around the 4th and 5th centuries  A.D., in search of water for their ships. A water tank does exist near the shore, to which water was brought from the interior by a system of cascades. Probably this too was built by them. It measures 43 x 57 m. The Muslims however treated the original inhabitants, who were Hindu, with utmost cruelty, forcing them to abandon the island. Temples and other buildings were recklessly destroyed and the stones used to build conduits that took water from the interior to the cistern. Recent desilting of this tank yielded a lot of chinaware, which leads to the conclusion that perhaps the Arabs maintained trade with China. One of the items are sealarks which are found in the islands. 

The Arab explorer and geographer Ibn Batuta (1304-1377) landed in this island during the course of his travels to Sindapur or perhaps Chitakul near Sadashivgad. He refers to a temple, a garden and a tank. It is said that he saw a Yogi, marked with signs of religious warfare, leaning against the wall of a temple, between two idols. He looked to see what the Yogi said. The Yogi in turn looked at a coconut tree and a fruit fell. Batuta offered him money, the Sanyasi refused and in turn offered him 10 dinars. Ibn Batuta asked him what he worshipped. The Yogi looked at the sky and the west (sea) and Batuta, thinking him to be a Muslim, interpreted the Yogi’s gesture as meaning Alah and the temple at Mecca. 

Francisco Mauro marked the island in his world map prepared in 1459. It is even thought that this famous map was used by Vasco da Gama to undertake his journey to the East. 

During the 15th century Angediva became a port of call to the Arab traders, from the Red Sea to the Malabar Coast. As a matter of fact, Sidi Ah Kapodham says that the first island sighted between Aden and Malabar was Angediva. 

In 1503 the Italian traveller Varthema describes the island as distant 0.5 mile from the mainland and inhabited by Muslims and pagans. 

Thus it is clear that on account of its strategic position the island became, right from antiquity, a port of call for those travelling and trading with mainland India, be they Greeks, Arabs or, later on, Portuguese.


Part 2: The Portuguese Interlude


Francisco S. d’Abreu
October 26, 2002


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Read : The Travesty at Anjediva

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