The Pilar Museum is located on the Pilar hillock where the Pilar Seminary is also located. The Museum was founded by Fr Costa, and highlights various finds on and around the Pilar hillock and now preserved in the seminary museum.
The ethos of the hillock of Pilar, situated twelve kilometers to the South of Panjim, is illustrative of the rich tradition of communal harmony that Goa has had from very ancient times. Buddhist Bikshus, Hindu Rishis, Jain Acharyas and Christian pilgrims have lived together and their caves and places of worship can be seen at various places in Goa.
One of the ancient capitals of Goa, known as Govapuri, was centered on the hillock of Pilar. Presently Pilar is the hub of educational activities, the Pilar Seminary being an important theological college among them. The Pilar Museum has artifacts, found around Pilar, belonging to all religions – Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Muslims.
They relate to the different dynasties and rulers that held sway over Goa, the most important being the Shilaharas (765 AD to 1020 AD) and the Kadambas of Goa; the artifacts also point out the connection to the Thomas Christians (around 700 AD) and are witness to later Portuguese influences.
The Kadamba dynasty started ruling from Chandrapura (modern Chandor in Salcete) in 980 AD. However, in Chandrapura the rule of Guhalladeva I, was opposed by the Brahmins and Kshatriyas because of his Jain leanings. Therefore, Guhalladeva I, and his successor Shasthadeva II went on solemn pilgrimages to the Somnath temple in Dwarka, Gujarat in order to advertise, with great pomp and fanfare, that they owed allegiance to Hinduism.
However, Shasthadeva II met with an accident and was saved from drowning by the Muslim Taji (Arab) merchant Modamod, who repaired the mast of his ship. Shasthadeva II later conquered Govapuri. His son Jayakesi transferred his capital from Chadrapura to Govapuri (now Goa Velha) and appointed Saddam (Chaddam), the grandson of Modamod, as his Chief Minister.
An Arab traveller, Ibn Batuta, who in his book “Travels” written in the 14th century in Arabic, reported that he found a Christian settlement on the banks of the river Zuari in Govapuri, the capital of Kadambas of Goa. The recent find of a Christian Pahlavi Cross of the 7th Century AD confirms that there were Christian settlements in Goa long before the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese. The finding of this cross in May 2001 on the banks of the Zuari near Pilar made world wide headlines and is now a prime exhibit in the Pilar Musuem.
After 1313 AD the capital of the Kadambas fell preys to invasions of the Muslim Sultans of Delhi and was finally destroyed by the Nawab of Honavar in 1345 AD and was thus reduced to the relatively insignificant village of Goa-Velha.
But in this insignificant village, the hillock of Pilar became the hub of educational activity, first as the Pilar Monastery of the Capuchos (1613 to 1835), then of the Carmelites (1854 to 1887). These religious orders had founded a university at this place, one of the first universities in Goa. From 1890 it has become the headquarters of the Pilar Society till the present.
A cave like structure in Pilar with a granite sculpture depicting St. Mary Magdalene is a typical illustration of the Pilar tradition of communal harmony. (This sculpture is now exhibited in the Pilar Musuem). According to legend, St. Mary Magdalene did great penance in a cave in the last days of her life on earth.
This sculpture shows her figure, flat on the ground with the symbols of penance and meditation around her: the scourges, a skull, a Gospel book, and a Cross surrounded by a crown of thorns.
Curiously enough, the sculpture also has symbols of other religions then prevalent in Goa. The Linga (Hindu tradition) signifies the great penance of the Rishis or Bhagwans, the Bodhi tree at her feet reminds one of the Buddhist traditions. In the clouds above her is seen an angel with bread and water in the hands.
The Jewish prophet Elijah was fed by an angel and with the strength of the bread and water he walked to Mt. Horeb where he encountered God and became a great prophet. And finally the half moon is shown in the form of a thick halo around her head – a symbol of Muslim religion.
Among other interesting artifacts in the musuem (all found in Pilar) a seal of the Kadambas, sculptures of Jayakeshi I and Shivachita Parmadideva and his queen Kamala Devi, a Roman amphora, various ancient coins which include two Roman coins and a unique Kadamba gold coin, an eight century idol of Ganesha, a silver gem box dating to Kadamba times, the Khrista Purana (a handwritten Marathi translation of the Bible from 1609), various paintings of Portuguese times etc.
The small but unique museum of Pilar has been widely acclaimed as one of the best maintained museums in Goa showing the great traditions of religious harmony that Goa is known for.