Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
The feast of Saint Anne or Santa Ana is celebrated by the Catholic Church on July 26. Although there is no mention in the Bible or the Gospels; it is from Catholic legend and the Gospel of James, which is an unsanctioned apocryphal writing from the second century AD, that she is acknowledged as the mother of Mary. The parents of Virgin Mary are mentioned as Saints Joaquin, sometimes spelled Joachim, and Anne. In Hebrew it is written as Hannah, meaning ‘favour’ or ‘grace’; etymologically the same name as Anne. It is interesting to know that although Anne receives little attention in the Western church prior to the late 12th century, dedications to Anne in the Eastern Church occur as early as the 6th century. In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, she is revered as Hannah.
Anne (Arabic: Hannah) is also revered in Islam, recognised as a highly spiritual woman and as the mother of Mary. The Quran describes her as the daughter of Faqud, who remained childless until her old age. It is said that she prayed for a child when she saw a bird feeding its young as it awakened her desire to have children of her own. She had hoped it would be a boy but she gave birth to a daughter and named her Mary. Her words upon delivering Mary reflect her status as a great mystic, realising that while she had wanted a son, this daughter was God’s gift to her.
In Goa, we have six churches devoted to Saint Anne. The earliest is the church of Parra, which was a chapel before getting elevated to a Church in 1649. We then have the famous church of Saint Anne of Talaulim, 1695; Ponda, 1700. The churches in Agonda (Canacona), 1888; Bodiem, 1946 and Olaulim, 1985 were chapels before their elevation to church.
The feast of Saint Anne is famous all over Goa and beyond for customs and traditions followed at the Church of Saint Anne at Talaulim, Tiswadi, near Goa Velha. The feast will be celebrated here on Sunday, July 31.
Religious customs or popular religious expressions are as old as humanity. They express community traditions and are repeated in the same form on similar and regular occasions. Religious customs are group expressions of a religion rooted in the social nature of man. Many of these customs were based on ‘do ut des’ which means ‘I give you that you may give us’. The neo-converts of Catholicism continued with some of their previous practices and followed partly Hindu pantheon gods and goddesses and also Catholic rites, rituals, prayers and precepts.
One such strange religious tradition and ritual, which has been passed down can be seen at Saint Anne’s church on day of the feast at Talaulim village and is popularly known as ‘Toucheanchem Fest’ or Festival of Cucumber. This strange, religious-cum-folklore tradition seems to have captured the imagination of the Goan Catholic masses as both Catholics and Hindus throng to this feast. It seems to be a popular belief that Saint Anne being the wife of Saint Joachim and mother of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary is spiritually very powerful and miraculous.
On the feast day, people offer Saint Anne any of the following: pepinos, urid, manilha, culher, agarbati, flowers, candles and coconuts. The offerings are made depending on one’s desires and the intercession they seek of the saint for quick and timely realisation of their heart’s wishes.
For instance, newly married couples and others who are barren, lamenting over the void of their childless marriage, go near the statue of Saint Anne to offer a tender cucumber – pepino (cucumber) imploring for a male issue. In the Almanach Indo-Portuguese of 1886 by C C Philalete Castelino:
‘Toma pepino, Da ca menino’ is a request made to Saint Anne to grant the couple the gift of a bonny boy. Goans, like the rest of Indians believe that a boy is a prized possession and is regarded as the light of the house ‘gharacho divo’. This is probably due to the fact that the male child retains and propagates the family name and can demand a good dowry.
Married couples who desire a girl child because there are only boys in the family, approach Saint Anne with a small bangle, which in Portuguese is called ‘manilha’, and implore ‘Toma manilha, da ca filha’.
It is not only for children that one goes to the church of Saint Anne on the festive day, one can also implore for a husband or a wife. Some unmarried girls desirous of striking a successful marriage deal also visit the church and make an offering of a cereal known locally as ‘urid’ to Saint Anne, with a prayer to get a ‘marid’ which means a husband. Their petition runs thus – ‘Toma urid, da ca marid’.
On the other hand, bachelors will offer a spoon, which is a culher to get a life-partner. They say: ‘Toma culher, da ca mulher’.
Though there are four churches in honour of Saint Anne, the above mentioned tradition is not observed in any of them, neither is it observed at Seraulim where there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Anne.
This popular folk tradition is not observed in Portugal or in African and Asian territories. It is only observed during the feast of Saint Anne at Santana of Talaulim.