By Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
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. Though they have a religious content, they are frequently an expression of religious life outside the official liturgy of the Catholic Church. Religious customs are group expressions of religion rooted in the social nature of man. In Goa, there are a number of such religious expressions that have great popularity. One of them is the annual commemoration of holy saints. The Church has selected the first of November as the Solemnity of All Saints and it is universally called the All Saints’ Day. The subsequent day, that is, the second of November is All Souls’ Day. Devotion to the Holy Souls is a prominent part of Goan spirituality. “Mhaka khoincho otmo pavlo?” is a Konkani phrase which denotes the intercessory power of our departed ones.
In Goa, All Souls’ Day is also celebrated to pray for the departed souls of the family.
On the day of All Saints, at noon the bells would begin to toll for the dead. This would continue till noon of All Souls’ Day.
Some thirty years back at the Panaji parish, on the evening of All Saints’ Day, people of the city would congregate at Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church and accompanied by a priest would go in procession, saying prayers en route. The procession would end at the Santa Inez cemetery where there would be prayers for the dead. The faithful who had their close family members and relatives buried in the cemetery would then individually pray at their respective graves. They would carry flowers and light candles at the graves. At home, late in the evening, at least fifteen decades of the Rosary were prayed in memory of dead family members, and more importantly, for the wandering souls and those in purgatory waiting redemption. The latter two were considered to be more in need of prayers than others. The mysteries of the Rosary were not announced on this day. The next morning, we had to attend Mass for the souls of the dead. We had to hear three Masses which were said consecutively by a single priest. This has changed now and only one Mass is said by a priest. Since the cemetery is annexed to the Santa Inez church, the masses were celebrated inside the church. Most churches have one mass in the cemetery.
It is a traditionally held belief that dead souls should be appeased through prayers and food of their liking. Special food like a sweet (godxem) called onn is prepared in honour of the souls. The core ingredient is jaggery, usually palm jaggery, besides coconut, grated, ground or juiced and gram dal. In some villages, festal food such as sannas, sorapatel, pumpkin mergulho, and beef assado are prepared even today. In case there is a recent death in the family, on this day, a poor person is fed on his behalf. There was a legend that no food should be left over as wandering souls may be tempted to visit the house.
Another tradition observed in connection with All Souls’ Day is pranks played by mischievous persons, especially youngsters. Well into the middle of the night, before All Saints’ Day, boys would go about the village or city to gather items like flower pots, clothes found out on the rope for drying, utensils, anything that they could lay their hand on to play mischief. These were then arranged near the chapel, church or at a prominent place. One year, the steps of the Panaji church were adorned with pots from the Municipal garden and from neighbouring houses. However, there are others who use this opportunity to steal things, trying to make people believe that it is the dead souls who return on this day and take them away. It is for this reason that on the previous day people bring down banana bunches and papayas from trees or attempt to hide them, covering them with bags.
Right from the evening of All Saints’ Day to All Souls’ Day people start visiting cemeteries where their near and dear ones are buried, to pray for their souls. Graves are beautifully decorated with flowers and candles are lit by the family members.
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