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Festival, procession, and a feast

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Goa celebrates many ethnic cultural festivities with pomp and gaiety. Among these is the Hindu New Year. The Hindu lunar calendar starts on Chaitra Shudh Pratipada or the first day of the month of Chaitra, immediately after the new moon day of Phalgun month. As per the Gregorian calendar, this date may shift between March and April. This Hindu New Year, celebrated in the western coastal and hinterland areas, is known as Gudi Padwa, while in Karnataka it is known as Ugadi. The actual local identity of this day is Sanvsar Padwa; a possible corruption of the Sanskrit identity ‘Samvatsar Pratipada’ or ‘the first day of the new year’.
On this day, a tall pole is affixed, like an aerial, preferably towards the North-East direction or ‘Ishanya Disha’, with a long coloured, preferably red or saffron silk scarf/ cloth pennant, tied to dangle at the end and decorated with a flower garland, mango leaves (considered auspicious) and a small leafy branch of the highly medicinal neem tree (Azadirachta indica). The top end of this pole, with all the tied items, is then covered with a small upturned copper tumbler. Some tie a packet of sugar or jaggery inside this too. It is raised at sunrise after a ritual bath and then taken down at sunset. It is believed that this attracts the good rays that shower down on Earth during the day. It is removed before sunset so as not to attract the negative properties and harmful rays.
It is surmised that the ‘pennant’ or ‘gudi’ was raised by the people of Pratishthana (present day Paithan in Maharashtra), when King Shalivahan (After whom the Hindu calendar is generated), after he returned victorious. Another theory believes that it is the ‘Brahma Dhwaja’ (flag of Brahma) as he is supposed to have created the Earth on this day. However, the ‘gudi’ finds its origin in Ramayan, when people raised such ‘gudis’ over their homes, to celebrate the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya.
Catholics meanwhile, who are in the period of Lent, or the 40 days penitential fasting, gather at the village of Goa Velha at the Church of St Andrew for the famous penitential procession or the Procession of Saints, held on the fifth Monday after Ash Wednesday, and a fortnight before Easter.
It is said that a similar procession was held only in Rome, with fewer life-size effigies of saints. However, this was stopped since the last decade, and Goa Velha is the only place to host such a procession. In similar processions held around the world, the idols are small, and are carried by a single person.
On this day, at about 4 p.m., 31 life-size images of saints are hoisted on the shoulder-carried palanquin by four devotees, of which some are women, and are taken out in procession. They leave the precinct of St Andrew’s Church, make their way around the village roads and return back to the Church by 7 p.m. The entire ritual takes about three hours. As the procession proceeds through the village roads, the devotees go under the palanquin, as it is placed on the resting staff, as a mark of seeking blessings.
The idols are then kept for veneration in the church compound and late in the evening, they are taken inside and placed on either side of the hall for devotees to pray. They are kept there in two rows, for two days so that people can pay their respects. Originally there were 65 statues.
On the Sunday following Easter, Siridao Village goes into hyper celebratory mode. At the south west end of this village, lies the chapel dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth (or Jesus of Nozrene Chapel), with a very unique architecture. Some locals say that it may have been a Jewish synagogue, but this fact cannot be corroborated. The Feast of the Annunciation of Mother Mary is celebrated here. It is believed that on this day, Archangel Gabriel informed Mary that she would conceive the Son of God and she should name him Jesus. He would be the Messiah of the Jews.
However, the festival celebrated here, at Siridao, though celebrated as the Feast of Annunciation of Mother Mary is known more popularly as the ‘Pezeche Fest’ or the ‘Festival of (rice) Canji’. In the morning, following the Feast Mass; devotees head to a pandal, over a narrow lane, where boiled rice or ‘pez’ is served. This ‘pez’ is boiled since 4 a.m., in seven huge copper pots, and served to devotees till about 1 p.m.
The devotees drink this ‘pez’, in fulfillment of the vows made for the many favours they asked for. They come here with mud pots (‘kulnis’), steel utensils and even plastic containers to either drink the ‘pez’ here itself or take it home. The local ladies also sell spicy, local mango and bimbli pickle in small containers, which is the traditional accompaniment to ‘pez’.
The beauty of this feast is the communal harmony seen. Though celebrated by the Goan Catholic brethren, the entire expense of erecting the pandal, and cooking and serving of ‘pez’ is borne by the Hindu Dempo family, for almost 125 years now. Also, on this day, no guest is turned away from the door.
When you come to Siridao for the Pezeche Fest, do not forget to buy the aromatic ‘bonnau’ root fans, which can be kept in the clothes cupboard, to give a beautiful fragrance to your dresses. Talk to the lady selling these fans – she will let you in on another secret of the medicinal value of these fans!
This year, due to the prevalent situation, the feasts may not take place; however, please confirm before proceeding there.

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