Sanjeev V Sardesai
Various communities make it a point every year on designated dates to express gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Indeed, the harvest festival is celebrated all over India as Pongal, Lohri, Bhogali Bihu, etc. In Goa, the Hindu community pays their respect by venerating the ‘Nave’n’ (literally translating to ‘new’), during Ganesh Chaturthi, where a paddy stalk along with a few selected herbs are wrapped in a mango leaf, taken home, and placed at a location of prominence or near the altar.
The Goan Catholic community meanwhile celebrates this harvest ceremony as ‘Konnsache Fest’, through the Churches. While most villages celebrate ‘Konnsache Fest’ on August 21, the villages of Raia, Salcete – Our Lady of Snows Church, and Salvador-do-Mundo, Bardez – Savior of the World Church, have the honour of celebrating it on August 5.
In these two churches, the sickle used by the parish priest to cut the paddy sheaves, is made of silver and gold respectively. Lynn Barreto Miranda writes in his website on Goan festivals that the silver sickle used at Raia was sent from Rome by the Pope himself; and the gold sickle used at Salvador-do-Mundo was presented by the Athaide family, a hundred years ago. Both these festivities are celebrated for a day.
However, the celebration of ‘Konnsache Fest’ in Taleigao is held for four days and has an interesting history.
In March 1510, the Portuguese commander Afonso de Albuquerque attacked and captured the Adilshahi lands of Goa. This victory was short-lived and a re-grouped army of Adil Shah attacked and re-conquered their lands within the next three months. The Portuguese troops had no choice but to retreat to their galleons and try to exit the River Mandovi. But to their bad luck, the annual pre-monsoon geological phenomenon of the sand bar between Miramar and Aguada had already formed and the river mouth was blocked for sea vessels.
Stuck in the River Mandovi for over two months, the food onboard got exhausted. At this juncture, the farming community of Taleigao, under the cloak of darkness, supplied rice bags to them in canoes. A mural on the wall of the nearby hall – Casa do Povo in Taleigao, depicts this history. As a reward, after the re-conquest of these lands on November 25, 1510 by Afonso de Albuquerque, Taleigao Village and its ‘vangodds’ (the original ‘gaunkari’ clans) were bestowed with the honour of having the ‘first right’ to cut the harvest on Tiswadi Island. The villagers were also granted the special honour to present these harvested rice stalks to the Governor of Portuguese Goa. This tradition of gifting the governor continues till date.
There are presently nine out of the original twelve ‘vangodds’ in Taleigao – Abreu, Almeida, Falcao, Faria, Gomes, Luis, Martins, Mendonca, and Viegas. Each of these families celebrate the feast in a yearly sequence.
On Day One – Villagers are awakened by the beautiful tunes of a live traditional brass band called ‘Alvorada de musica’, which travels around the village on a vehicle. The Mass starts at about 8:30 a.m. at the St Michael’s Church. Following this, the procession proceeds to the ‘konngii’, led by the president of the feast under a ceremonial umbrella, while a beautiful carved image of St Michael is carried on a palanquin by four bearers. The ‘Konngii’ is a reserved plot of the Church, where rice has been sown about a month ago or earlier, to have the sheaves ready with grains on this date. After blessing the paddy field and cutting the sheaves, the procession returns to the Church and the same are offered to the deity.
The most unique happening at this feast Mass is the lighting of the ‘khoznne’ or gun-powder filled metal containers, which create a huge sound. Special artistes are required to fill these ‘khoznne’ which are lit before and after the feast Mass. This intangible heritage is however fast fading.
On Day Two – In the afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., the president of the feast or his nominated family member leaves his house, accompanied by the brass band and under a red velvet ceremonial umbrella proceeds to offer the parish priest, beaten rice or ‘fov’ or ‘poha’.
On Day Three – The president of the feast or his nominated family member, accompanied by the brass band and under a ceremonial umbrella, proceeds by foot to the houses of all the ‘gaunkars’ in Taleigao, offering them the ‘fov’ or ‘poha’. This procession starts at about 8 a.m. and ends at about 10 p.m.
On Day Four -The representatives of the nine ‘vangodds’ and three members of the Taleigao Village Communidade accompanied by a few villagers, the brass band, and under the ceremonial umbrella, proceed together by bus to Se Cathedral, Old Goa at around 8 a.m. They wait at the gates for a formal welcome by the parish priest or a canon. They are escorted in, and a High Mass is held and the sheaves are presented to St Catherine, the patron saint of Afonso da Albuquerque. Here too, ‘fov’ is distributed to all present for the Mass. At around 11 a.m., they proceed to Altinho in Panaji to present the sheaves and ‘fov’ to the Archbishop. They then proceed to the Raj Bhavan, Dona Paula and present the newly cut sheaves to the Governor of Goa.
The family then gets together to celebrate over lunch and music. Earlier, ‘dhirios’ or bull fights were held in the evening. These have now been banned. During the Portuguese era, a special folk dance/ game, with colorful clothes and swords, called as ‘adao’ was presented at the Old Secretariat as well as at the Taleigao Church Square. Sadly, none of the original players are alive, nor does anyone have an idea of this game. Goans must find time on these days to experience the glory that has come down from the past.