Sanjeev V Sardesai
There are many festivals, held in Goa, which depict the warm feeling that all communities in Goa share with each other.
One such festival is held at the quaint village of Siridao, on Tiswadi Island. The entire lands here are said to have once belonged to the Dempo family. However, now it has been modernised to a beautiful and scenic village.
Towards the south end of this village, on a small hillock, one finds a small chapel, overlooking the River Zuari which is dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth. A beautiful lifesize, very realistic idol of Jesus Christ, in ‘bondage’, is placed here and venerated by devotees. This shrine was initially established by the Dominicans and dedicated to Saint Maria Magdalena, in the first decade of the 1600’s and later re-constructed and beautified to its present stages, at the beginning of 1900’s and also at the start of the millennium.
In the precinct of this chapel, are a few rare trees of Goa called as the ‘Adao Tree’ or Manilkara kauki, with its origin in Indo-China, Malaysia and Australia. In fact, many of these trees can be seen along the coves of River Zuari that extend from this village to the adjoining Navshe fishing hamlet. The tree has bunches of brown berry shaped fruits. Today, it is very difficult to get these sweet fruits which are priced at `10 each. They belong to the chikoo or sapota family.
On asking people in the know, it was voiced that the entry of this tree into Goa may have happened when sailors of the ships of traders coming from these countries, anchored in this cove and dropped the seeds here.
Throughout the year, this village portrays the traditional relaxed atmosphere, except for the fishing activity. However, on the immediate Sunday after Easter, this village becomes a hub of festive activity as it gears up to celebrate the ‘Pezeche Fest’ or ‘the Festival of Kanji’.
Though the local people call it the ‘Pezeche Fest’, this feast is called as the Feast of Annunciation of Jesus of Nazareth. It was on this day that the Virgin Mary was informed by Archangel Gabriel, about her being chosen to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. During the High Mass, an idol of Virgin Mary is taken in a beautiful procession and brought to the main dais, in the pandal, for veneration.
As said earlier, most of this village belonged to the Dempo family, while the other ownership was held by the Vaglo, Velho and Mascarenhas families. Another aspect of this feast is said to be the ‘pensao’. In Portuguese, ‘pensao’ means ‘obligatory fulfillment of vows’ in the absence or the demise of the person by whom it has been vowed. Many a times, due to no continuity of heredity, the properties and personal wealth were offered and dedicated to the religious institutions, with a nominal condition of either a religious service to be preached or some offering to be made to these institutions, in memory of the person.
These requests or vows were systematically recorded in a book maintained by the Church, and it was known as ‘Bens Pensionados’. Fulfillment of these vows or ‘pensao’ was a mandatory requirement, and it was and still is believed that bad luck would certainly befall any person who defaults to carry out these vows. This is also supposed to pass on to those who have purchased these properties, and who have to oblige these ‘pensaos’.
In this festival, since the last 125 years, the Dempo family, which belongs to the Hindu community, bears the entire cost of the infrastructure and the cooking of the kanji (rice broth) in seven copper vessels, and then serving it to the devotees who throng to the pandal. This process starts at about 4 a.m. in the morning and goes on till about 2 p.m., or till the ‘kanji’ lasts.
The devotees who had vowed to drink the ‘pez’ or ‘kanji’, for grant of certain blessings, make a beeline to the pandal, to take a serving of this gruel, in mud and other containers, in fulfillment of their vow.
Another enterprising aspect of this festival is that since the ‘kanji’ is bland in taste, the local women squat along the road sides, selling in small containers, very spicy mango pickle, which is mouthwatering and a great accompaniment to the ‘kanji’.
One interesting fact is that no stranger is turned away from the door of any house in the village on this feast day, and he or she is invited to join the family in their meal. There cannot be a better example of a healthy interaction between Hindu and Catholic Communities of Goa then the ‘Pezeche Fest’ celebrations!
This fair, held in the hot summer heat, attracts various types of stalls selling handicrafts, sweetmeats, toys, chickpeas (channa), etc. Walking along the streets is extremely uncomfortable due to the sweltering heat; and the must-buy item of this fair is the bamboo matted hand fans which are traditional Goan relief givers from the summer heat. So also the unique ‘bonnau’ roots fan are a must carry item. These are very aromatic fans, which are usually used by people to keep amidst their clothes giving a very pleasant aroma.
The ladies, who sell these ‘bonnau’ fans here, also sell them during the Shirgao fire walking festival. They inform us that a few roots from this fans, boiled in water and given to children to drink is a sure shot traditional Goan de-worming dose.
A visit to this feast and a walk along the pristine Siridao Beach in the evening, can set to rest all life’s quandaries, as the beautiful scenery and the fresh air, makes them evaporate!