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Shigmo – Unique celebrations in South Goa

Sanjeev V Sardesai

The festival of colours, as celebrated in Goa, has many unique hues in North and South Goa. Let us travel into South Goa and understand their celebrations.

On the full moon night of Phalgun, the last month of the Hindu lunar calendar, Molcornem Village, a few kilometers from Sanguem celebrates Sheni Uzzo at night. This festivity is about seeking blessings from the local deities to protect their village. ‘Sheni’ means ‘dry cow dung cakes’ usually used for cooking fire; and ‘uzzo’ means ‘fire’. On this night, at about 10 p.m., the villagers go and bring three tall arecanut palms as ‘holika’. These three palms are kept in a covered area called ‘maand’ and those that have vowed – carry these physically on their shoulder – sometimes two at a time and circumambulate the entire long precinct of the shrines. The villagers dance all the way, from designated plantations to a certain spot in the village boundary.

As the time for erecting these ‘holika trees’ at demarcated spots comes near, hundreds of bare-chest devotees light fire to the ‘sheni’ and shower the hot embers on their bodies, dancing to the drum or dhol beats. After the last holika is erected behind the Zalmi shrine near the Sri Mallikarjun Temple, the villagers break hundreds of coconuts as offerings. It is then, by about 5 a.m., that the most awaited moment arrives. Devotees climb the erected arecanut palm and when they are half way through – selected people shower them with burning cinders and embers. At Zambaulim, about six kilometers from Quepem, Gulalotsav is held. During the religious persecution in mid-1500s, the Lord Damodar deity, considered as the patron deity of Margao, was established at Zambaulim, after it was re-located from Maad area of Margao, near the present day Fatorda Stadium.

The story goes that, when the threat of destruction of the Margao temple was imminent, the devotees decided to secretly shift the ling, to a safer location. However, it so happened that during the shifting the icon fractured towards its top. It was this part of the original icon, which was shifted first to the house of late Purushottam Keni at Comba, Margao, and then smuggled out to Zambaulim. Here, it was only after the grant of the titular permission, by the resident deity Sri Ramnath to establish a temple, that the icon of Sri Damodar was built a temple in Zambaulim.

Today, in remembrance of this event, a ceremonial sacred ‘coconut’ is brought from the Sri Damodar Shrine at Maad and placed overnight in the house of late Purushottam Keni. The next day, it is taken in a huge convoy of cars of Margao residents, accompanied with a brass band, to Zambaulim. It reaches there five days before Gulalotsav. ‘Gulalotsav’ means ‘celebrations with the gulal’ and is coined from the word ‘gulal’ or the ‘pink coloured powder’.

A day prior, Phalgun Kru Ashtami, the Lord Damodar idol is brought out in a palanquin and left overnight in the yard, as a gesture of paying respect to Sri Ramnath. On Phalgun Kru Navami (ninth day of the dark half) of the Hindu calendar, over 4000-5000 people gather here at about 3 p.m. and bring the deity back to the temple. This return is celebrated by showering ‘gulal’ on the palanquin and on the male devotees. After the palanquin returns to its home, the colourful devotees proceed to River Kushawati, just behind the temple for a ritualistic bath.

Another exciting festival is held at the Sri Shantadurga Ballikarin Temple at Balli, Quepem, called as Shiddiyotsav. This festival is held on the Phalgun Kru Navami. The event starts at about 7-7.30 a.m., with the respective ‘gades’ (selected devotees) proceeding to the respective shrines of their ancestors, in remote locations accompanied by their family members and a dhol (percussion).

In the precinct and in front of the temple a tall, thick wooden pole is affixed in the ground, having a provision of a traditional swivel, to fix a strong horizontal bark of a tree. The upright embedded bark is about one foot thick and about 20 feet high. Another log of about 30 metres, is brought especially from a specified plantation, transported across a rivulet and affixed in an imbalanced manner with the upright pole as a fulcrum. One side of the wooden bar is shorter tied with a thick rope ladder for devotees to hang on to and level the cross bar, while the longer tapering side tilts downward.

Towards the longer side of this bar, called as ‘latt’, is a special rectangular bracket affixed to tie a ‘gado’ facing downward, blessing the devotees who are standing down when the bar is turned clockwise and anti-clockwise, five times, over the spectators.

After this, the spectators and ‘gades’ move to a nearby shrine of Sri Kuneshwar, where the same Shiddiyotsav is repeated. Starting at about 7 a.m. the programme ends at about 11 a.m.

Close-by in Fatorpa Village is the Sri Shantadurga Kunkalkarinn Temple, originally from Cuncolim. This event held on the fifth day or Panchami of the dark half of the month of Phalgun, sees 12 white umbrellas called ‘sontrios’ of the 12 vangodds or original settlers and one red umbrella of the deity being carried on the traditional route, over which it came into Fatorpa, to its original location at Tolleabhat, Cuncolim. Hundreds accompany these ‘sacred umbrellas’ on its journey to its original location and its return journey, throwing colour on each other.

Close by is the Sri Shantadurga Fatorpekarinn Temple, which celebrates the Topshyo festival. ‘Topshi’ is a small special wood affixed on a long stick and brought from the hills, by the Velip community. This stick is supposed to wards off snakes. The highlight of this festival is the jumping over a line of fire, which is supposed to ward off and burn all evil.

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