Sanjeev V Sardesai
Christmas festivities come to a close on January 6 with the Feast of Epiphany. In the Greek language, ‘epiphaneia’ means ‘manifestation’ or ‘the action of showing something’. It is related to the bringing forth to the world the fact of the birth of Jesus Christ, by the Magi. This celebration is also called as ‘The Feast of the Three Kings’.
It was on this day that the Three Wise Men or Kings or Magi – Melchior (from Persia), Gaspar or Casper (from India) and Balthazar (from Arabia), after a long journey, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, visited the baby Christ, in a manger in Bethlehem. They were religious scholars, astronomers and astrologists. It was they who brought the news of Christ’s birth to the world. Melchior, the oldest among these three, is surmised to have gifted gold to the baby; Gaspar gifted frankincense (dried resin of the tree of genus ‘Boswellia’), while Balthazar presented the child with myrrh (dried resin of the shrub/ tree ‘Commiphora’), – the latter two are shrubs/trees are found in Arabia and North Africa
These three gifts of the Magi significantly denote the three stages of humans – birth, existence, and death. Gold represents birth and royalty; frankincense denotes spirituality and deity; while myrrh is oil used for embalming the dead.
In the biblical story, when the people who fled from Egypt settled in Jerusalem, the fear of their children – newborn and below two years, being killed under orders of King Herod the Jewish king of Judea, due to a prophecy, lingered strongly. Hence, in exile in Jerusalem, Mary delivered the babe in a hidden lowly stable. The spies who were on the lookout for the child could not find them. Thus, when the Three Wise Men met Herod while searching for the child, he told them that he too was in search of this “messiah child” and shrewdly told them that when they found the child, to inform him on their way back, so that ‘he could pay his respects’ – in other words locate and kill the child.
However, after paying respects to the Infant Jesus, the Three Wise Men, understanding the motive of the cruel king, took another route home. It was this decision that probably bestowed them the title “Three Wise Men”.
This story is enacted with grand pomp on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany in a few Goan villages.
At Reis Magos in Bardez, the three kings (youth selected to play the part) arrive at the Three Kings Church, walking in a procession from the nearby fort slope.
At Chandor, the Three King’s journey starts from the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety. They ride on horses to the Church of Nossa Senhora de Belem followed by a band and the devotees. Mass is then held at the church. It is said that earlier, the kings were brought down the hill sitting on buffaloes.
The best festivities to watch out for however are spread out in the three villages of Arrossim, Cansaulim and Cuelim in South Goa. Each of these villages have a traditional process of selecting a youth from their village, wherein every family gets its turn, every year, by sequence. Each village, with the selected youth dressed in regal fineries and wearing a crown, make their way through traditional pathways and fields. The three kings meet at 9 a.m. and rest, at a coconut grove at the base of the Cuelim hillock, known as ‘Rajache’ Bhaat’ or the ‘grove of kings’. Their crowns are removed and placed on the heads of devotees as blessings.
At around 9:30 a.m., the kings are crowned and put on horseback to make their way uphill to the Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies. The walk is extremely steep and drinking water should be carried.
On reaching the peak, the kings alight, their crowns are placed on the chapel altar and a High Mass is held. This feast at the chapel is also known as the ‘Konngyanche’ Fest’. A lot of local vendors are seen selling a local variety of non-sweet, potatoes called ‘Katte kannga’.
After Mass is over, the kings mount their steeds to proceed downhill. However just like the biblical story, they go down the hill from a pathway, which is opposite to the one they climbed. A huge crowd walks behind them, as they wend their way to the St Thomas Church, Cansaulim, stopping at many places to bless the crowds with the crown. Each king is represented by his flag bearer, carrying a huge embroidered flag. These flag bearers then come into the church courtyard and vigorously wave the flags. After this, the kings, on their horseback, proceed to their villages, where a huge feast is held in their respective homes. The entire village irrespective of faith participates in these celebrations. Visitors who wishe to participate, must be at ‘Rajache’ Bhaat’ by 8.30 a.m.