Sanjeev V Sardesai
Almost every day, there is some festivity in Goa which sees a cross section of its people coming together to celebrate, in a portrayal of practical communal harmony. It is often observed that the actual faith related festivals, though attached to religious houses of various faiths, are primarily an activity to display respect to nature, and possibly intended and established by our wise ancestors, to convey a hidden message to preserve nature.
One such unique festival celebrated in the village of Talaulim or Santana, on Tiswadi Island, is the ‘Touxanche Fest’ or the ‘Festival of Cucumbers’. In all possibility, the inclusion of this hydrating rich fruit growing on creepers and planted just at the beginning of the monsoons on hill slopes, was and is a major crop along this region.
Situated between Old Goa and Goa Velha, Talaulim is bestowed with a rich carpet of verdant greenery. This village is in close proximity to the historic ward of Gouli Moula, where it is surmised, exists the ‘Underground Palace of the Saundekar Kings’. In actuality, this so-called ‘underground palace’, is a huge, well built marvel of an underground masonry water cistern, just outside the 21 kilometres fortification wall built around Old Goa by the Portuguese.
It is said that around 1763, when the King of Saunda became aware of an imminent attack on his kingdom near Sirsi, Karnataka, by Haider Ali, father of Tipu Sultan, he fled along with his family and came to seek refuge with the Portuguese in Goa. The shrewd Portuguese realising the rich potential in granting refuge to this king holding huge lands in South Goa, and weighing these pros and cons against incurring the wrath of the powerful Haider Ali, decided to give refuge to this royal family, by hiding them in this water cistern, till the Haider Ali threat had passed.
The fact that the royal Saundekar Family, in exile, was temporarily sheltered inside this cistern, now abandoned, may have created this legend of the ‘Underground Palace of Saundekars’. Later, around 1773, this family was established in a palace built at Nageshi, which is still in use by the descendents of this royal family, and is named as ‘Shiv-Tirth Palace’.
The ‘Touxanche Fest’ or the ‘festival of cucumbers’ is celebrated on July 26 every year in one of Goa’s most impressive churches which is dedicated to Saint Anne or ‘Santa Anna’ the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus Christ. Established as a small chapel in 1577, it was enlarged in 1695, and Talaulim was raised to a parish. This church has a huge façade, which is said to resemble the now collapsed façade of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Graca which once existed at the ruins of the St Augustine’s Convent on the Holy Hill at Old Goa. This church is built in mannerist style with baroque features and has two bell towers.
The origin of establishing of this chapel has an interesting story. A priest was sent here to promote conversions in the ward of Gouli Moula. He set up a small hut or a hermitage to reside and carry out his duties. It is said that a local resident Bartholomeu Marchon came across an old lady wearing a hat and a walking stick, coming down the hill and claiming that the hermitage was her residence. On the same day, another lady in the village, who was very sick in bed, saw this same lady in her dreams. This lady in the dream had lifted the sick lady by holding her hand and she was immediately cured. This old lady had identified herself as ‘Anna’.
Knowing that this old lady could be a divine person, the hermitage chapel was dedicated to St Anna, and this chapel has now grown into a huge parish. This festival attracts thousands of people from a cross section of faiths. The reason for this attendance, as explained by an elder present here, lies in the name of this patron saint of this church. People have related the name ‘Santa-Anna’ with a similar local term ‘Santan’ meaning ‘child’.
The faithful, especially young childless married couples come here from far and near, seeking blessings of this saint, while offering two cucumbers to the deity. Long rows of locals are seen selling local cucumbers to the faithful. One fruit is kept on the altar, near the feet of an icon of St Anna, and a short request is made saying “Senhora, tomai pipino, dai me menino”, which translates from Portuguese as ‘take these cucumbers and give me a child’. Then one of the offered cucumbers is taken back to be consumed by them. Surprisingly, when the writer interacted with many couples standing in the line, with small babies and children, they informed him that their wishes had been granted. They then place the child at the feet of the St Anna idol in gratitude.
The faith does not stop here! Young men, who have had a hard time finding a suitable life partner, come here and offer a spoon as they say the prayer “Senhora, tomai colher, dai me mulher” or ‘take this spoon and grant me a wife’. Similarly, spinsters offer a local pulse called as ‘urid’, as they silently chant “Senhora, tomai urido, dai me marido’ or ‘take these pulses and grant me a husband’. It is worth visiting this festival and observing the many smiling couples in the long queue who come to pay their respects for their wishes being positively granted!
Though closed during the day, religious services at the church are held regularly on weekdays and on Sundays. It is the best time to visit this edifice, but care must be taken to maintain respect and follow the protocol of visiting a religious edifice.