Thursday, July 16, 2009
The Goan festival in which Hindus and Christians pray together
Shiv Kumar on the Goan festival in which Hindus and Christians pray together
Vitthal Devraj Shirodkar performs at the zagor
Just 30-minutes away from the Calangute beach, a small hamlet in Siolim, Goa is struggling to maintain a centuries old tradition that enjoins Hindus and Catholics to salute Zagorio, the formless village deity.
On the first Monday after Christmas, Hindu and Christian residents of the waddo or the hamlet of Dando congregate on an open area to keep a night-long vigil and appease the deity who is believed to protect the village. The Zagor or wake begins with prayers that are unmistakably Christian though the chants are said to have been drawn from the abhangs of Sant Tukaram, Maharashtra�s poet-saint. The priest leading the congregation is a Hindu villager from the toddy-tapper caste who does this just once a year.
"I am the fifth generation purohit to carry on the tradition," says Vitthal Devraj Shirodkar. Eightythree-year-old, Shirodkar emphasises the non-Brahminical traditions of the post-harvest festival. "It is a salute to khazaneshwar or the god of the khazan after a good harvest. People offer oil, candles and even cigarettes and feni in thanksgiving," says Shirodkar, affectionately called Daaji by the villagers. The khazan style of agriculture, unique to this region, enables paddy cultivation, pisciculture and salt manufacture on the same land by regulating the ingress of seawater.
Eunuchs play a significant role in the celebrations
The annual ritual is preceded by 40 days of abstinence when the priest stays away from non-vegetarian food and prepares for the zagor with prayers and rehearsals with the villagers. The proceedings begin with a procession from the house of his neighbours, the Fernandes� with a coconut ritually offered to the deity. The procession halts at wayside Hindu shrines and crosses, including St. Ann�s Chapel.
"Traditionally, three hymns are sung by the Hindus and the Christians at the chapel before the procession moves on," says Santan D�Souza, one of the participants at the zagor. Then Hindus make offerings of oil while Catholics offer candles at the chapel.
The prayers before the Zagorio has Shirodkar offering salutations to the unity of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. The ritual five hymns are followed by traditional dances and folk drama enacted by villagers, hereditary participants whose roles are inherited through generations. The principal characters like firangi-raja (white lord), mali (gardener), malin (gardener�s wife), mahar (untouchable), represent Goan society as it evolved through the years. The all-night vigil is also helped by the Konkani tiatr, or theatre, where skits based on socio-political satire are performed.
According to Dr Alito Sequiera, head of Goa University�s Sociology Department, the tradition of zagor faced stiff opposition from the Portuguese rulers and the Church. "Zagors were banned from the mid-17th century till the 1930s," says Dr Sequeira. However, the ban was ineffective and Hindus and Catholics performed distinctive zagors across the state, says Dr Sequiera.
In her book, Feasts, Festivals and Observances of Goa (L & L Publications, 2004) Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues traces the Siolim zagor to 1865 when Hindus and Catholics lobbied with the then Portuguese rulers to get the ban lifted. "The Catholics who were banned from participating in the prayers got Hindus to pray on their behalf," explains Shirodkar.
Till singer Remo Fernandes discovered it in the 1980s, the zagor remained just another little tradition that dots the Indian spiritual landscape. "It used to be so localised that few outside Siolim knew about it," recollects the singer. The zagor hit big time after Remo wrote about it and gave performances for almost a decade. He quit attending after the zagor threatened to become another party. "It got bigger and famous and I was no longer comfortable with it," says the singer.
With the Siolim zagor now on the tourist map, the hereditary participants at the zagor have money in their hands. "Money is causing problems for everyone," says Shirodkar. A few years ago, the residents of Dando got into a scrap with neighboring villagers who wanted to take the place of the traditional performers. "There was trouble and police had to be called in," says Shirodkar.
Communalism is also raising its head. Differences among the villagers cropped up after Shirodkar's family built a small shrine akin to a temple on the zagor rounds. Though no idol has been installed, some Catholics are showing signs of discomfort.
"After some people complained, our parish priest told us not to dance with the Hindus," says Santan D�Souza. The Shirodkar family however maintains that the funds generated during zagor are used to improve amenities in the village. "Earlier people had to spend out of their own pockets, now we have the funds to provide facilities," says Kanhaiya Shirodkar, the old man�s son and a local pharmacist. According to him, the committee managing the funds has representatives from both the Hindus and the Christians.
Villagers insist that most of the 28 Catholic families in Dando showed up for the last zagor despite the Church�s injunctions. "Only a few who joined sects like 'The Believers' didn't turn up," says Fernandes. Growing prosperity poses a bigger danger though. "With the spread of education, entire Catholic families are migrating out thereby altering the colour of the zagor", bemoans Kanhaiya Shirodkar.
Though the villagers of Dando have resolved to maintain the zagor�s character, observers like Dr Sequiera warn of shared spaces transforming into purely Hindu shrines. "It would only be too tempting to adopt Brahminical practices to attract more people and money," he notes.
(Part of a series on 'Communal Polarization and Threat to Shared Traditions in India' supported by the National Foundation for India)
April 3, 2005
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- A big e-welcome to you. Tumcam Maie-mogacho ieukar. Enjoy Life - This is not a rehearsal! Konkani uloi, boroi, vach ani samball - sodankal. Hich Goenchi osmitai ani amchem khalxelponn. Goenchi amchi Konkani bhas! Ekvottachem saddon Goenkaranchem. This is Gaspar Almeida from Parra, Bardez, Goa, based in Kuwait and am connected with the www.goa-world.com website created by Ulysses Menezes, and as Moderator of the famous first of its kind Gulf-Goans e-Newsletter (since 1994) and The Goan Forum and several Goan and Indian associations and forums and e-forums in Goa, India, Kuwait, The Middle East and worldwide.