Steeped in history, five hotspots of the celebration - Raia, Taleigao, Aldona, Salvador do Mundo and Divar flood into focus during the monsoon with some unique customs.
Every year at the peak of the monsoon season, Salcete taluka's Raia, has the privilege of being the first village in the whole state to ring in the harvest ceremony on August 5 every year. It's a tradition that dates back 300 plus years. The parish priest symbolically cuts the sheaves (konsa) of rice harvest with a silver sickle believed to have been sent by the Pope all the way from Rome. Farmers from several villages congregated here to attend the service and ensuing festivities which also draws hundreds of Hindu and Christian devotees from all round the state.
Next to follow are the celebrations in Bardez taluka; the villages of Aldona and Salvador do Mundo celebrate it on August 6. On that day the Aldonkars also celebrate the Feast of Transfiguration of Jesus and the Saloikars of their patron, Saviour of the World. On this occasion a procession carries a statue of the Saviour of the World from the church to the field opposite where the new paddy has been harvested. The statue bears a golden sickle in its hand, donated by the Athaide family over a hundred years ago, which is used symbolically to harvest paddy by the priest.
Taleigão celebrates the feast on August 21, the tradition dating back almost 500 years entrusts the honour of celebrating the feast to only nine families, by turn. The Portuguese, in the 16th century, bestowed on this village the privilege of being the first in Tiswadi taluka to cut and have the corn blessed and then presented to the governor. The privilege was in recognition of the sacrifices of nine families who had provided food to soldiers after Afonso de Albquerque's men were defeated by Adil Shah in battle.
On the island of Divar the event is marked by a procession of flags, popularly known as Bonderam, and two comunidades - Goltim-Navelim and Naroa-Malar celebrate the festival on separate occasions.
It is Taleigao that catches the eye with its four-day celebration. On the first day, August 21, a male member of one of the nine vangors (families) Mendonca, Viegas, Martins, Luis, Gomes, Faria, Almeida, Falcao and Abreu cuts the corn. After the thanksgiving mass, the 'president of the feast' leads a group with the corn to the Governor's Palace-Raj Bhavan-at nearby Dona Paula, and returns home for a sumptuous lunch with 12 dishes. The distribution of fov (pressed rice) among the villagers and the celebration of a mass at Old Goa are some of the traditions completed over the next three days. While the traditional dhirios have been stopped, after a ban on bullfights in 1998, the traditional dance 'Addão' performed by a group of tribal farmers wearing colourful costumes, has also been discontinued.
In Raia, the blessed sheaves are now not sent to the governor and bishop of Goa, but only to the neighbouring Rachol seminary. A new tradition of a football tournament, culminating in the final match on the feast day, has commenced.
In Divar, the novidade (the announcement of the new corn) takes on a different tradition. After the religious celebration, another newer event, not linked to the previous one, witnesses a floats parade with street dancing. Malar, often mistakenly clubbed with Divar despite its separate entity as a village, also celebrates Bonderam. The painful shooting of fotass (a hand-held device used to spit out seeds) has been, thankfully, discontinued.
Our Lady of Snows Church in Raia
The Our Lady of Snows Church in Raia, around six kilometres from the commercial city Margao, was built in 1699. Raia has the same patron as the church of its neighbouring village of Rachol, that of Nossa Senhora Das Neves established by the same Jesuit priests. The foundation for the church was laid in 1668 and was built through the efforts of the Raia and Camurlim communidade.
The legend of the patron is quite interesting. According to a calendar printed last year by the Our Lady of Snows Church, Raia, the story, which date back to the 15th century, goes as follows. There was no snowfall in Italy and people were faced with adverse situations. They were unable to bear the continuous hot weather. In confusion and utter helplessness they prayed with great faith and vowed to build a church at a place where snow would fall. Their fervent prayers were answered and to their relief it began snowing. The villagers, in keeping with the vow, constructed a church on the top of a hill and named is Our Lady of Snows Church.
The Our Lady of Snows Church was the first church in Salcete to be named 'Snows' church. The people of Raia had no separate church till 1668 and the faithful had to travel all the way to the Rachol Church and the Jesuits College (Rachol Seminary) to celebrate the feast.
Concerned about the increasing Christian population at Raia, a Jesuit priest, Fr Jorge Caldeira began corresponding with the Portuguese government and highlighted the need for a separate church. Accepting this proposal the government permitted the construction of the magnificent new church at Raia. Today, Raia is a village not only flowing with abundant lush greenery, hills and fields, but is also spiritually blessed with six chapels, the SVD Mission Seminary – an international religious missionary congregation, the Pedro Arrupe Institute (PAI) of the Jesuits, a centre for religious formation, St Thereza’s Convent, and Kalyani Bhavan, a home for the senior ladies in Solva managed by the Handmaids of Christ.
The feast of Our Lady of Snows, also known as the Konnsanchem fest proclaims the onset of harvest season. The feast is celebrated in the Rachol Church too, but a week later. Raia, being the first village to harvest paddy, attracts people from all over Salcete to celebrate the feast. The harvest feast has biblical significance too, as in the book of Genesis Abel offers his best sheaves of corn to God as a sacrifice.
The highlight of feast mass is the blessing and cutting of the konsam (sheaves) in the paddy fields. The parish priest blesses the new harvest praying for all farmers and a good yield for their hard work. It is a special moment where a large crowd of parishioners gather to witness this momentous blessing. The mass ends with a procession and distribution of konsam for all devotees. Much faith is witnessed towards the patron Neves Saibinn as people of all communities attend the konsamchem fest.
In keeping up with the tradition of village feasts, a football match is held among the local clubs. To end the hectic day of celebration, the much awaited lucky draw will be held after the match in the aid of the reconstruction of the church school.