Herald: The Sound Of Konkani Gospel Music
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The Sound Of Konkani Gospel Music

14 Dec 2014 11:17pm IST

Report by
MElVYN MISQUITA

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14 Dec 2014 11:17pm IST

Report by
MElVYN MISQUITA

A humiliating experience inspired a former Rector of Bom Jesus Basilica to compose Goa’s first Konkani Carol in 1963 and hundreds of original Konkani hymns, including a lengthy 18-verse hymn on St Francis Xavier.

Hymns are an integral part of 

services during the ongoing XVII 

Exposition of the Relics of St 

Francis Xavier and millions of devotees 

have been singing numerous Konkani 

hymns in harmony and reverence. 

But not many are aware of the dedication, 

passion and brilliance of one 

composer behind most of those Konkani  

hymns. The pioneering efforts of Goan 

Jesuit Fr Vasco do Rego (89), former 

Rector at Bom Jesus Basilica (1979-95), 

and his collaborators have led to his

popular Konkani hymnal Gaionancho 

Jhelo (Garland of Hymns), sung by Goan 

devotees across the world for five 

decades.

Fr Rego even composed a lengthy 

18-verse hymn Sonvsarak Jezu Diat for 

the 1984 Exposition, one of the longest 

hymns in Gaionancho Jhelo. “Composing

this long hymn was not a joke. The 

late Fr Lourdino Barreto did wonderful 

orchestration of my music and heightened 

my own composition,” acknowledges

Fr Rego. 

It was Fr Rego’s embarrassing experience, 

while a seminarian pursuing 

theology in Belgium, that led him to 

compose Goa’s first Konkani Carol and

later, hundreds of original Konkani 

hymns, many of which are classic gospel 

music today.

“Two of us Goans were among seminarians 

from 17 countries in Belgium 

and during Christmas in 1952, groups 

were asked to sing Carols in their native

languages. We were ashamed as we 

did not have even one Konkani Carol in 

1952,” recalled Fr Rego, presently editor 

of Dor Mhoineachi Rotti since 2009.

“What humiliated me was that Congolese 

seminarians, these second generation 

Catholics, sang Carols in their 

language, while we couldn’t do so, 

even though our faith was over 400 

years old.” 

Fr Rego returned to India in 1957 

and was later appointed Spiritual Father 

at Rachol Seminary in 1963. “Those 

days, our hymns were mostly translated

from Portuguese or English. During one 

retreat for priests that year, I composed 

about a dozen original Konkani hymns, 

officially approved by late Fr Camilo

José Xavier, then president of the Diocesan 

Commission for Sacred Music.” 

“One day, Fr Xavier asked me to 

translate an Italian hymn into Konkani,

to be sung over All India Radio. I rejected 

the offer as I refused to be a 

slave to another foreign language (after 

Portuguese). Fr Xavier understood my

refusal.” 

“Sitting on the side-steps touching 

the Rachol Seminary church one day in 

1963, I composed Goa’s first Konkani 

Carol, Visvasacho Dis.”

Fr Rego then composed several other 

Konkani hymns officially approved for 

liturgical use. “Composing hymns was 

never about personal interest and not

even for the development of Konkani. I 

wanted to feed my people with gospel 

music deeply rooted in our faith. Hence, 

all my lyrics are doctrinal, despite being

simple to sing.” 

Keen to make these hymns readily 

available, Fr Rego bound the cyclostyled 

hymns into a booklet in 1963. The title, 

Gaionancho Jhelo,was incidentally coined

by Canon Saturnino Dias, who was a 

seminarian under Fr Rego. 

“While these hymns were being composed 

and practiced in the Seminary,  

the need was felt to compile them. I 

did much of typing and cyclostyling at 

the time. While discussing the name 

for the compilation, some seminarians 

suggested Gitancho/Songitancho Mollo/Jhelo. 

I thought of Gaionancho Jhelo and 

Fr Vasco accepted the name,” recalls 

Fr Dias. 

Fr Rego also encouraged his seminarians 

to compose hymns in Gaionancho 

Jhelo. “I’m proud that some of my students 

like Fr Bernardo Cota are acclaimed musicians 

in their own right,” acknowledges 

Fr Rego.

Fr Rego found it difficult to manage 

the financial aspects of Gaionancho Jhelo, 

despite its growing popularity. “Hence 

in 1967, the same year I left Rachol 

Seminary for a new assignment, I donated 

Gaionancho Jhelo to the Diocesan Liturgical 

Commission. However, I continued as 

its editor to compose new hymns, even 

while serving as Rector of the Basilica,”  

said Fr Rego.

Fr Rego estimates to have composed 

lyrics to over 300 hymns, besides composing 

music to over 50 hymns. “I have 

composed several other hymns, but 

they are not included in Gaionancho Jhelo 

as yet.” 

A lesser known fact is that the hymn 

Jezu Bhaxen in Gaionancho Jhelo contains 

the lyrics of acclaimed Hindu Konkani

writer-poet Manoharrai Sardessai. 

Four senior priests, either acclaimed 

musicians or former seminarians who 

assisted Fr Rego in Gaionancho Jhelo, 

have acknowledged his pioneering work 

in Konkani Gospel music. 

“Fr Rego headed the great movement 

of creating new Konkani hymns. He 

began by composing beautiful Christmas 

Carols, such as Sang Kiteak Ailai Balla 

and Visvasacho Dis,” recalls Manora Chaplain 

Fr Bernardo Cota, composer to 

about 200 melodies in Gaionancho Jhelo.

“Then came Lent and Easter and he 

came up with unforgettable hymns 

like Tuji Povitrtai and Mornnantlo Jivo 

Zalo. Soon, vernacular hymns were 

needed during liturgy. Again, Fr Vasco 

came up with gems of liturgical songs,” 

Fr Cota said. 

Adds Fr Saturnino Dias: “Fr Rego made 

great efforts to make the Word of God 

available in Konkani. He composed many 

Konkani hymns, while encouraging others 

to compose hymns in Konkani. He deserves 

full credit in this and he got full 

cooperation from seminarians of Rachol 

and in a particular way, from our batch.” 

São Bras (Gandaulim) Parish Priest Fr 

Lino de Sa described the lyrics of Fr

Rego’s hymns as very rich in theology 

and well rhymed poetically. 

“Gaionancho Jhelo now contains 555 

hymns, including some traditional ones. 

Fr Rego has 239 original lyrics and 66 

translated from the original in Latin in 

this book. Many of these have also 

melodies composed by him. In all, 58 

hymns in Gaionancho Jhelo have my 

lyrics, while 53 have my melodies,” 

said Fr de Sa. 

Fr J Loiola Pereira, secretary to the 

archbishop and a composer to some 

melodies in Gaionancho Jhelo, describes 

Fr Rego as a man of many parts: spiritual 

guide, theologian, Biblicist, 

Konkanist, lyricist, musical composer 

and much more. 

“Among Fr Rego’s gigantic contributions 

to the vernacular corpus of liturgical 

publications, Gaionancho Jhelo was perhaps 

his favourite baby. This Konkani hymnal 

has seen eight editions and lakhs of 

copies to date. Gaionancho Jhelo is not 

just a book of religious poems, but a 

veritable summula of Catholic theology

and spirituality, perhaps one of the best 

exemplars of a Catholic Hymnal ever,” 

sums up Fr Pereira. 
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