12 Jul 2023  |   04:02am IST

A deeper understanding of the festivals of Goa

Goans love living life to the fullest and this is visible in the way the state celebrates its feasts and festivals. ‘Feasts and Fests of Goa – The flavour of a unique culture’ is authored by Celina de Vieira Velho e Almeida as she highlights some of the celebrations, their origins as well as how they still are alive in the villages of Goa
A deeper understanding of the festivals of Goa

Dolcy D’Cruz

The Goan village life has always been vibrant, celebrating every moment with great gaiety and pomp through its festivals. Certain village festivals have been celebrated for centuries and yet continue to awe the new generation. Where else would you see the seamless bonding of Catholics and Hindus celebrating Zagor at Cacra or Shigmo being celebrated at Surla Tar with the union of Hindus and Muslims. From the numerous festivals celebrated in Goa, Celina de Vieira Velho e Almeida selected 16 that she was able to experience closely that have been written about beautifully in her first book, ‘Feasts and Fests of Goa – The flavour of a unique culture’.

Covering different parts of Goa as well as different faiths, Celina was supported by her husband Fernando as they travelled to these places to document the stories of these festivals. However, her love for Goan festivals was planted by her father, Antonio Pereira Velho. “I was brought up in Portais in Panjim. When we were children, my siblings and I used to go for feasts in Goa with my father. He would love to go for the Touxeachem fest (Cucumber Feast) in Talaulim and the feast of St Francis Xavier in Old Goa. We used to also attend the feast of St Jude in Ganxim, Batim. We used to go when my father was there and I have never been there again,’ reminisces Celina, who now lives in Altinho, Panjim.

“Each of the festivals featured in the book are special. My grandmother was from Arossim and I have great memories of attending the feast of Epiphany in Arossim. My sister-in-law and her husband, Alice and Xavier Fernandes live in Pilerne where the feast of Our Lady of Candelaria is celebrated, popularly known as Kottianchem Fest. A great friend of mine, who passed away recently, lived in Chandor where Mussoll Khell is celebrated. I don’t go for these feats every year but I witnessed it at least once,” says Celina.

The book is interspersed with colourful photographs that give justice to the vibrancy of the festivals described on the pages. Some of the unique festivals featured include those which pay homage to the ecology of the coastal state, right from clams, coconut shells, cucumbers and bananas. The readers can get an insight into the Feast of Our Lady of Porto Seguro, Santa Ines, Panjim, Kottiachem Fest which is the feast of Our Lady of Candelaria, Tisreachem Fest which celebrates the feast of St Anthony at Nerul and Curtorim villagers celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe popularly known as Kelleam Fest.

The village of Curtorim is featured twice in the book for the Handi Fest and Kellam Fest. As Celina writes about the festival, she also dedicates a few paragraphs on how the festival can continue keeping up with the origins of the feast. “I went for the feasts because of my good friend, Celina Amaral e Cota. I am recommending the villagers because there is hardly anything now, only novenas and mass and fair at the Kelleam Fest. I am recommending them to bring a modern view as now there are no bananas at all. In the chapter, I explain why there are no bananas and instead of just saying Kellean Fest, what are the different things you can have and events that can be organised centred on bananas on that day to keep up the name of the fest,” elaborates Celina.

Celina is a great storyteller and this is clearly seen in the way she has brought out the true essence of communal harmony. She says, “Goa is not only Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Goa is a mixture of all these three religions and what is important is that till today, I don’t know about tomorrow, we live in peace and harmony. Tomorrow it might change. When you read the newspaper, it is very short and you can read 3 to 4 paragraphs of the festival but that’s not everything. So I have to do research, read books, visit archives and libraries and then find out more.”

As Celina took up writing the book more seriously during the Lockdown, she had to wait for a few years to attend a few feasts to add her experience. “My husband is a mechanical engineer by profession but he turned into a photographer as he used to travel with me everywhere. He wanted to be sure I was safe. These festivals are from Goa, so I didn’t have to travel outside the state for research. I went to the Central Library and the Archives Department. I can speak Konkani but cannot read Devanagari. My schooling was in Portuguese from primary secondary to class 12. I never thought I would write a book. I used to write for Goa Today and Revista Da Casa De Goa. My latest article was on ‘dishtikann’ in English.”

‘Feasts and Fests of Goa, the Flavour of a Unique Culture’ was launched at Fundação Oriente, Fontainhas, Panjim. Fundação Oriente also sponsored a part of the printing of the book. “I needed a sponsor and Fundação Oriente said unless they see the book and read what I have written, they cannot sponsor the book. Harshvardhan Bhatkuly selected the cover photo as he is the designer and printer. He also got new photos for me. The manuscript was sent to Portugal as the sponsorship comes from Lisbon. Later, the office informed me that everybody liked the book as this is something that appeals to the people. They sponsored a part of the printing and the launch event. Dr Mimi and Cesar Menezes also sponsored the printing financially. Prof Amita Kanekar did a great job of editing the book. I am not a historian and she pointed out what had to be changed. She did the required revision and I accepted it because she is an authority,” says Celina.

Mother to Ryan, Ana Karina, Selwyn, and Gina Maria, Celina has dedicated the book to her seven grandchildren as well as all the children of the world. As the book was recently released, they are yet to see the book. “My grandchildren are not here in Goa, four are in the UK and three in Bangalore. They didn’t get the book because somebody had to take the book to these places. My eldest grandson, Ethan, is 15 years old while the youngest, Evan, is just three months old,” she smiles thinking about their innocent faces.

Celina taught Portuguese in People’s High School and People’s Higher Secondary School. She retired in 2003 as the headmistress of People’s High School in May and in June she was asked to join as a lecturer of Portuguese language in Don Bosco Higher Secondary School, Panjim, which she did till the world was hit by the pandemic. “I cannot stay idle. All these years, I was reading and writing. Even now I am already preparing a list of a few festivals. 2020 was my last year of teaching. Giving online classes was not my cup of tea. I need to see my students in front of me as I can see their faces if they have understood. I have to be there with them. I have to go around a class that is how I teach. I could never teach them through an online class,” says Celina, who utilised her post retirement into completing the book.

The book is available at St Paul Book Centre and Varsha Book Stall in Panjim and at The Dogears Bookshop and Confidant Bookshop in Margao. The book is also available online through Dogears Bookshop.

Is she working on a second book, “I have 5-6 festivals in mind but it is not going to be soon. It is tiring as it involves a lot of work and expenses. I cannot do good photography so I asked photographers who I knew and have clicked photos to sell them to me,” concludes Celina.


Iddhar Udhar