WHEN FAITH IS TESTED BY FIRE
The famous zatra of Goddess Lairai will be celebrated today, April 20, 2018 with religious fervour at Shirgao-Bicholim. This unique festival brings together men and women who participate in the ritual of being Dhonds, special devotees of Lairai who follow a strict ritual, to walk on burning coals. Café finds out about the uniqueness of the festival
The quiet village of Shirgao becomes a bustling hub, when thousands of dhonds, devotees and tourists visit the village, during the annual Shirgao zatra, which is also known as ‘Dhonanchi zatra’. The festival attracts devotees from over 500 villages of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, making it one of the most attended Hindu festivals in Goa. The special tradition of the zatra, is the treading on coals by dhonds, which has been carried out for centuries.
Goddess Lairai is known as the deity of the forest. Though the zatra of Goddess Lairai is celebrated in Shirgao, the residing Goddess is Sateri. While Goddess Lairai is depicted in the form of a ‘Kalash’ or pitcher, Goddess Sateri is represented in the form of an anthill. Sanjeev Sardessai, a hands-on historian explains, “When you see Goddess Lairai, there is no idol there. It is in the form of a brass copper pot with water from the nearby lake. Every year, the water is changed and a new mogra flower is dropped in the pot of water. When you look at it from a holistic view, our ancestors were telling us to respect nature and in turn respect life. There are nearly 25,000 people walking in the fire but they are not harmed. The zatra is open to both men and women dhonds. In the case of those who were dhonds and passed away, the year after their death, their decorated stick or benth is brought and placed near the fire which is eventually burnt.” The dhonds maintain a strict vegetarian diet. Ten days prior to the festival, they get together in their respective villages and reside in a place close to the river known as ‘Tol’, and on the night of the first day of the festival, the devotees await their turn to walk on the holy path of hot coals in the tradition of Agnidivya. Rupesh Pednekar, from the neighboring village of Pirna, has been participating in the festivities as a dhond for the past five years, and is the youngest member from his ward. “We will be going to pray to Goddess Lairai in the morning and then we will come back home for lunch. In the night, we will be going back to the temple for the rituals which usually begin at 12 am and will go on till the wee hours of the morning. Nearly 70 dhonds will be going from Pirna,” says Rupesh.
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