Sushila Sawant Mendes
Our nation and our state lived in the country side. Ours has always been an agrarian economy with dependence on land and agriculture. In Goa, the comunidades have been the backbone of agriculture. The end of growing and then the harvest have to be festive times! While the nation celebrates harvest festivals like Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Ugadhi, Pongal, etc from January to April, Onam, Karam and Konsam Fest in Goa are celebrated in the month of August. These festivals show the umbilical connect between mother earth and humans who live off the produce grown on it.
Saturday, the island of Divar celebrated the Bonderam festival. All communities come together to celebrate this festival. The island has very fertile land, making it an ideal place for farming activities. Although the history of this festival of flags is different, Bonderam is also associated with the harvesting time in Goa. The farmers of this island offer the newly harvested corns, by bringing them to the local church with a procession and great fanfare.
Konsam is a Konkani word for the newly harvested stalks of paddy or sheaves. The festival which celebrates the harvesting of these tender stalks is konsam Fest. This festival is celebrated in the month of August, at a time when the paddy crop in Goa is ripe for harvesting. It is a thanksgiving ritual, performed to thank God for the good harvest and to pray for a bountiful one in the next year. According to Fr A Cardoso SJ, this feast perhaps has its reference to the book of Genesis where Abel makes an offering of the best sheaves of corn to God.
The Hindus of Goa also celebrate the cutting of the new corn. On the second day of the Ganesh festival (chavath) the Navya pancham, the ritual of the new harvest is held in every Hindu household who worship God Ganesh. In the villages, these new konsam is cut from the field but in the cities it is purchased from the local market. Konkani writers have used the concept of the handful of sheaves of konsam as titles to their short stories like Pundalik Naik’s, Muthai and Mahableshwar Sail’s, Nave.
Hindus in Goa celebrate Navratri, to express their gratitude to mother earth in its various forms. Goddess Sateri and Bhumika are worshipped either as anthills or a pitcher of water. On the last night of maha navami the new konsam is worshipped by the cultivator by different rituals according to that society. On the first morning of navratri a copper urn is installed next to the idol. This place is cleaned and red soil collected from the sacred spot is spread on the floor. Nine types of grain seeds are sown in the mud and water sprinkled every day. On the 10th day or Dosro day, the grown sprouts are distributed to the devotees. On this day the tools of their livelihood are also worshipped.
All the Churches of Goa commemorate this feast with a mass and prayers. In some churches a palanquin carrying the image of Mother Mary is taken from the Church to the paddy field accompanied by a priest with a silver or gold sickle. After observing formal rituals, he cuts the tender corns and takes them to the palanquin to offer to Mother Mary. This follows a procession accompanied by music back to the church to place these sheaves on the altar. The priest then spreads incense on the paddy and sprinkles holy water on it. People carry some stalks to their home to keep on their family altar. This sanctified paddy is kept in the place where they stock their grain.
Konsam Fest is celebrated all over Goa with some variation of dates as well as of rituals. It is celebrated on August 15 in most churches of Goa when the Church celebrates the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven. Raia is the first village to celebrate it on August 5 coinciding with the feast of the Patroness of the Church, Our Lady of Snows. On August 6 this feast is celebrated by the Church of Aldona and that of Salvador de Mundo, on the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and the feast of the Saviour of the World, both patrons of these respective churches.
The villagers of Maina, Curtorim celebrate every year a feast on the August 20, called Handi Khuris. Curtorim is considered as the granary of South Goa. This is also called the Xetkarachem fest (the feast of farmers) as it is associated with the harvest. On the feast day it is compulsory for the farmers to attend the feast mass in St Rita’s church, failing which there is a penalty. On the feast day the farmers block the sluice gate or the handi of the Maina lake. This is symbolic of bringing in the new harvest.
In Taleigao, known as the granary of north Goa, this feast is celebrated on 22 August. This feast was very popular during the Portuguese period. A special dance called the Adav was performed. This was a barricade created by the villagers who stood together like a human fence to prohibit the entry of evil spirits into the field and dance in the presence of the priest. Oral history speaks that the people of Taleigao helped Afonso de Albuquerque with provisions after his defeat in February, when his ships were based in the Mandovi river till his next victorious attack in November to capture Goa. To commemorate this help the newly harvested stalks were taken to the Cabo Raj Niwas, in an elaborate procession and the sheaves were ceremoniously offered to the Portuguese Governor.
The village of Merces, near Panjim celebrate konsam fest on August 24. This village is divided into three administrative zones called comunidades, since Portuguese times. These zones are Murda, Morombi- pequeno and Morombi- Grande. Each comunidade celebrates in their own unique way, festooning the area with buntings and pennants. According to oral tradition sometime in the distant past before this festival began, two saints St Caitan and Santa Barbara, were invited as guests to this church whose patron is Our Lady of Merces. These saints were then sent to places or wards which are known by the names of the saints even today; St Caitan is the patron of the ward known as Caitan waddo and Santa Barbara is the patron of the village Chimbel, near to Merces.
The Konsam fest starts with the procession, where the images of these saints are brought ceremonially to the main church in Merces, a week ahead. The procession on the feast day is led by the image of St Caitan followed by the image of Santa Barbara and Our Lady of Merces. After harvesting each place holds a mass in which the new crop is offered to the altar of the church. The images of the saints are then taken back to their original church bringing a ceremonial end to the Konsam Fest. On the day of the festival, it is a tradition that the locals eat fov made from the new grains on that day.
Harvest festivals connect us to our rural past. Agriculture was the main occupation and therefore the harvest time brought joy and happiness to celebrate the abundance of the crop and a thanksgiving to mother earth. Today in Goa, fields lie barren as many have moved on to more lucrative professions. These festivals have now become only celebrations of pageantry and enjoyment for the community, losing significantly their spiritual and religious origins!
(Prof (Dr) Sushila Sawant Mendes is an author and Professor in History, Govt College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Quepem)