While the rest of Goa is still frolicking in the spirit of carnival, the Gaunkars of the first capital of Goa prepare for a celebration of a different kind. Clad in a kurta and dhoti, with ghoongurus on their ankles and a turban on their head; The Christian Kshatriyas of Cotta hamlet of Chandor Village, prepare themselves for the war dance cum song performance which will take place that night. A tradition handed down the generations and which is fervently carried out despite the community scattering in the various corners of the world. Mussollam fhell is an age old ritualistic folk-play-cum-dance performed by the Kshatriya class of Chandor. The dance is aimed at driving away evil by invoking the Gods. A dance based on the story of legendary prowess of the ancient Kshatriyas from whom the Christian Chardos of Chandor, as elsewhere in Goa, descend. Literally, it means ‘Pestle dance’. It is a perfect example of syncretism, which is a process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another religion.
The, appears to have originally started as a tribal ritual of the Shabar warriors and was adopted by the Aryan Kshatriyas, in the process of cross-culturisation. It was traditionally dedicated to Harihara- a conjoined deity.
Originally the fhell took place on the full moon night of the Phalguna. Now however, it is performed on the second night of the Carnival festival, which is invariably a Monday. Like the rest of Goa, Chandor too was faced with the Inquisition. However the Chardos of Chandor continued with this traditional dance by substituting the Hindu deity with a Christian Saint.
The dance is performed infront of a cross, which is believed to be built on the ruins of a hindu temple. It begins with an invocation to Lord Shiva and is followed by a Christian prayer. The troupe then marches to the nearby St. Tiago Chapel, where a short litany is said following which the first performance of the dance takes place.
It is a simple two step dance, performed in a circle with the help of the mussoll. The Mussoll is made of solid bamboo, about 6-7 feet in length with hawks bells inserted into four in five vertical grooves cut in the lower half of the bamboo stick. The troupe visits every gaunkar house in and performs it in the front of the house. The lady of the house comes out with a lamp to welcome the dancers. If a death of a family member has taken place in the year, the troupe says a prayer for the remorse of the soul.
The following are one of the verses of the song of the mussollam Fhell.
Jila, Jila Kanknnam sodd ballara
Jila, Jila Kanknnam sod ballara
(Boy, oh boy! leave the bangled hand of the mother)
Amche mussol mal'lear dun voita gazot, Fell(u) fellota hariharacho oh,Fell(u) fellota hariharacho
(When the ground is hit with the pestle, It vibrates beneath the feet. Beware, the army of Harihara is on the March! Yes, beware, the army of Harihara is on the March! Pound the enemy! )
Folklore has assumed significance as it is a reservoir of history and culture. However, there is a strong belief held among the villagers that some calamity could befall the families that don’t send a participant to the dance, or that the village might be the scene of a horrific visitation if the dance is not performed at all. This belief is due to a popular legend of the place. Legend has it that Kadamba queen Kamaladevi’s husband was away when a guard of the fort betrayed the dynasty. The king was killed and the queen in her grief cursed the village.
The English version of this curse is as follows:-
Let the women who leave the city be barren
And those that come in be widowed.
While muttering this curse the widowed queen is said to have impressed her heel four times on the schist stone which now lies in front of the St Tiago Chapel of Cotta.
Over the years, the number of the participants has been varying depending on who is back from overseas. The youth, though less in number, do enthusiastically participate in the dance. However, as senior participant Lawrenco Antao noted,” they don’t come dressed in the desired traditional attire”.” The future of the dance”, says Mrs Fernandes,” lies entirely in the hands of the youth, who as the elders hope will continue this unique tradition”.Goa is land where we embrace a belief system which is a result of many customs and traditions. The Mussollam Fhell is one such tradition that keeps the community going and needs to be protected.