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Cuncolim: A village of communal harmony in Goa

Cuncolim: A village of communal harmony in Goa


Does conversion to a new religion change caste equations in India? Do social customs and traditions change with religious conversion? Or do Indians continue with their Hindu customs and traditions despite conversions?

DOES CONVERSION to a new religion change caste equations in India? Do social customs and traditions change with religious conversion? Or do Indians continue with their Hindu customs and traditions despite conversions?

These are some of the questions my foreign friends pose to me when the topic of religious conversions comes up. I say, Indians certainly do follow their Hindu customs and traditions despite conversions.

In fact, in the western Indian state of Goa, Christians continue to follow the age-old Hindu practices and traditions of their forefathers, who converted to Christianity in the 16th century, and take part in Hindu rituals and festivals. In Focus Fathom this: Tony Fernandes’ forefathers converted to Christianity in the 16th century but the 48-year-old Fernandes still carries on the practice of visiting the Hindu temples and seeking blessings from his village deity - Shri Shantadurga Kunkoliarin. The practice is in conflict with the Catholic Church, which comes down heavily on idol worship and demands loyalty to only one god. Fernandes is not alone. Hundreds of his fellow villagers, following the customs of their forefathers, regularly visit the Hindu temples to evoke the blessing of their village deity - despite conversions. But there is a broader spectrum to Fernandes and his fellow villagers’ fling with Hindu beliefs. Fernandes hails from a village that boasts of a unique history. Tales of bravery and the valour of the people of Cuncolim, a small village in Goa, are recounted many times when the state experiences injustice. The residents of Cuncolim tried to ward off Portuguese missionaries, who were propagating forceful conversion to Christianity in 1583. The efforts of the Portuguese to force mass conversion on the residents and to desecrate the temples resulted in the shifting of the village deity from Cuncolim to Fatorpa. One of the traditions that the Christian converts from the village take part in together with their Hindu brothers is the festival of umbrellas (locally called Gulalustav - festival of colours), also known as the Sontreo (umbrella) procession. It is a pompous occasion with great significance for the local residents. The festival falls on Panchami day in the month of Phalguna on the Hindu calendar, which usually comes in the month of March. This day has an added meaning to the devotees, who commemorate the return of the deity from Fatorpa to Cuncolim in a festival spirit. The deity is brought back along the same route it was moved to Fatorpa. Young men of the village brave the heat to complete the five-kilometre procession in the company of the deity. The procession consists mostly of men, who wear traditional headgear and colour their bodies with dye. The procession begins at noon and reaches Cuncolim at around 3 pm. The colourful and ceremonious procession makes its way to Cuncolim to the beat of traditional music accompanied by 12 silken umbrellas, one of which is completely red in colour. Once in Cuncolim, young people dance with the umbrellas to music while devotees take blessings from the deity, which is doled out by Hindu priests. The umbrellas are propelled to a height of ten metres (11 yards) by bamboo sticks. The dancing ends around 5:30 pm, when the deity is taken back to Fatorpa along a different route. The 12 umbrellas represent the 12 clans or patrons of the temple at Cuncolim. “The umbrellas are strong symbols of the common history and kinship of the villages, continued common devotion to a powerful goddess and the existence of a common Goan culture that has existed for centuries,” wrote Paul Newman, in a paper titled ‘Konkani Mai Ascends the Throne’. (Konkani is the official language of Goa.) The Portuguese government, at the request of the then-patriarch Antonio Sebastiao Valent of the Roman Catholic Church, forbade the traditional procession. The ban was subsequently lifted in 1910 after the Portuguese republic was set up.

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