Blending of Goan-ness and Christian-ness Through the Feast of Raia

Image Source: Catholic Link

As 5th August rings in, the people of Raia and the surrounding areas rise to a  joyful mood that springs from an enthusiastic celebration of the  feast of Our Lady of Snows, patron of the village. The feast brings our Goan-ness, particularly our dependence on rice, our staple food to the feet of  our God through the intercession of  our Lady.  Come August,  the offering  of the first fruits  of our labour in the form of paddy sheaves has been a very old tradition in Goa . Most parishes in Goa offer paddy sheaves and seek divine blessings for their people .  Besides, offering of the first fruits to the divine, the feast inaugurate the celebrations of   eco-traditions of our  Goan people, that reside in several religious ceremonies and  festivals in Goa. Thus, among the Hindus of Goa, the festival of the arrival and departure of Lord Ganesha follows on the heels of month of August bringing good tidings and mangala (welfare of all). The village of Raia embraces also the ecological sacred traditions like the sacred grove which are known as ‘Devrai’ among the Hindus. That is why in its own way the feast of our Lady of Snows celebrates our Goan-ness that has emerged down the centuries. 

It is no accident that Our Lady of Snows has an ecological connection in the catholic tradition.  The devotion to our Lady of Snows is said to be one of the oldest devotion to mother Mary. It is said that it has direct links with a legend about a marvellous snow fall in Rome in 352 A.D.  The legend says that mother Mary had indicated in a dream to a wealthy childless couple that she wanted a Church to be built in her honour. It was said that the site for the Church  would  be covered with snow.  As told by mother Mary, on hot sultry morning of 5th August, Esquiline hill was found to be covered with snow.  The people of Rome bowed before the miracle of summer snow and built a Church on the hill in 358 A.D.  The   Church  is still standing on the hill and has become the seat of devotion to Our Lady of Snow in the Catholic Church.   Following this devotion, there are several shrines and Churches dedicated to Our Lady of Snows in other parts of the world like Belleville, in Illinois  in St. Louis, Missouri in USA. In our country, we have our Lady of Snow pilgrimage centre in Thoothukudi in Tamil Naidu and twin villages of Raia and Rachol are both dedicated to our Lady of Snows in Goa. 

The appropriation of the devotion of our Lady of Snows is complex in India. In Thoothukudi the feast is associated with the conversion of Paravas and is celebrated as the caste feast. In Raia too, a community of Gold smiths also speak of deep caste fissures. They seem to associate the loss of their Brahamin status on account   transfer of their deity  from Raia to Shiroda under colonization. While caste does entangle in most religious celebrations in our country, perhaps it is needed to be studied more critically elsewhere and a passing reference may be sufficient in this context.  Besides, the caste laden appropriation the devotion of our Lady  in south India, Goa seems to open us to a unique and truly Goan appropriation of the Our Lady of Snows. To understand this profoundly, we may have draw our attention to a special linguistic parallels in Konkani, our mother tongue   that emerged under colonization. Konkani  has expressions like Anjbodvo (angle), Monti dongor (Mount in Margao),   Saib Salvador (Lord and saviour), Redemtor Saib (Lord redeemer), Sobit sundor (beautiful) etc. These expressions indicate the appropriation of West or even the Arabic influence on us as the Arabic roots of  the word Saib/ siabinn points to an enhancing assimilation of the outsider’s world in Goa. 

Staying within the range of this unique linguistics expressions, we might be enabled to understand how our Lady of snows is appropriated into our catholic tradition in Goa . The linguistic forms  that we have illustrated above place the words that have external origin side by side. This Juxtaposition manifests that there is no elimination of phonetic and semantic dimension of the external words. They remain side by side to our Konkani words and both draw meaning from each other. This mutuality result into a co-emergence of meaning that we receive or communicate when we use these expressions. This train of thought might openus  to the fact that not just in Raia but  in several places in Goa, the devotion of our  Lady and earlier traditions of worship of female deity draw from each other and co-emerged into traditions that apparently look in different directions. We might find this technique of juxtaposition  active  in feast of our Lady of Milagres Saibin in Mapusa or the belief in the six sisters of Mother Mary among the Hindus. Thus, there is a co-emergence of traditions in Goa each drawing from the other. This mutuality is actively visible in the way the Hindu brethren mingle with our catholic ceremonies centred particularly on mother Mary and Raia is no exception. 

The fact of co-mergence seems to be uniquely Goan and has to be studied with  profound  attention as it brings us to an ethics of compassion. This ethics of compassion is certainly an ethics of mercy, a marga of karuna. It can enable us to look at the co-journey of our Goan people and understand our history not just in linear narratives but view it  in  horizontal, parallel as well as emergent modes. Goa seem to be best suited to bring this new embrace of plural pasts of our  people. just like the people of Goa has not subsumed the Marian devotions in singular moulds but have allowed it to co-flower with their traditions, it becomes a challenge for all of us, particularly the catholic community to understand this co-witnessing to our Goan-ness and Christian-ness as it is happening in Goa. The Feast of Raia brings us to this heightened awareness without losing sight of the ecological traditions embedded  in it. Indeed, the universal openness of the catholic spirit opens us to the co-presence of the triune God and his people in our collective journeys in Goa. Hence, being rooted in our catholicity, we challenged to  celebrate the Christian-ness and Goan-ness that is living vibrantly in our festivals. The feast of our Lady of Snows  magnificently blends this Goan-ness and Christian-ness.      

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