The feast of Our Lady of Snows is a joyous day for the people of Raia and its surrounding villages. It not only opens a spiritual space for us but also becomes an enactment of Goan culture and life lived to the fullest. Although the invocation of Mother Mary as our Lady of snow is alien to Goa because we have no snow here yet the feast in Raia has become one with Goa and Goan-ness. Our Lady of snows is accepted as the patroness of the village for centuries and has become part of human life in Raia. She has become mater nostra, our mother or mater mea, my mother for all Raikars. Indeed, from a simple Mary of Nazareth, Mother Mary has emerged as our Lady of everywhere. In Raia and Rachol she is venerated as our Lady of Snows and her feast is celebrated with great pomp and devotion of 5th of August every year Raia. It appears that her feast has been celebrated uninterruptedly on 5th August for centuries by the people of Raia.
We also have a Basilica dedicated to our lady of Snows (Panimaya Matha) in Thoothukudi in Tamil Naidu, which also commemoratively links us with the mass conversion of the Paravars by St. Francis Xavier and other Jesuits. Mother Mary is also invoked as Panimatha, our lady of Snows in Kallikullam in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Naidu. Besides, Tamil Naidu, we have devotion to our Lady of Snows in Pallipurum, in Ernakulum, Kerala.
August 5th is connected with our Lady of snows right from the beginning. It is said that Mother Mary had indicated to a wealthy childless couple that she wishes to have a Church be built for her and she has indicated that the site for the Church would be covered with snow. On a hot and sultry morning of August 5th 352 AD, Esquiline Hill was covered with snow. People of Rome proclaimed the summer snow as a miracle and a Church dedicated to our Lady of Snows was built in that place in 358 AD. People of Raia celebrate our Lady of Snows not so much because of this legend but to honour her special role as patroness of their village.
The people of Raia offer the first fruits of their labour in the form of paddy sheaves to God on the feast. This offering of the first fruit commemorates the first fruits that Jewish people offered to God. It also remembers the feast of Pentecost, the first fruit of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps, the ancestors of the people of Raia choose the Konsachem Fest with begins with the sacred ceremony of cutting of the paddy sheaves. Next ritual evolves taking of paddy sheaves to the Church in a solemn procession. Then, the paddy sheaves are offered to God during the high mass. Since 5th August comes closer to the harvest season in Goa, the ancestors of the people of Raia might have chosen the Konsachem fest to honour Our Lady of Snows. It might be also chosen because the offering of the paddy sheaves serves to symbolically commemorate the offering of the first fruits, their ancestors who were converted to the catholic faith and became the first to embrace Christianity in the whole of Salcete. In a very real sense, the ancestors of the people of Raia were the first fruits of the labours of evangelisation of Salcete.
The feast of our Lady of Snows in Raia has the history of the village, the Culture of Goa, and the spiritual quest of the people intertwined with it. It is also a harvest festival, it is profoundly rooted in the ecological traditions of Goa. Like other feasts in Goa, the feast in Raia is inter-religious and genuinely Goan in its texture. Besides, linking the people with their past, it connects them with their present joys and sorrows and powerfully combines with their hopes and future aspirations. As the village of Raia becomes the first to usher in the celebration of harvest festivities in Goa, the entire village and the people from surrounding villages both Catholics and Hindus happily participate in the festivities thanking God for the gift of the harvest, the fruit of their labour. Villages in Bardez, Aldona and Salvador de Mundo celebrate Konsachem fest on the heels of Raia feast on 6th August every year. Other villages also follow after that. Indeed, Raia feast is the first fruit of series of harvest festivals that follow it. May our Lady of Snows pray for us all.
Come the 5th of August and the village of beautiful village of Raia comes alive. An intense sense of joy descends on the village. Time seems to become thick and the entire village comes to a halt to celebrate its annual ‘Konachem Fest’. The festive moods rubs on both the Catholics and the Hindus of the village and they devoutly celebrate the symbolic cutting of the first sheaves, the fruit of human labour and offer it to God. Feast in some way tangiblizes human need to reach God with the fruits of their hard work. That is why perhaps it stricks a chord amidst all people of Raia and surrounding villages. While several historians have written polemical and conflictual history of the colonial disruption and dislocation of the chief temple of Raia, the feast that brings both the Hindus and Catholics together demonstrates that people are dialogical and celebrate life to bring succour and healing to them and render life liveable. History becomes alive in Raia on the day of Konsachem Fest . The first Church in Salcete was built in the Fort of Rachol was dedicated to our Lady of Snows. It also celebrates the Konsachem Fest soon after the feast of Raia. Being close to the mother church of all the churches in salcete, it is said that Raia has the distinction of being the first village to be Christianized en mass in 1560s. The Parish of Raia, along with the present Church of Our Lady of snows was founded 1699 to cater to the spiritual need of the increasing number of converts living outside the fort.
The village of Raia is said to have its origin from Roy or the sacred grove. One might draw its leak with Royn, the ant hill Goddess which was later Sanskritized and called Santeri. Perhaps, the existence of the ward, santimoll in the village might point to this etymology of its name Raia. Besides Royn being an ecological goddess might draw the links of the Harvest festival which the people celebrate as Konsanchem Fest in Raia even in our days. With the passage of time, Royn may have Sanskritized and become Kamakshi which was the presiding deity of the village when the Portuguese took control of Goa. This might have happened during the time of Kadambas rule who were known worshipers of Shiva. But we also have another slice of history that we often choose to forget. There is an Islamic past to the village of Raia. The Portuguese had taken it from the hand of the Muslim ruler, the Sultan of Bijapur, Ismail Adil-khan. It is said that the famous Vijaynagara King Krisna-deva called ‘the city of Raichur’. But some historians locate the same outside Goa. Perhaps, the past being connected to ecological Deities the Konsachem fest continues to draw people both Catholics and the Hindus from the surrounding areas. The Hindu tradition has sacred Groves, like Dev Rai in the forests in Sattari taluka. Hence, in some way the Konsachem Fest carries the past of our people in Goa within it.
The story of the conversion of the people of Raia is a great saga. In fact, it being the first village in Salcete to embrace Christianity, the conversion narrative acquires greater importance. Moreover, the conversion of a large number of people is linked to the feast of Our Lady of Snows, popularly known as Konsachem Fest in Raia. Therefore, it is apt to remember it over here in a broad way. The first fruits of missionary labours of Jesuits Fr. Pero Mascarenhas and Br. Manuel Gomes was a Brahmin, named Cortalo who along with his family is said to have accepted the Christian faith willingly. Consequently, on the day of the feast of our lady of snow 140 people were baptized in the presence of the then Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Antonio Quadros, in the Church of Our Lady of snows in 1568. This ritual was conducted in the Church located in the fort of Rachol. Cortalo took the name of Fr. Pero (Pedru) Mascarenhas and became the first Christian in Salcete. Hence, the parish community of Raia is the mother of all other communities that later embraced the Catholic Faith in Salcete. Moreover, Raia has the distinction of being the first to receive Baptism en mass and embrace Christianity.
Perhaps, the popularity of the Konsachem fest in Raia is also linked to the fact that the Christians there were the first catholic community in Salcete. Following the age-old tradition the Parish Priest prays for all the farmer of our country and prays for God blessing on their hard labour and calls God to take care of every hungry person. Then, he blesses the paddy sheaves and cuts them and carries them solemnly to the Church where they are offered to God. The holy sheaves are then distributed to the faithful present who carry them in their homes and place them with great devotion on their altars. A few years ago, the blessed sheaves were also shared with religious institutions that had links with the past faith community of Raia. Years back, when I was doing my first year of Philosophy at Rachol seminary, I happened to receive the blessed sheaves that some faithful came to share with the seminary. In those days, I had also learnt that they even went and shared the blessed sheaves with Shri Kamashi temple in Shiroda demonstrating how the Konsachem Fest bonded the two communities. With the passage of time, this practice of sharing the sheaves with the neighbouring institutions appeared to have stopped. But the inter-community bonding that was always part of the celebrations continues even today. This social dimensions of most of our feasts in Goa are clearly manifesting how the two chief communities are seeking to come together and celebrate tradition, faith and life.
The eco-centric roots of Konsachem Fest open us to the new encyclical, Laudato si of the holy father Pope Francis. It is a great way of celebrating creation and work to make life liveable in our common home on this planet earth. This eco-festival being a harvest festival leads us to the Gospel of creation inscribed by God in his creation. The eco-culture was part of a profound ethos of our culture in Goa. But today in the name of development, we have forgotten this eco-culture and are responsible for ecocide in Goa. The Konsanche fest and several ecological festivals in Goa bring to us this message of our common eco-centric past and remind us that our future cannot be secure without eco-justice. That is why the Konsachem Fest in Raia is central to the rhythm of life in Goa. While we celebrate the first fruits that mother earth has given us with the people of Raia, let us all learn to care for our mother earth and resist all kinds of exploitation that hurts her. It is a great opportunity to understand, celebrate and promote the land-life legacy that we have received from our ancestors and continue to hand it over to the next generation in our society.