The Feast of the Three Kings in Goa

Epiphany is a theophany in the East. It celebrates the visitation of the three wise men to the child Jesus. It is the moment of revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ to the people of the East. It is one of the earliest feasts in the Church. In its early days, the Church, particularly in the East is said to have celebrated the coming of Christ on 6th January by commemorating the Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. As time went by, these feasts got rightly separated. It is the Council of Tours in 567, that the Church set both Christmas and Epiphany as feast days on Dec. 25th and Jan. 6th respectively and named the twelve days between the two feasts as Christmas season. As time went by, the liturgical calendar of the Church got further crystalized and the other feasts also got separated from 6th January. The celebration of the visitation of the three wise men developed rich cultural traditions across the world and Goa is not an exception to it

The feast is very popular in Goa and is called the feast of the three kings. We may ask why do we call the wise men in the text of the gospel of St. Mathew, three kings? How did we arrive at number three? The text of the gospel (Mt. 2: 1-12) does not quantify them as three. Hence, the question about the number becomes relevant. The number is arrived at based on the three gifts mentioned in the gospel: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Now we still have to ask why does our tradition call those that the Gospel calls wise men as kings? Scholars call them Kings because the text of the gospel of Mathew that narrates the visitation of the wise men is read alongside Isaiah 60:1-6 and Psalm 71. We in fact came to know the names of the three kings based on the mosaic of the three kings that we find in Basilica in Raveena in the north of Italy. The mosaic is said to have been commissioned by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. The mosaic names the three kings as Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar. In the writings of Bede, the venerable, who lived in the 8th century AD, we can trace a symbolic interpretation of the story of the three kings. In his book, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he interprets the gift of gold as one honouring the infant Jesus as King, the Frankincense as honouring as God and the Myrrh as testifying about his Death. It is believed that the relics of the three kings are kept in the cathedral of St. Peter in the city of Cologne in Germany. The manner in which these relics reached Cologne is a long complex story and has links with queen Helena, the mother of emperor Constantine.

Goa has a special tradition of celebrating the feast of the Three Kings, particularly in Cansaulim. Three boys of Cansaulim, Arrosim, and Cuelim enact the three Kings also known as the three Magi who followed the guiding star in their bid to pay their homage to infant Jesus. Dressed in the attire of Kings, the three boys take three different traditional paths on horseback and meet at a point on the hill and move together to the Chapel, of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. In the chapel, each of the three kings offers their gifts to infant Jesus. After the solemn Eucharist, the three boys return to their homes by different paths in keeping with the narrative of the gospel. It is said that the feast of the Three Kings was founded by a Jesuit priest, Gonsalo somewhere around 1599 AD. The people of Cansaulim, Arrosim and Cuelim and surrounding areas celebrate the feast of three kings with great devotion and pomp.

The village of Chandor also celebrates the feast of the three kings with deep religious fervour and grandeur. It is celebrated as the feast of Nossa Senhora de Belem . Like Cansaulim, three boys from the village adorned with the attire of the Kings re-enact the narrative of the wise men as told by the gospel of St. Mathew. A solemn procession begins at the chapel of our lady of Piety on Monte Cota and ends at Nossa Senhora de Belem Church where the three kings offer their gifts to the infant Jesus and attend the Holy Eucharist. In the same way, the feast of the Three Kings is celebrated with great faith and grand display in Reis Mangos Church in Verem. Three youth from the village decked in the robes of the king re-enact the narrative of the three wise men as told by St. Mathew. After the celebration of the Eucharist, a procession of the three kings begins at the Church and goes around the village.

We can clearly notice how the feast of the three kings in Goa is marked by our Goan culture. One can find how deep faith and celebrative attitude of the Goans beautifully intermingle in the feast. Besides, our faith and celebrative attitude, we do have the inter-religious side of the celebration. The feast of three kings is celebrated by our Hindu brothers and sisters alongside the catholic with equal enthusiasm and religious fervour.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao