Deserted streets. Empty beaches. Unearthly silence. A handful of people and police officials moving around wearing masks of different styles. The once packed beach shacks remained forlorn, and the church buildings stood in tranquillity. This is what the famous tourist spot also known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ looks like during the current lockdown situation the country is going through because of the coronavirus pandemic. With close to half a crore infections and over three lakhs reported deaths around the world, the people have isolated themselves in their homes to maintain safety.
The usually people-filled streets and beaches in Goa have lost its soul, remaining still and quiet. Goa’s ever-bustling Baga is drained off its everlasting energy.
North Goa wouldn’t wear that look even in the meanest of off seasons, and we are talking of a festival day. Probably, one of Goa’s busiest festive times –Easter.
Goa’s charming festivities and carnivals maintain its rich cultural heritage. The State celebrates a variety of festivals with grandeur throughout the year, which attracts a lot of tourists and its striking celebrations is a sight to behold. One of the major festivals in Goa that holds a special place in the hearts of the Goans is Easter.
Good Friday marks the day which memorialises the last moments of Jesus Christ’s life following his crucifixion and death. The Goan Catholics express their immense regards and respect on this day as it observes the pinnacle of Lent, the 40 days before Easter during which Christians follow some strict traditions and customs including fasting and atonement. Easter is celebrated on a Sunday popularly known as ‘Easter Sunday’, is a joyful occasion where people gather and celebrate the resurrection of Christ along with Easter feasts and church visits.
Wondering about the connection between Easter and Goa? It’s an age-old story to tell that defines their historical association. The rich culture of Christianity lingers all over the State since the Portuguese rule. Over a fourth of Goa’s population are Christians. The Portuguese had settled in 1510 and had ruled Goa since then for 450 years. The Hindu and Muslim majority in Goa were forced by the Portuguese to accept Christianity as their faith. When they were set free from the Portuguese rule in the year 1961, Christian practices had already been established. Since then, Goa had amalgamated all the cultures respecting each other’s faith and participate in each other’s celebrations.
During Easter, Jesus Christ is decorated with garlands that are typically used for Hindu worships and rituals, Konkani language is often used during the Mass. The Goans are proud of the historical culture that they have acquired and strives to maintain it in the present century. All this makes the little Western Indian State a major place for celebrating the Holy Week with such magnificence and splendour. A unique aspect about the celebration of the Christian festivals in Goa is that there is a good blend of Indian and Portuguese culture.
Come 2020. The new decade has changed life for the globe. Good Friday and Easter in Goa were different and unique that was never seen before. In March, when the Vatican City ceased the participation of masses for Good Friday and Easter at the time when the coronavirus pandemic badly hit Italy, the announcement came as a shock for followers who were eagerly waiting for their holy festival.
At such a situation of crisis, the familiar boon called technology came to the rescue. Following the decisions, the churches in Goa decided to terminate mass gatherings. They were trying to use social media sites like Facebook and YouTube to conduct church prayers for the parishioners so that they did not need to physically attend the churches to participate in prayers and other rituals.
As the online celebration of the festival was announced, the Goan Catholics either gathered in front of their television screens to catch the live streaming or social media platforms to be a part of the celebrations. Everyone was provided with the video links to participate in the church services performed by Goa’s Archbishop. This is for the very first time in the history that the Christians celebrated the Holy Week through online modes without engaging in usually held traditions and rituals.
“As my childhood memories, I remember going to the Church on Good Friday all dressed in black, mourning atmosphere all around though Easter was all about rejoicing and sumptuous food. But this year because of the pandemic, the entire nation was under lockdown during the mid-Lenten season which dampened the festive atmosphere,” said Rosch Goes, a resident of Goa. “Unique thing about this year was we tried to satisfy ourselves with online masses and liturgical celebrations while also trying to adjust to this new way of practising religion.”
The holy week which includes the Palm Sunday (the day when Jesus enters Jerusalem) was held this time without giving out sacred palm leaves, Maundy Thursday (The last supper) did not include the usual ceremony of feet washing along with processions, praying and mourning on Good Friday was missing and Easter was celebrated without home blessings.
Shri Agnelo A.J. Fernandes, Additional District Collector of Goa, says, “The pandemic has left a sour taste in the mouth of the energetic Goans who were excited to celebrate the Paschal Triduum. The online prayers and masses do not give that vibe we get at our churches. Even the Easter celebrations were quite stale as we could not enjoy properly. However, it is also true that we got an ample amount of time during the home quarantine to introspect and atone to our sins during this holy week.”
This year most of the Goan Catholics celebrated Easter without having meat as it was unavailable in most of the places because of the lockdown; lucky were those who managed to procure some pork. Even the people were unable to buy alcoholic beverages and wine, which is an integral part of their feast during the festival.
The restaurant and shack businesses have experienced a major downfall, especially during the festivals when the sale is at the peak. Tony Dacosta, owner of Anoshka bar & restaurant at Margao, finds it difficult to cope up with the falling business especially in a small State like Goa which depends on its tourism.
“Since the tourists are not coming to Goa now, it is just the Goan people, so the sale had drastically fallen down. We have a lot of staff, but now we are unable to provide them with salaries since we also have families. Without proper sale, we cannot ensure regular payments. Swiggy and Zomato are not much profitable for us as well. This coronavirus lockdown has affected us very badly; we are still figuring it out how to get back on the right track,” said Dacosta.
Despite several hindrances like missing real communion along with holy chorus songs, the parishioners did not lose their enthusiasm and spirit, from turning their houses into churches to seeking virtual blessings and sending hugs and kisses over video calls, they have done it all. As the online celebrations continued, Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant extended his greetings for Easter where he urged the Goans to take precautionary measures, maintain social distancing and to stay home.
Now let’s go back to the years when the world was ahappy placewhen celebrations and gatherings were a common activity. Goa is one of the ideal destinations for celebrations.
On Easter, celebrations are grander and more colourful accompanied by folk songs, music, dance and street dramas. After church prayers, people gift each other colourful flowers, lanterns as well as embellished Easter eggs and bunnies as a symbol of wealth. The striking Easter parades and carnivals are a fascinating part of the festivals that enthrals the spirit and excitement of Easter in Goa.
The parades and carnivals showcase the grand culture of Goa focusing on local songs and dance, band performances, imitation activities and other forms of talent. Other than this, various kinds of contests like painting Easter eggs along with exhibitions of fruits and flowers exclusive to Easter are also held. As a part of their traditions, the Christians bake delicious cakes and meals at home and invite friends and relatives over Easter Feasts, brunches and games. Some of the traditional dishes that make for the Easter Feast are Vindaloo, Sorpotel, Xacuti. Other delicacies of Easter are the hot-cross buns, bebinca and ‘bolo sans rival’ which the Goan Catholics gift each other as a part of their customs. However, there are various fancy stuff available in the market during the festival. Still, the Goans like to follow their traditions.
While there are various beautiful churches in Goa but the one that catches attention and attracts the largest crowd is the Church of the Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim, which was the first-ever church built in the region.
Agnelo Fernandes, Additional District Collector of Goa, says, “The re-enactment of the ‘Way of Cross’ accompanied by a subtle march on Good Friday and the Easter processions along with band music and parades on the streets of Panjim is mesmerising to witness.”
Mansi Shah, from Ahmedabad, never misses an opportunity to visit the church whenever she plans a holiday to Goa. “It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been to. The church has a magnificent and imposing facade with some fascinating zigzag style steps. We love clicking photographs there keeping the facade in background. I have visited Goa once during the Easter season and loved the vibe and atmosphere of the place. Moreover, Panjim is a lovely place to visit, and you can experience the authentic culture of Goa there,” says Mansi.
Returning to 2020. It’s now time for a reality check and coming back to the present days of the crisis. In the coming months, various local festivals like the Coconut and Cashew Festival, Sao Joao festival, Bonderam, Feast of St. Francis Xavier’s along with Christmas are coming up, but the question that pops up in mind is how the government is planning to host them in such difficult times?
The Government of Goa had earlier warned the masses to attend festivals and celebrations on their own risk as well as requested them to maintain social distancing and homestay. It has also proposed the idea of restarting tourism services once everything comes under control although there is no official announcement from the government on this matter yet.
The pandemic will pass but will life ever be normal again? Will people accept the concept of the online practice of religion? The constant social intercourse and the conventional dynamics among people may not be the same again. The enthusiasm and spirit of the population concerning festivals will not be the same again.
The only constant remains the sun, sand and beaches.