The month of August is quite special in Goa as we now experience light showers and diffused sunlight amidst grey clouds. Actually, there’s a dance between the rain and sunlight at this time of year. This somehow becomes the ideal climate for plants as they get, both, sunlight and water; and also for birds, bees, butterflies to come out and soak in the sun for some time.
As we have seen, any change in our ecology, is well-reflected in our culture and we experience this through our festivals. In Goa, during this time, we celebrate various feasts like the feast of St Anne, popularly known Toucheanchem Fest (cucumber festival) at St Anne Church, at Talaulim, in Tiwsadi, where cucumbers are offered; or the Konsachem Fest, which is a thanksgiving feast, for the good harvest, and is common among the farming community. It is symbolized by cutting the sheaves of corn.
Also, during this time Hindu community in Goa observes the holy month ‘Shravan.’ It is an auspicious month, with various festivals such as Nag Panchami (worshipping of the snake god); Narali Poornima (where the sea is worshipped by offering a coconut for it to calm down); Raksha bandhan where asister ties a rakhi or a sacred thread on her brothers’ wrist, wishing his well-being.
CONNECTING WITH NATURE
Along with these festivals, every Sunday of this month is also worshipped. It is locally known as aaytar pujan or ‘worshipping Sunday’.
On this day, married ladies worship the Sun god by collecting wild leaves and shrubs, which are easily found in one’s backyard. Most of these leaves are herbal, medicinal, etc. The common ones are durva (grass), leaves of tulsi, bhui avla, patri (dhobi’s handkerchief plant), and a variety of seasonal flowers.
As we know, the Sun god has been worshipped right from Vedic times as it is the main source of energy for all living beings on earth. This practice of collecting wild leaves is also an act of learning the local biodiversity and being aware about the medicinal plants in one’s vicinity.
This is reflected in the cuisine as well. During this month, Goan vegetarian cuisine takes centerstage as many Hindus abstain from non-vegetarian food during this holy month. Also, there’s a tradition of making rice and jaggery based dishes on four Sundays of this month.
On the first Sunday, mutke or mutli is made (and is a steamed rice paste dish, which is stuffed with coconut and jaggery).
On the second Sunday, patolyos are made (which is a steamed rice paste dish with a jaggery and coconut stuffing, and it is wrapped in turmeric leaves which add the amazing aroma of these leaves). This dish is also made during Nag Panchami festival. On the third Sunday, a khichdi-like dish, known as Uphar, is made; and on fourth Sunday, rice pancakes are made.
It is also the time to enjoy some wild greens and make some scrumptious meals by harvesting the wild leaves found in one’s locality. Among the vegetables, the most common are the colocasia leaves as they are used to make various dishes.
All these vegetables are local and seasonal, and provide nourishment to the body. This month is also, in a way, a celebration of nature and the new life which is visible in the open green spaces of Goa.
We need to nourish such spaces as they are also part of our culture and heritage, and thus our festivals are just a reflection of that.