In this village of Goa, people play Holi with fire!

‘Sheni Uzzo’ is one of the age old traditions of Goa that takes place in the village of Molcornem, Quepem.
Sheni Uzzo, a tradition where people shower hot embers on their body

Sheni Uzzo, a tradition where people shower hot embers on their body

Gomantak Times/Venita Gomes

A night prior to the festival of Holi, people across the country burn pyres of wood, marking the end of the evil ‘holika’; it is then that the festival of colours – Holi – begins. But, the villagers of Molcornem have a different and unique celebration, which they have been observing for centuries. The people in this village shower hot embers on their bodies, which is an unusual, one-of-a-kind festival in the country.

What it’s all about?

At around 10 pm, a day prior to Holi, people start gathering near the Shree Mallikarjun Temple, Quepem. Among the crowds, one can see women, newlyweds and children, participating in large numbers. As the night progresses, many more join in, and post 2 am to 3 am, you can hear loud, piercing sound of people singing, chanting and musical instruments. In no time, you can see men approaching the temple carrying areca nut palms. These include the ‘Gades’. The ‘Gade’ play a significant role in the festival. They are individuals with a special role in community rituals, and abstain from sinful habits and non-vegetarian diets in preparation for the festival. The ‘Gades’ go into a trance to appease the local deity.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Showering hot embers on devotees</p></div>

Showering hot embers on devotees

Gomantak Times/Venita Gomes 

The Holika

Before being brought to the temple, the areca nut palms are kept covered in an area called the ‘maand’ where these men vow to carry the palms physically on their shoulders. These men also carry smaller branches of a tree, which is located near the temple. “The tree is not identified. It is unusual people light its branches,” said a senior member of the community. This group of runs fast, carrying these palms, and stops at various locations, where these plants are then erected. Children are made to climb the tree, and the chanting and typical rhythmic beats make for a spectacular sight.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A young boy climbing the holika</p></div>

A young boy climbing the holika

Gomantak Times/Venita Gomes

Running under fire

Much later, these men light cow dung, and that’s how this tradition gets its name ie ‘Sheni Uzzo’. ‘Sheni’ means ‘dry cow dung’ and ‘Uzzo’ means ‘fire’. In the past, cow dung cakes were used for cooking, and now this tradition involves lighting the cow dung. They then smear the hot embers on their bodies. People wait for the moment when they can run under the hot embers. “Newly married couples run under these embers, which people call ‘sheni’, seeking the gift of a child,” said a resident, who has been attending the festival for over 5 years.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The group seen erecting the areca nut palms - holika&nbsp;</p></div>

The group seen erecting the areca nut palms - holika 

Gomantak Times/Venita Gomes

While running under the fire, they believe that no one gets burnt or hurt. There’s another way in which they can get the blessing of whatever their hearts desire. At the end, the palms, which are considered to be the ‘holika’, are erected behind the zalmi shrine, near the temple, and people climb these, while the others throw fire at them. And it’s not just the adults and elders, but the children as well, who participate and put up a beautiful display of their traditions. The real thrill comes when the fire is lit, which is a spectacular sight and happens much later around 5 am.

This festival is also about seeking blessings from the local deities to protect their village and the villagers from all sorts of danger and harm.

(Want to attend the festival? Head to the Shree Mallikarjun Temple, in Molcornem, Quepem. The festival takes place a day prior to Holi, post 10 pm. The lighting of Sheni happens much later, between 3 am – 5 am.)

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