The Feast of the Epiphany, or as it is locally called, the Feast of the Three Kings, is celebrated 12 days after Christmas to commemorate the visit of the three wise men to Infant Jesus.
In Goa, the feast is celebrated annually on January 6 with great enthusiasm, passion and zeal, especially in the villages of Chandor, Cansaulim (in South Goa) and Reis Magos (North Goa).
In Cansaulim, the festivities take place at the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Our Lady of Cures), which is situated on the Cuelim hillock.
The feast, here, has a unique tradition which has been adhered to for many years, which is the enactment of the journey of the magi to present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Baby Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem.
Three young boys (in the age group of 7-12 years) – representing the three wards of Arrossim, Cansaulim and Cuelim – are chosen to be the reis (kings) during the festivities.
Each little rei is allotted a horse that will carry him to the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, while the families walk alongside.
Stitching new clothes may be the norm for this feast, but what is most unique is that the crowns, which these little 'kings' wear, are tailored specifically for each king for the occasion.
Every year, the new king gets a new crown, made especially for the feast. But, you may ask, who makes these crowns? How are they made? What is the story behind it? Let’s find out.
Lenny Barreto, the grand-uncle of one of the kings, Neil Xavier from Cuelim
This year, Lenny Barreto, the grand-uncle of one of the kings, Neil Xavier from Cuelim, volunteered to help restore an old crown for his nephew.
“In 2015, I had made this crown for my brother’s grandson. This year, his younger son is the king, and so, they decided not to make a new one as they already had one made for their elder son. When my brother approached me to ask if I’d be interested, I was thrilled to take it up,” explains Lenny.
The material Lenny used to make the crown is very different.
“The most unique part of the crown is that it’s see-through, and there is artwork which is also done inside the crown, unlike the other crowns, which have tulle fabric used inside. The pattern, too, is very different.”
Lenny’s brother, Lester Barreto, was a king in the 1990s, and lamenting, Lenny mentioned that the crowns used back then used to be made using cardboard.
“They would cover the crowns using velvet, add sequins and beads,” he mentions.
Lenny has used a variety of beads and minute artistry to make the crown look great. “Most of the beads and rhinestones used have been re-polished as they were still in good condition. For most families, this crown is a prized possession,” he shares.
BEHIND THE CROWN
Although Lester was privileged enough to have an artistic brother in the family, not everyone is as lucky, which leaves the other two kings to either go to Efigenia Saldanha or Joseph Saldanha.
This year, 91-year-old Efigenia didn’t make any crowns, as it is now difficult for her due to her poor eyesight. However, she has probably made over 50 crowns in the last five decades.
Since Efigenia no longer makes them, Joseph received two orders this year -- from the families of the other two kings.
“Before 1990, it was my father who would make these crowns, but post 1995, I took over. The entire family would come together to make these crowns – my sisters, even my wife would help," explains Joseph.
"Now that I make crowns, my son, daughter and wife help me. I must have made 30 odd crowns till now, and the process of making one crown takes me almost a month,” he says.
“In the past, the techniques were very different – bamboo sticks were used in the crowns. Nowadays, we use metal strips which help keep the crown intact, and don’t bend or break during the ceremony," he explains.
Joseph Saldanha, who makes crowns for the feast
Joseph has many shapes of crowns that he has created in the past. He uses cardboard to cut out the shape of the crown, and each cardboard has the year and the name of the king who wore it.
The sequins and rhinestones used are individually glued onto the crown and later hand-stitched.
“This year, we have a king who lives in Dubai, and his family called me up to find out what type, and how many, sequins were required. We have to be very careful when we adjust these sequins as they tend to break,” says Joseph.
The cost of each crown varies depending on the design and the intricate work done on it and can range from ₹ 25,000 to ₹ 30,000.
As the three little kings ride their horses during the festive procession, onlookers admire their attire, and many even fall at the feet of these kings, which has resulted in a tradition where the crown is placed on the devotees' heads as a sign of blessing.