If you imagine Goa to be a paradise of beaches, and a much-loved tourist destination of the world, then you ought to see the other side of Goa that is chock-full of age-old traditions and rituals, where the life of the common man revolves around deities and gods, and where no ritual takes place without invoking the blessings of the divine.
If you want to experience it all, Shigmo is the best time of the year, when all of these rituals come alive.
While the streets of major cities like Margao, Panjim, Mapusa, Vasco and Ponda are lined with float parades and revellers, the interiors of the villages are engrossed in customs and practices whose origins are hard to trace.
Devotees are determined to practice and preserve this heritage by carrying forward the legacy.
I travelled to some rural villages of Goa to experience how these rituals are deeply intertwined in the lives of the people and to see exactly what happens during these festivities.
It was interesting to note that people in rural areas had a deep devotion and faith towards every element of nature, and the stories or incidents of their ancestors were recited and passed down through the generations.
During my travel, I came across spine-chilling traditions such as running on and under fire, seeing people buried beneath the mud, and using the head of the people to cook rice. You read all of it right!
This wasn't just it, watching people go in trance to appeasing the 'devchar' (devil) these traditions had their own way uniqueness and left behind a question about the existence, faith and spirituality.
During the Shigmo festival in Goa, Gade is one ritual that excites people. Places such as Sal, Kudnem, Pilgao etc perform the gade. Gade are people who undergo purification rites to perform this ritual.
They follow a strict diet and perform various rituals that include going in a trance and digging out the bones of the dead.
On a full moon night, the village of Kudnem goes entirely into darkness, and no one is allowed to even light a torch to navigate or find his way. They are simply to sit on the floor near the Gadyachem maand and watch patiently how the beats of the dhol and other traditional musical instruments send these gades into a trance and they chase a fire which appears in the distance.
The experience of watching them in a trance with the moonlight as the only source of light is simply fascinating. Just a few hours before dawn, you can find these gades emerge with the bones of the dead.
And, in Sal, what amuses many is the hiding of the gada, which is taken and hidden away and returned only after a day or four days. However, locals narrate an incident where the gada was returned after a year.
BURYING THEM DEAD OR ALIVE
Chorutsav or Chor Purne is one of the most fascinating rituals followed in two villages of Sattari - Zarme and Karanzol. It is a celebration of 'thieves'. Yes! That's right, people here celebrate thieves, but for all the wrong reasons. Not the wrong reasons of the thieves, but as penance.
Legend has it that ages ago, a few innocent people were killed in error, assuming they were thieves. As penance, the people of the village perform this ritual.
In this ritual, you can find a ritualistic burial and mortification of men. In Zarme, there are eight thieves who are buried, while in Karanzol, it is four thieves.
Their bodies are buried upto the neck, and the other four are buried with their necks in the pit leaving the rest of the body outside. On the side are two unmarried men dressed as women -- one is made to mock the demonstration of impaling and the other is made to lie like a dead body.
At Karanzol, a gun shot is fired in the air, which is locally called garane, followed by the thieves getting possessed. They bodies are buried in the mud in the earlier mentioned way. Two people, dressed in mango leaves, are made to sit on an elevated wooden structure, and the other lies dead.
You can catch of a glimpse of the ghodemodni after this ritual, and that is followed by the Gade Utsav.
Have you ever seen people taking a shower of fire on their bodies? Or, walking on a bed of coal? No, right? Well, a ritual that takes place in Molcornnem, Quepem, is peculiar and it happens during Holi, called Sheni Uzo where people set dried cowdung cakes alight.
The fire is then 'sprinkled' on devotees. You will find people running under this shower of fire with the belief that their prayers and needs will be answered and granted.
And, finally, you will find people climbing on the erected arecanut palm, while a huge chunk of fire is thrown towards him.
Interestingly, in various places, you can find the Homkund being performed, wherein people run on a bed of coal. When midnight strikes, a large pile of food is erected and people set that pile of wood on fire. Once reduced to ashes, devotees run on them.
In Sanquelim and Chorao island, you can find only men running through this fire. This fire does not leave any blisters and is said to not harm devotees who run through it.