Every harvest festival seems to bring sadness and introspection for the rural folk in Goa. Against this background and with agriculture on the decline, parishioners in Mandur found a way out to deal with an immediate problem by raising the crop in the church compound.
The annual festival of Novidade is celebrated on August 21 (and three more days) in Taleigao; and on August 24 in other parts of Tiswadi, as these parishes, some of them quiet at other times, burst into life, as the locals celebrate the occasion with much joy and pageantry.
A ceremonial cutting and blessing of the paddy by the parish priest in the nearby field is one of the highlights of the festival, followed later by colourful cultural programmes. But, in recent years, the event has lost much of its thematic meaning, as many parishes are compelled to ‘borrow’ the corn, for distribution to parishioners, from outside sources.
Agriculture in Goa has been plagued with numerous problems – high-cost inputs, lack of labour, flooding, stray cattle, irregular rainfall, change of lifestyles and loss of interest among farmers and youth.
In Mandur, in Tiswadi, the hassled villagers found a solution to the stray cattle menace by growing paddy in the securely fenced church compound. On Thursday, during the Konsachem Fest celebrations, the parishioners converged a few metres away from the church, instead of walking nearly a mile through traffic on the major district road.
On the feast day, the parish priest of Mandur, Fr Manuel Gomes, blessed the corn, and the parishioners trooped back into 18th century Our Lady of Amparo Church which bears an architecturally majestic façade. A traditional brass band livened up the spirits. But, during the homily, the priest cautioned the parishioners that the festival is pointless if the agricultural activity is restricted to cultivation only for the festival.
“In the same way, borrowing paddy only for the festival, and leaving our fertile khazan lands barren, makes the festival meaningless,” Fr Gomes said.
Mandur, in Azossim-Mandur panchayat, is a small village nestling on the south-eastern rim of the Kadamba plateau, and sprawls on the banks of one of Goa’s biggest khazan lands stretching from Agassaim to Corlim and beyond. However, a weak and broken bundh network, that served as a barrier between the River Zuari and Cumbharjua canal, is showing signs of neglect, poor maintenance and the brunt of nature.
Several breaches to the main riverfront bundhs, Ofla, Domzo and Caujem have permitted saline water to submerge vast areas during high tide. Kundaim hill, or any vantage point, offers a full view of the extensive inundated khazan area in Neura, Azossim-Mandur, Carambolim and Corlim.
Once a granary of food and fish in the area, the waterlogging for around two decades has destroyed large tracts of fertile land, nearby drinking water wells, coconut groves and fruit trees. Mangroves skirting water bodies have spread out into the fields.
“The people have to come together not only to celebrate the harvest festival, but also to support the effort to revive agriculture,” said the convenor of the Khazan Action Committee (KAC), Ramrao Wagh.
St Andre MLA, Viresh Borkar, also stressed that repairs of internal bundhs would not serve any purpose if the main bundhs were not restored.
The KAC had been formed a few years back to tackle issues affecting farmers, such as repair of breached bundhs, and to encourage farmers to take up cultivation.
“A few youth have given up lucrative jobs in Goa to take up farming activities and more should be inspired by their example and follow them. Youth and others have also to extend their support to issues which are setbacks to agriculture,” Wagh added.