“You should’ve been here at 1:00 O’Clock,” a middle-aged, local man said, probably indicating the time of installation, as I stopped in the temple courtyard to photograph a high ceremonial mast likely constructed from Areca Nut trunk and bamboo and decorated with marigolds, and bananas among other nature offerings, the top surmounted by leaves, similar to the Gudi hoisted on Gudi Padwa.
It rose from a notch in the centre of a raised, square platform where people had made offerings of coconuts to the deity.
Jags and I were returning from a walk along the mudflats and mangroves in Karanjal when I first noticed the high mast erected in the temple courtyard. It was two days after Holi early this month and Shigmotsav celebrations had kicked off across Goa, particularly in the North of the state where traditionally Shigmo (Konkani for the month of Phalguna, the last month in the Hindu calendar) is celebrated from the day of the full moon of Phalgun month to the end of the month that culminates in Gudi Padva, the first day of the Hindu calendar year, that is today.
Only the day before, following Holi celebrations commencing on full moon in the month of Phalgun and lasting a day, I had seen the same sight in the vicinity of a temple in Bhoma as I rode a bus to Panjim. The bus had paused by the temple that sits off the highway, waiting for throngs of people who’d gathered for the installation of a similar ceremonial mast, to make way for the bus. One by one local villagers had come up to the platform from which the mast rose and broke a coconut on the platform as a ritual offering to the deity.
Elsewhere, depending upon the tradition followed at the temples, villagers erect Mango tree trunks or Areca Nut tree trunks though not necessarily restricted to the two. And in the days to follow, given that Shigmo is essentially a festival of music and dance observed largely by Goa’s farming community celebrating the arrival of Spring, villages, and particularly the temples, are transformed by the holding of folk dramas and dances like Khell, Romat, Jagor, Ranmalyem, Talgadi, and Ghodmodni among others.
Villages are not bound by a particular date on which to install the ceremonial mast, each dictated by tradition observed at the temple. Even the commencement of Shigmo celebrations varies across Goa, with South Goa observing it on the beginning of the month of Phalgun and concluding it on Phalgun Punav (Full moon of Phalgun month), while North Goa observes its commencement on Phalgun Punav and concludes it on Padva, today. However, exceptions can be found within each of the two regions. The difference in its observance had to do with the Portuguese banning its observance leading to the colony’s ingenious subjects cleverly disguising its observance along with the Carnival to escape censure and retribution.
“We will keep it until Padwa,” the middle-aged man said when I asked him how long will the ceremonial ‘trunk’ be retained. Today is Gudi Padva, and I believe, with much fondness and piety the ceremonial ‘mast’ will have been lowered. However, the actual Shigmo celebrations involving folk dramas and dances would normally extend only five days from the date of commencement of the Shigmo festival.
The middle-aged man was supervising a few local youth busy putting up a makeshift stage in the corner of the temple courtyard. “Dramas will be staged from tomorrow night,” he said. It’s a scene that repeats across Goa in temples where these celebrations take place. Not all Goan temples celebrate similarly.
“No. Around here you’ll get to see this in Durbhat,” a youth said when I asked him if every temple hosts these celebrations as in dances and dramas and the ceremonial ‘mast’ that he referred to as Shigmyache Holi, a term I felt might not be the original reference. He mentioned two other temples in the vicinity that I cannot remember clearly now.
A sodium vapour lamp cast a gentle glow on the activity below as the men discussed ways to reinforce and shape the makeshift stage where local artistes would stage their plays to villagers crammed in the courtyard. Curious of the atmosphere I made a mental note to ride over to the temple the next day and watch the plays with the villagers. I could not make it to the venue the next day.
However, the rhythmic beating of the drums, that familiar Ghanch-katar-ghanch, ghanch-katar-ghanch had floated on the Spring breeze in the days leading upto Shigmo and in the days since, quivering along quiet roads, stepping across lush green paddy fields, skipping over village ponds, all the while strengthening and waning depending on the breeze carrying the hypnotic beats towards or away as bands of drummers carried their drums from Vaddo to Vaddo, beating the familiar, throbbing beat pulsating with the energy and the promise of Spring, and of life itself.
A day earlier, on our way back through Chorao as we headed for the ferry crossing to Panaji, Philip and I had rounded a turn in the narrow road just before it ran through an open field and happened upon an enthusiastic band of drummers on the roadside hard at their drums.
A few shops and homes with sloping roofs lay on either side of the road, and local men stopped by to talk and offer encouragement. The Sun was descending behind the trees and the evening pulsated to a familiar rhythm from my childhood.
“Will you be participating in the Shigmo parade in Panaji?” I asked one of the drummers as he handed the sticks to a young child before turning to me to answer.
“No, no,” he said, smiling. “For the duration of the Shigmo celebrations, we’ll be moving from waddo to waddo, drumming our way through them.”
In the countryside, Goa resonates to the beat of Spring in Phalgun. Like the season itself, the drums regenerate the landscape, and memories.
And standing on the roadside I imagined children stepping out, as I once did, and dancing to the beats of an ancient people of an ancient land following an age-old tradition.