Konsachem Fest: Giving thanks for a bountiful harvest

In Goa, the harvest festival is celebrated in the month of August, by which time rice grains are formed. The village of Taleigao, Tiswadi is celebrating the feast today, August 21, that is laden with traditions, rituals and festivity. The feast that has history attached to it is being celebrated ever since 1526.
Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
In Goa, the harvest festival is celebrated in the month of August, by which time rice grains are formed. The feast isn’t celebrated on the same day all over the state, in Salcete most villages celebrate the festival on August 15; Raia has festivities on August 5, which is the feast of the patroness of the church, Our Lady of Snow. In Bardez, the villages of Aldona and Salvador do Mundo are the first to celebrate the feast on August 6; Aldonkars also celebrate the feast of Transfiguration of Jesus while Saloikars celebrate the feast of their patron Saviour of the World on said day.

The most colourful celebration laden with tradition and rituals is the harvest feast of Taleigao village, in Tiswadi, which is spread over four days. Gaonkars of this communidade were given the privilege, by the Portuguese, of harvesting the paddy first in Tiswadi taluka. This is done on August 21, whereas other villages celebrate the feast on August 24 or the Sunday after the twenty fourth.

In February 1510, Goa was first captured by Afonso de Albuquerque in the absence of her ruler, Adil Shah. However, when Adil Shah learnt about this conquest, on his way back to Goa in May of the same year, he attacked the Portuguese with a force of 60,000 men. Albuquerque had no option but to withdraw and since the monsoons had set in and the Aguada sand bar was closed for maritime traffic, his fleet was anchored at a place near present day Penha da Franca, where he and his soldiers went through hard times due to scarcity of food, being forced to eat mice in order to survive.

It was on this occasion that the gaonkars of Taleigao, at the risk of their lives, transported in canoes, rice and other food stuff to the entire Portuguese fleet. At the noble gesture, Afonso de Albuquerque conceded the privilege to the gaonkars of Taleigao, vide the Foral of Afonso Mexia, dated September 16, 1526, Article 54, which says: “The village of Taleigao has prominence over the others to harvest the paddy. The gaonkars will come every year with sheaves of paddy stalks to the city of Goa, where it will be presented at the main altar at the Se Cathedral. From there, the vicar will come with them to the Fort where the Factor will present a pachari (a white or coloured shawl), on which he is allowed to spend four pardaos (currency of the time). To the gaonkar who has been selected amongst them for this honour. Thereafter, the harvesting in other villages can be effected.”

Harvesting is done by rotation, by any male member of each family on August 21. The gaonkar celebrating the feast is accompanied by a priest, who blesses the new paddy crop, and an entourage consisting of other gaonkars of the confraternity who carry on their shoulder the image of St Michael from the church to the field where the paddy is harvested. In the days gone by, the entourage used to be accompanied by the addao, a group of villagers, fancifully dressed and holding decorated bamboo poles in their hands. One of them used to hold the Portuguese flag, which according to history was given to them by Afonso de Albuquerque.

The following day, August 22, avel (flattened rice or poha) is distributed to all the gaonkars in the village. The Mahar’s band, accompany the person distributing avel. This is marked by burning of firecrackers and ringing of church bells.
On August 23, avel is ceremoniously given to the parish priest by the gaonkar celebrating the feast. The grand finale of the four-day festival is on August 24. It is on this day that a committee of gaonkars carry avel and a sheaf of paddy stalk to the Se Cathedral, where a high mass is celebrated.

For the expenses of the feast, the president is given money which was an amount already fixed by the communidade. In return, the president has to religiously follow norms laid by the communidade. For example, the burning of fireworks (fosnem) has to be done at a particular interval of time. If not complied with, any gaonkar can lodge a complaint against the president of the feast for not observing the norms specified.

Like any communidade affair, this also is a male dominated feast. Only a male child harvests the new paddy, only male gaonkars are part of the committee, who participate and partake at the table on August 24.[NT]