Procession of the Saints in Velha Goa

Goa Velha, today’s location for the famous Procession of the Saints at St.Andrew’s Church, has a rich history which began long before the arrival of the Portuguese. In 973 AD, the Chalukya Hindu dynasty finally routed their historical enemies, the Rashtrakutas and ousted them from their former capital at Chandrapura (modern Chandor). Jayakeshi-I of the Kadamba Dynasty (allies to and ruled by their overlords, the Chalukyas) then constructed a new capital called Govapuri at the mouth of the Zuari River in 1054. Located ideally for trade, this port city grew quickly with the revenues coming in from the trade of Arabian horses, Chinese silks, and spice from the Hindu Colonies in South East Asia. Huge civic projects were completed and massive temples were constructed, a demonstrative opulence which attracted settlers from many regions and caught the attention of Muslim invaders.

Begining in the 10th century the Muslim armies began raiding the Temples of Govapuri, and the frequency of and damage from these attacks increased throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. Eventually the excessive attacks by the then Sultan of Delhi, Ala ud-din Khalji destroyed the city of Govapuri(modern Goa Velha) and the Kadambas were forced to abandon it and flee to their former capital at Chandrapur. In 1350, the Bahamis attacked and gained control of the city, lost it in 1378 to the Hindu Vijayanagar Kings, and regained it again only in 1470. However by this time large amounts of silt had accumulated in the harbor of the Zuari river and its prominence as a trading port seriously decreased. The Bahamanis then decided to move their capital to Ela (Old Goa), which in 1490 with the aid of the Sultans of Bijapur became the next city to rise to great heights as the dominant international trading center. When the Portuguese captured Goa in 1510, they kept Ela Goa as their capital.

Now a sleepy village, Goa Velha, the former properous city of the Kadamba Dynasty, hosts the renown Procession of the Saints on the first Monday of Easter week. This tradition began in the 17th century by the Franciscan Order in an attempt to boost the moral values and pious behaviour of the community and inspire them to take to their hearts the teachings of Jesus Christ. By the 18th century, a total of 65 life-size richly decorated statues of saints, martyrs, kings, and queens were carried in palanquins on the shoulders of Native Christians. In 1835, the event was banned by the Marquis of Pombal and many statues were destroyed. The celebration began again only towards the end of the 19th century.

saints04Today’s procession of the Saints draws hundreds of people from neighboring villages around Goa Velha. Prior to the sermon, devotees enter the Church and express their devotion to particular saints by kissing and touching the statues whilst deep in prayer. An outdoor sermon follows and by sundown the statues, mounted on floats, are brought out in succession from the door of St. Andrew’s Church around the square and through the streets of the village. As each of the 26 statues emerges, a priest speaking through a microphone narrates the life-story of each saint in Konkani. As the saints are carried through the crowd, devotees can be seen ducking under the floats to receive the blessing of the saints and to obtain purification for their confessed sins.

hough a religious occasion, the evening atmosphere is filled with gaiety as the fair (mela) comes to life on the main road outside the church. Typical of any Church feast, the roads are lined with stalls selling everything from sweets to wind-up gadgets. It becomes a whole family affair as people come out in formal clothes to hear mass, watch the procession, and enjoy the gaiety of the outdoor mela.

Article & Photos
Karin Larsen
[Fullbright Research Student]