The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is preceded by the month of Shravan, a holy month of prayer and fasting. During this month, the Hindus prepare themselves for this festival with religious fervour. It is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar. The day of Gatari Amavatsya precedes the month of Shravan. On this day, those observing the fasting and consuming only vegetarian food during Shravan, will eat fish and chicken. The name Shravan is derived from the celestial star. As one of the most auspicious months of the Hindu calendar, there are many religious observations and festivals celebrated by the Goan community during this time.
In this month food served is without onion and garlic and is referred to as shivrak.
Since the month has a lot of religious significance, during the week people observe a number of pujas at home. Mondays are dedicated to Lord Mahadev; on Tuesdays newly married women perform a puja in thanksgiving called ‘mangla gauri’. It is mostly observed amongst the Brahmin families. Some ladies perform puja on a Friday, for which puran poli is offered as naivedya. A shavashin (married woman) is invited for lunch on that day; she is greeted with a ‘tikka’ of kumkum and haldi powder to her forehead. In the evening ladies who come to the house are served grams and some are also served milk. On Saturday, people go to the temple to pray to Lord Hanuman and perform a puja; some also pour oil on the deity and offer coconut. Fasting is observed by those performing the puja. On Sunday the puja is in honour of Sun God (Surya) and a sweet kheer is offered as naivedya. Another puja that is observed on Sundays is called ‘aitar puzovap’ performed by the married women.
There are a number of important Hindu festivals during the month. Nag Panchami is one iconic festival celebrated since the Vedic times on the fifth day of the moonlit-fortnight of Shravan. This festival is marked by the worshipping of snakes, especially the cobra. Farmers revere the cobra as they play an extremely important role in the protection of crops by attacking rats and other rodents that usually destroy the crops.
Another festival during this month is that of Narali Poornima where the puja of the sea is performed where coconut is offered to the sea. This marks the beginning of the fishing season. On the same day Raksha Bandan is also celebrated in which the sister ties the rakhi on her brother’s hand. There is the ‘Sutachi Punav’ in which the suth or sacred thread is offered to the three deities – Vishnu, Shiva and Surya. On this day the Brahmins change their sacred thread (janve) to a new one. This observance is also called Shravani.
The festival of Ashtam or Ashtami which celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna is also during the month of Shravan. Many families observe a puja on this night with a bhat (priest) to perform the ceremony. Some also celebrate the ‘polo’, wherein the married women perform a puja of the cow. The cow is bedecked with flowers and taken around the village. Some people from Carambolim during Shravan go to the water tank of the temple of Mahadev in the village. It is said that in ancient times people used to start their journey to Pandharpur from this place. Near the steps leading to the temple, the bhat (priest) sit to perform puja. Bel leaves (wood-apple tree) are used for the puja. Those men who participate in this puja first take a dip in the tank while the ladies wash their feet. Prayers are said from the top of the tank and a coin is dropped in by the devotee.
Anissa Naik of Dongri, Neura tells us that her family only uses vessels reserved for cooking shivrak food during Shravan. They perform regular pujas at home and invite a Brahmin and poor people to have lunch on any given day. She will also go around on one Tuesday to the houses in her neighbourhood and beg for alms. She is usually given rice and jaggery out of which she prepares a sweet dish (‘godshe’) and distributes it to children. She also states that on Tuesdays her mother visits the Shantadurga Temple at Dongri to pray and perform puja.
Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues [NT]