Siolim Zagor: When an ancient practice comes alive

 

As the final hour of 2012 ticks away, a ward in Siolim village of North Goa, where Goa's famous musician Remo Fernandes lives, will begin rituals to usher in an event they have been celebrating for centuries – the Zagor.
 
Basically, Zagor is an ancient form of Goan folk drama that mixed prayer to God but also invocations to the 'deumchar', or the spirit of the place. The second part of the Zagor is entertainment – songs of harsh satire and crass vulgarity, all sung to the raucous beat of the traditional 'ghumot' or drums. Earlier, a huge bonfire was lit at the venue of the Zagors.
 
What is curious, or special, about the Siolim Zagor is that, as its organizers boast, only the Siolim Zagor has both Hindus and Christians acting in it. What may also be special about the Siolim Zagor is that while Zagor has become rare in Goa since the 1960s, the Siolim Zagor is a certainty in the last days of December.
 
Half an hour before midnight on December 31, 89-year old Vittal Devraj Shirodkar from Dando, Siolim, will lead a dance-procession of actors and people waving lit torches of palm fronds from near his house to the temple nearby. There, to the accompaniment of the 'ghumot', Shirodkar will begin singing the 'ovio'.
 
Shirodkar, a Hindu, will sing this Konkani verse that is purely a Christian prayer. Translated, the verse means, first praise to God the Father, second praise to God the Son and third praise to God the Holy Spirit; all three are one. The verse also has praise for 'Mary's Prince' and invocation to Jesus Christ.
 
Shirodkar has been singing the 'ovio' for the last 52 years but has no idea about their origins or who wrote them. What he does know is that he is the fourth in his family to sing the 'ovio'. He claims his family members have been enjoying the central role in the Siolim Zagor for the last 150 years or more.
 
If the Zagor begins with Catholic prayer, it follows with an act where Shirodkar's brother's son Avinash acts the role of the 'Gadgaddiya' or 'Zagoriyo', locally known as 'deumchar' or spirit of the place. It is supposed to be a dumb spirit but is powerful nevertheless.
 
The Siolim Zagor has its genesis in the belief that only after locals pleaded with the 'Gadgaddiya' and promised to celebrate one day in his honour, did the bunds of the nearby river remain unbroken. Earlier, the bunds would break inundating the fields with salt water and ruining the crop. "If we don't celebrate the Zagor, we believe some calamity will befall us," says Shirodkar.
 
At the end of the Zagor, Shirodkar will plead for favours from the spirit on behalf of villagers. On the night of the Zagor, hundreds will offer oil, candles and cashew fenny to the "Gadgaddiya". Shirodkar said that some years ago, the Siolim church wanted the Zagor stopped.
 
The Siolim Zagor has another act called "Bharbariya". This act was earlier reserved for the local Christian families – D'Souza, Rodrigues, Pereira and Fernandes. But while the elders of these families passed away, the younger ones migrated mostly to Bombay for jobs. Now the Hindus enact the roles of the Christians. But Shirodkar says that there is still one Christian dancing in the Zagor. Shirodkar also mentions, with a tinge of pride, how Remo Fernandes performed at the Zagor some years back.
 
For the last 15 years, the main Siolim Zagor is followed by a 'tiatr'-the modern Konkani drama, popular mostly among Christians. But writing, directing and acting in the Siolim Zagor 'tiatr' is a local Hindu – Kishor Pomburpekar. In the beginning, Kishor cast himself as the hero, later became villain and then switched to comedy. His latest production is called "Ixtt vo Dusman" (Friend or Foe). [TOI]