Bhonvor, the pivotal character of Zagor. GOAN villages indulge in their own typically rustic modes of entertainment, and the closer the village to the sea or the river, the degree of excitement, exuberance and eagerness to celebrate seems to escalate. To feel the throb of the real excitement one has to be in the palm-dotted, toddy-tapping village of Gudem in Siolim, at the mouth of the Chapora river, on the day following the Siolim feast, which is celebrated traditionally on the first Sunday following Christmas.
The villagers of Dando and Gudem, in western Siolim, celebrate jointly the unique cultural event called the “zagor”, followed by a tiatr. Since several generations, the privilege for the performance has been reserved for the Hindus of Dando and the Catholics of Gudem. Hence their respective “sunvari” (a procession to the thunderous beat of local percussions called “ghumttam-madlim”) converges on the zagor site with exuberant singing and dancing from either side.
The zagor is actually a dance drama, which begins with the traditional “sunvari” (procession) which comes to the “Zagorio” stage-cum-temple. Once the sunvari reaches the stage, the processionists go to the stage, dancing what they call “bhorboria” in front of the shrine of the Zagorio. In Konkani, “bhorbhoria”, a sort of forward and backward hopping, means “borobor iea” (let’s go together).
Mali (gardener) danceThe zagor begins, with Dadi (Vithal Shirodkar) taking the role of the narrator. He begins with ethnic songs called “ovhio” which invoke the Holy Trinity and appear to be the recitation of a sort of a prayer in song, to which the rustic characters perform. Octogenarian Dadi has been singing the “ovhio” for almost 60 years.
The first act begins with a quaint dance of the Raza (king) singing a semi-religious song interspread with rare words which have already gone out of common usage now. Sahid (a servant) dances behind the king. Then appear the dancing Malis (two gardeners and their wives). Eventually comes the prime character of Zagor, the Bhonvor, enacted for several years in succession by Antonio Rodrigues. The moment the Bhonvor appears with his colourful staff and a strange headgear decorated with lighted candles, the entire audience squatting on the ground in the large shamiana, watches with rapt attention.
The Gudem Zagor is believed to have been going on for more than a century ago. Kanaiyya Shirodkar, one of the comanisers, says that the folklore of the zagor refers to certain coins called “usurpiam” which were the currency about 1000 years ago. There was a time when the actors, with garish make-up, would sing the “zhupatteo” (sarcastic songs), criticising the wrongs committed by any villager.
The nocturnal event attracts a large crowd of people not only from Siolim but also from the surrounding villages. The Hindus come to pay obeisance to Zagorio. The larger crowd comes to watch the rustic performances of the zagor. Others, generally Catholics, prefer the tiatr which follows. This year, the entire cast of the entertaining tiatr, except the female artistes, was made up of an enthusiastic group of Hindu actors.
Raza (king) and Sahid.A large fair gathers around the area with sweets, toys, utensils for sale, entertainment stalls, mainly the “ghoddghoddo” (a sort of traditional gambling).
For several years, rockstar Remo Fernandes, who lives in the palm-dotted, seaside locality, would join in the performance, with his flute or guitar. Hence more people were attracted to the zagor.
Zagor, actually means “zagron” or nocturnal vigil. It begins sharp at midnight, and after the zagor and tiatr are over, the sunvaris return to the “mandd”, a sacred black rock, which appears to be aflame with hundreds of people continuously lighting candles around it, for dispersion at dawn. It is one of the few ethnic outpourings of communal harmony, which still lives on in Goa.