FOLKLORE OF GOA
can resist opening a beautiful chest when one knows that it holds
a rich trove of priceless jewels? For how else can one describe the
fertile repertoire of stories, dulpods and proverbs that are so indisputably
linked with the lives of Goans?
I found this rich treasure trove of folk-lore while I was searching
for clues to Goas rich and vibrant past of a time much before
the Portuguese arrived in 1510. I found to my delight that Goan proverbs,
songs, dance-music and folktales held the key to the social history
of pre-Portuguese Goa. For what could be more touching than the plea
of the desolate Kadamba princess who has been reduced to the status
of a kitchen maid by her captors when she says, I am the only
princess, daughter of King Vithoba. On my waist I carry a pot of water,
in my hand I hold a broom, on my head I carry a basket. I dwell in
front of this temple. Tell them to come and take me home. A
high-born princess reduced to the status of a lowly kitchen maid and
carrying the material symbols of a low-caste Mahar girl. Made to do
her captors bidding in all the menial tasks set before her and
yet debarred from actually living in the hallowed grounds of the temple.
What a wealth of meaning and history in those few lines of lament!
In another story titled The Girl in the Straw Hat, a poor girl is
on her way from her wealthy husbands house to her grandmothers
when she is accosted by three water nymphs who give her a grain of
rice each. Throw this grain of rice on your grandmothers
hut and it will turn into a palace, says the forest water nymph.
Throw this grain into your grandmothers room and it will
be filled with riches, says the second water nymph. Throw
this grain of rice in the kitchen and it will be filled with a hundred
servants, says the third. What a symbolic illustration of demonstrating
to the young girls of pre-Portuguese Goa that a good harvest is the
only key to a wealthy and prosperous home.
Supatle hastat, olletil rodtat says the old proverb in Konkani. Rice
grains in the winnowing fan laugh; those destined for the pot weep
is an observation that transcends cultural or political boundaries
and needs no explanation. Kansarachi vatli nay, partum divun nazo
on the other hand is as regional as a proverb can get. A daughter-in-law
is not a copper vessel that one can take her back to the coppersmiths
and change her for another speaks of both the status of women
in Goan society and for the high regard that most Goans households
had for the artisans and craftsmen of Goa. One could (and perhaps
still can) take a defective vessel back to its manufacturer and get
it exchanged for a good one!
Perhaps the most honoured of all artisans in Goa are the goldsmiths.
The belief that the metal is a representation of the Sun is itself
charming enough but the belief that the yellow metal has therapeutic
properties begs credibility. In pre-Portuguese Goa Brahmins, goldsmiths
and merchants were exempted from being flogged even if they had committed
heinous crimes. It is small wonder then that the goldsmiths of Goa
became the butt of jokes in Goan folklore. Sheth rivna santli kusumna
has become to mean more than the overt The goldsmith lives in
one village but his umbrella lives in another village. And despite
the honour and the ridicule accorded to the village goldsmith, it
was not diamonds but simple jasmine flowers that were a Goan girls
best friends. Mardol village in North Goa is supposed to be famed
for its supply of fresh jasmines. In a folk song from this region
the dancer says to her Lord, I shall buy flowers in profusion,
I shall deck my hair with them. I shall sit in front of my Lord. Yes,
I shall sit.
The coming of the Portuguese and the advent of Christianity in Goa
did not make a dent in the Goan predominantly agrarian lifestyle.
Goans still farmed their land, used flowers and fruits in abundance
and sang and danced to changing seasons just as their ancestors had
done before them. And when they embraced Christianity, instead of
abandoning their folklore, their songs and dances, they adopted the
tenets of their new faith into the time-tested idioms that they had
been handed down through the centuries. So if the dulpod song and
dance routine of the Goan Christian ballrooms resound with the words,
Mari Concessao, Maro Concessao, Assagao is your village, the best
flowers I shall bring for you, my dear Mari Concessao. These words
are echoes of a distant past. A past filled with the memories of temple
feasts, family weddings, dark delivery rooms in ancient mansions and
jasmines in full bloom.
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