Sunday, November 15, 2009




Today, a contract is given to a caterer to provide the required food items for a wedding, which are transported to the wedding hall and served to the crowd by the caterer’s waiters & waitresses.

In days gone by, people did not order catering from outside; they hired a cook, who
prepared all the required food at home.

Dishes were prepared in a “randpacho mattov” (cooking shed), which was arranged
behind or adjacent to the house from where they served dishes to the crowd in the mattov by forming a human chain of helpers - boys/men, girls/women and children.

We had the famous Diogo João cook from Parra village at the time, who was one of the
best cooks in the whole of Bardez. He and his helpers/waiters belonged to the Mhar
community. He was the cook of the masses - except bhattkars!

He prepared the following items and served them at weddings:

As soon as the first dance was over, “Letri ani olive ghalun gaiechea haddancho sop”
(beef-bone soup with macaroni alphabets and olives) was served in a soup plate.
Although a spoon was provided, many people preferred to drink soup directly from the
plate as if they ate “kunji” (soft rice) in a “vattli” (brass plate.)

After the third dance was over, a cheese plate containing one each of beef-roast
sandwich, pork-roast sandwich, chutney sandwich, a croquette and a chicken patty were served.

If a spoon or fork or a dry item like croquette or patties fell down, it was simply picked up from the ground and placed back in the plate; even if somebody saw, it didn’t matter.
What mattered was the service; without missing anyone. Children then never threw away anything that fell down; we just picked it up, blessed and ate it.

After the fifth dance was over, chicken “ixttuv” (stew) followed by pork sausage pulau with “kismis” (raisins) was served. Although a fork was provided, most people preferred to eat the pulau with hand, just as they ate the rice at home.

The basmati rice used then was so good that the moment it was cooked, its aroma filled the whole house as well as the mattov and beyond! During the Portuguese rule, the best basmati rice came from Pakistan.

Diogo Joao’s every dish was delicious but his specialty was ixttuv! People just loved it!

As soon as the last dance was over, Bebinca and black coffee was served in a “chikr-pir” (cup-n-saucer.) A cup of black coffee early in the morning was fantastic, especially if one had too many rounds of drinks.

Diogo João Chef also gave crockery on hire. His waiters went around with a wooden tray containing wine cups with pedestals embossed with beautiful grape designs, which were filled with red wine.

The bridal couple was given one each large glass. They cut the cake followed by the
“saud” (toast), which was raised mostly by a parish priest or by any other
dignitary/educated person from the area.

The toast was mostly raised in Konkani but well-to-do people, including bhattkars, had it in Portuguese. A local singer would come on the stage and offer to sing a “saudichem kantar” (a toast song) in the traditional Goan manner.

How can we despise the Mhar community when they have exuded wonderful dishes for
our celebrations?


As I mentioned earlier, nobody was ready to share a meal with a Mhar. Not only that,
nobody would eat anything prepared by a Mhar.

Until the beginning of the last century, priests in Goa came from two main
communities/castes – Brahmin and Charddo. Both castes were well off.

A poor man was not considered for priesthood, even if he wished. It was only towards the middle of the last century that boys from poor and middle class families joined
seminaries and became priests.

Although the Mhar community members were experts in cooking food, priests who
mostly came from the above-mentioned two castes were reluctant to employ them as

By the second quarter of the last century many Goan cooks shifted to greener pastures in other parts of India as well as the Gulf, thus creating a vacuum of cooks in Goa.

This is when the priests in Churches hired cooks from the Mhar community. As a matter of fact, they were over-utilized i.e., they were made to do all Church-related work, including pealing of the bells, digging of graves, and in addition they were required to cook for the priests – minimum three members – parish priest and two curates.

Sometimes, a Church had five or more priests – parish priest and four-five curates, plus guest priests.

Speaking of food, we had an obese parish priest in our Church in the mid 1950s, Fr.
Caetano José Orneias de Sta Rita Colaço from Curtorim. He was so fat that he had
difficulty in entering the palanquin, which is why the pede always cursed him, and so did the “kuzner” (cook), who belonged to the Mhar community, because he was asked to cook a variety of dishes throughout the day.

Most priests then served the parish on foot - very few made use of machila or palanquin; we have two of them in our Church – one was used for the local priests and the other for the Church dignitaries like the Bishop, etc.

But this particular parish priest was lazy to walk and insisted to carry him in a palanquin even on the “Festa de Novidades” or ‘Noveachem Fest’ in Konkani, to the place where the new paddy sheaves are blessed, which is hardly one hundred and fifty meters away from the Church.

Well, there are always exceptions. Luckily for the pede, Fr. Caetano lasted in our Church only for three years from 1956 to 1959.

The harvest festival is held every year in the month of August. In Anjuna it was always held on August 6 but now it is held on August 15, as per the wishes of parishioners, which also includes Hindu community.


The Mhars provided the traditional music bands in the village for the Hindu marriage
procession and religious festivities amongst Hindus and Catholics.

As we all know, during pre-liberation era, every village in Goa had a Parochial school attached to a Church, where village boys were taught music notes as well as basic schooling, which enabled them to read and write.

In the past, the formal teaching of music was very important, especially in the Parochial schools first established in 1545 by the Viceroy Dom João de Castro, and in the elementary schools first established in Goa in 1831 by decree of the Portuguese government. Access to these elementary schools was, however, very restricted, granted only to families of the Goan social elite.

For commoners the Church School known as Parochial School was part of the life. This
type of schools lasted till the end of the Portuguese rule.

Goan Parochial schools were called nurseries of music, musicians and agents of cultural synthesis of East and West. It is here, around five hundred years ago, that the Goan talent for music became acquainted with the concept of harmony.

Goans then made valuable contributions to the Church music as composers and
performers, and later developed their own secular music forms - the Mando being the
best known of them.

Besides Konkani in Romi or Roman script, students were also taught to read and write
Portuguese but more time was devoted for singing, music learning through Arte (Music
Book) and learning and playing the Violin.

Most of our yesteryear Tiatrists were the product of Parochial Schools in their respective villages.

To undergo schooling in Parochial schools, one had to be good if not very good in music either thru written Solfa Notes or Reading Solfa Notes or just through hearing.

In Parochial Schools, participants were taught how to sing, how to adhere to the timings and how to sing in different voices. A student schooled in Parochial school had to acquire mastery in singing if not in reading, writing and playing musical notes.

The Mhar community had a fine ear for music; so much so, some of the best Goan
musicians come from the community. They excelled in the brass section, especially the trumpet. They were also very good at the drums.

No wonder, whenever an Alvorada, a signal to wake up in the early morning, was to be
played, they were summoned and they did justice in playing it. The band mainly
comprised of a dhol-tax (drum) and a cymbal and two bugles.

Many of the yester year brass bands had players who belonged to the Mhar community.
Had it not been for them, the brass band would have vanished long ago.

Many villages had seasoned tiatrists who belonged to the Mhar community. It seems
music ran in their blood. The best comedians of the Konkani stage came from the Mhar

The Parochial school was run by a ‘mestre’ or a mistir (choirmaster) who had to be good in music. He was required to attend a “Concurso” – kind of music contest at the Music Institute in Old Goa, where he was trained and certified.

Many yester year mistir belonged to the Mhar community. Not only that we also had and still have outstanding writers who hail from the community.

We are grateful to the Mhar community for improvising Goan music and for taking it to world class heights. Had it not been for them, our music might have still been below standard!

Furthermore, every village had very good football players who hailed from the Mhar
community. They were tough and possessed excellent stamina just like the Brazilians and Africans!

Weren’t the Mhars a God-sent gift to Goa?

To be continued …………….


Domnic Fernandes
Anjuna, Goa
Mobile: 9420979201

© All rights reserved

Read the earlier parts of this MHAR series at:

Monday, November 9, 2009




"Poixe aslear aiz tujean kiteim viktem ghevnk zata" (Today, if you have money, you
can buy anything). The more money you spend, the better things you get.

Each Catholic parish now has a wedding hall. In the Anjuna Church compound, we have
CECILIA de GAMA PINTO MEMORIAL HALL, which was built in memory of the late Miss
Cecilia, daughter of the late Dr. Olencio de Gama Pinto.

In the past, there were no halls in the villages. Weddings were held either in
houses or in a mattov - it is erected on festive occasions, such as weddings or
religious ceremonies, to shelter large number of people who cannot be accommodated
in the residence of those who are celebrating the occasion or in the sacred

If a wedding celebration was held on the outside of a home, men from the
neighbourhood gathered and erected a "kazaracho mattov" (wedding pavilion) in front
of the house. Those that could afford gave a short contract to an individual.

In Gaumvaddy, we had Patris (Patricio/Patrick) who took such contracts. He belonged
to the Mhar community. He lived on a mini marodd, which was about three hundred
meters away from the main marodd. Other adjoining villages also had mattov
decorators who belonged to the Mhar community - they were simply the cheapest and
the best.

Patris used "maddanche vanxe" (coconut tree rafters) as pillars and "mani" (bamboo)
for the framework. He arranged a kind of skirting from the ground made of bamboos
and koddnnam, and covered it with a beautiful reddish cloth border.

He covered the top of the pavilion with long strips of white sheets, which were
stitched together. The process was called "mattvachea matheak fôr marop" (to cover
the top of the pavilion with the lining.)

The top border of the mattov was decorated with fringes; net curtains were hung all
around the pavilion, which were further decorated with bunches of balloons in
different colors and sizes.

In one of the corners of the "mattov", he erected a small stage for the brass band
from where the musicians played instruments like saxophone, trumpet, flute, clarinet
and drums and entertained the crowd.

The well-heeled also asked the decorator to decorate the house. The interior of the
house was decorated first. He stood on a chair or climbed a "nisovnn" (ladder),
hammered nails into the walls and fixed the thread from one corner to the other
according to the pattern of decoration.

The folds of cut crepe paper were then released into long strips and arranged in a
manner in which they would be used. Once he decorated the interior and exterior
(verandah/balcony) of the house, he began decoration of the "mattov."

Once paper decoration was over, he would begin to inflate balloons and install them
in bunches all over the mattov as well as in the interior and exterior of the house.

The pillars of the main entrance were decorated with halves of "chudd'ttam" (coconut
leaves). They were cut and separated in the middle and each half was twisted around
the rafters and tied with a sumb.

Leaves of fern plants were fixed to all the pillars in an "X" shape and thin strips
of crepe paper were thrown over them to enhance the décor. The decorator removed
"bendor" (parasite plants) from nearby mango trees, arranged them into round
bunches, hung them from the ceiling of the pavilion at different spots with a piece
of "sumb" and decorated them with fine strips of crepe paper in different colors.

In those days, Patris was quite a well-off person. Besides taking decoration
contracts and owning decoration material, he also owned over two dozen "gorvam"
(cattle,) out of which a dozen were "zotache padde" (oxen used to plough fields), as
he was a "zot-koxi" (cultivator of paddy fields); he did "kamot" - cultivated fields
for others. He sold cow milk and also worked as a laborer.

Patris loved to drink. He did not smoke but chewed "panancho dentto" (tobacco leaf
stem). Just like his father, Zuzulo (José,) he, too, was very good at playing the

He always went about in a kashtti with a singlet on top. When he attended a funeral,
he wore a coat over his bare body. As a matter of fact, he never missed any
funeral - not because he considered it his duty to transport a dead person to the
cemetery, but because he would get free drinks at the end of the funeral.

Whenever Patris ran short of money for drinks, he would remove his kashtti and use
it as a "khaddum" - a rope-ring used by a coconut-plucker around both his feet at
the ankles for climbing the tree. He would climb up a coconut tree, ensconce in the
cluster of fronds, remove tender coconuts/coconuts by twisting them, bite at the
husk (he had all teeth intact,) pull out little ends of the fiber, tie them into
pairs and fasten them to his kashtti. He then placed the bunch on his shoulder and
climbed down (one doesn't need a "khaddum" to climb down) with as many tender
coconuts as he could place on his shoulder - fastened to the kashtti. A clever
method to steal tender coconuts without throwing them on the ground, which would not
only break in the process but would also invite trouble for himself.

He went around in the village and sold the stolen addsoram to his customers, mostly
Gulfies. He would lure them thus: "Baba, addsoram ekdom borim; sarkim kulerachim
ré!" (Sir, tender coconuts are very good; fit to eat with a spoon!

Patris was a funny character. He was quite familiar with local medicines but this
one stole the limelight.

His sister, Santana, suddenly had a paralytic attack - her right side was totally
paralyzed. What do you think Patris did? He went into the kitchen, gathered dry
chilies, black pepper, cloves, cumin, etc. and ground them together with fenni on a
"mirim vanttpachi fatorn" (masala grinding stone.) He then took the paste and
applied it liberally on her body. The application of concoction set Santana's body
on fire and forced her to stretch her limbs in order to run away - the result:
Continuous struggle to fight against burning sensation on her body gradually did
away with the paralysis and she was back on her feet within a couple of days. Wasn't
that some treatment?

Sadly, Patris succumbed to drinks and died a pauper.

Weren't the Mhar an all-round community, multi-skilled?


The Mhar has come a long way - perhaps he was one of the first to get converted to
the Christianity.

When the Portuguese began to convert Goans, they introduced many attractive methods
to attract non-Christians to the Christian Church.

They built Churches and beautified their interior with attractive gothic-style
altars, paintings, etc.

A feast was celebrated by a "festacho prijent" (feast president), who spent lavishly
on decoration of the Church during the novenas, vespers and feast.

Fireworks, including "kombo ani kombi" (hen and rooster) at the end of a vespers,
was an added attraction because of which people made it a point to attend the
vespers however busy they might have been. On the feast day, too, fireworks added
worldly (not spiritual) colors to the celebrations.

Another attraction was the introduction of the brass band before and after the feast
mass. The band also played on the evening of the vespers.

The status of a feast president depended on his spending. If he hired a local band
to play alvorada early in the morning at 5:00 am, it meant the president was well
off. Some well-to-do feast presidents hired the brass band for eleven days - the
entire feast period!

Until around three decades ago, the Mhar community monopolised all decoration works
in Goan villages. The decorative skills were passed on from one generation to the
next among the Mhars.

Whenever a Church was decorated, parishioners mostly used crepe paper but they also
used bamboo baskets, which were prepared by none other than the Mhar community.

These baskets were hung below chandeliers and were filled with fresh/paper-made
flowers. Sometimes, bunches of parasite plants were simply placed into these baskets
and fine cut crepe paper was strewn on it.

These facts bear testimony of the Mhar existence in Goa since time immemorial.


Although the telephone was introduced in Goa in the 1940s, it was a rarity until the
late Sixties. Electricity arrived in villages in the early Seventies. Public
transportation hardly existed. In the absence of these facilities, communication was
a significant problem. Most messages were transmitted by word of mouth.

However, the last decade of the last century witnessed the communication networks
progress by leaps and bounds, which created wonders for humankind, due to which it
is now possible to transfer information momentarily between individuals located
thousands of miles away using satellite technology, via the Internet, mobile phones,
television, etc.

Presently, we cannot leave our home without a mobile or do without staying in touch
with our dear and near ones via e-mail. So, how did people in the past survive
without e-mail or telephones, and how did they communicate with each other?

While Church bells pealed five times daily and tolled for the dead, Church bells
were also used to inform parishioners of immediate problems like assault, theft,
illness of Church staff, etc.

The priest also conveyed messages to his parishioners through announcements made
during the Mass at the Church. He still does whenever Comunidade, Gram Sabha and
other important meetings take place in the village.

In Anjuna, very important announcements were posted on the Church bulletin board on
the wall besides the staircase leading to the Comunidade office. During the summer,
messages were affixed on the main doors of the Church.

Many hired the services of a pedo from the Mhar community to go around in the
village to announce a death in a family.

The individual walked the whole village with a "kampinn" (small bell) in his/her
hand, which he/she kept on ringing from one end of the village to the other
informing those who wanted to know as to who had died and on which day and time the
funeral would be held.

In Anjuna, it was mostly Idalgem (Idaline) or her husband Zunvlo (João) or his
brother Antongo (Antonio) or Severlem (Severine.)

Similarly, whenever Comunidade office arranged for "zonn"-related meetings, auction
of Comunidade fields or fruit bearing trees like mango tree (ambo rendak korunk),
and imminent visits of the Church and government authorities like the Governor,
health officials, etc., the services of a messenger from the Mhar community were

For Comunidade-related announcements, mostly two persons were hired - a male and a

In Anjuna, during our time, it was always Caru (Caridade) and his wife, Severlem
(Severine) from Tembi mini marodd. Caru carried a "dhol-tax or tombor" (kettle
drum), which he hung around his neck with a "sumbacho dôr" (coir rope) and went on
playing it to the following rhythm while he walked the village:


While Caru stopped beating the drum, his wife rang the "kampinn". People approached
and asked them what the "perganv" (announcement) was about to which they replied as
they were instructed by the authorities.

The messenger(s) halted at important places like the village Tintto, where people
gathered and he announced the message aloud.

They also carried a written announcement on a piece of paper, which they handed to
anyone who asked for it - mostly bhattkars and a few others, who were privileged to
read and write.

This mode was called "pergão" (announcement) derived from the Portuguese word

In Goa, whenever one repeats the same behavior/thing/story time and again, they say:
"Kitem re, sodanch tench reng-tte-tte-tteng vazoita!" (What man, you always play the
same reng-tte-tte-tteng rhythm!)

Comunidade office was and is still located in the Church premises. Peons/servants
employed in the Comunidade office belonged to the Mhar community - at least I did
not come across any other community taking up these posts - maybe because of their
(Mhar) affiliation with the Church.

So, how can we despise the Mhar community who were so instrumental in our lives?

To be continued ........


Domnic Fernandes
Anjuna, Goa
Mobile: 9420979201

All rights reserved

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009




No matter how loving a person - father, mother, brother, sister, wife, child, grandchild, etc. is, when he/she passes away, nobody is prepared to keep his/her body in the house for over 24 hours because of the stench it produces, unless, of course, the dead body is embalmed, but that practice, too, has been stopped; people now keep the dead bodies in a morgue – that there is no enough space in morgues is altogether another story.

Once a person was dead, people would go to Mhar vaddo and call one of their members
to clean the corpse and dress the dead. Usually, a couple would arrive. Such a person is now called an undertaker.

Before dressing the dead body, they’d place thick cloth padding at his/her orifices and secure it firmly with a “kashtti” (loin-cloth) so as to prevent oozing of fluids. As for the exterior openings, blood mostly oozes through the nose. This is stopped by placing cotton buds in both the nostrils.

The person also passed his/her hand over the dead person’s eyelids and closed them shut, as nobody likes to stare into a dead person’s eyes. If the eyelids are not closed immediately, it is difficult to close them afterwards.

Similarly, the chin is immediately pressed and held for a while in order to close the mouth. If the mouth keeps opening, a strip of cloth is tied to the chin and head. Dentures, if any, are fixed before the mouth is pressed or closed, as the whole body becomes stiff after some time.

The dead person is then dressed up. Infants are dressed in their baptismal clothes;
adolescents in their confirmation clothes, teenagers in colorful clothes, men mostly in a suit and women either in a vistid (dress) or a sari. Newly married women are dressed as brides and so are women who die at the first delivery of a child.

Nowadays, the above process is undertaken by an undertaker. In the past, a male or a
female from the Mhar community did it for us.

We now pay in thousands for a job that was done free of charge by the Mhar community
members. And what did we give the Mhars? Practically nothing! On the contrary, we
criticized and labeled them as ‘untouchables.’ Why? Just because they sacrificed
buffaloes to appease spirits of their ancestors and their demon deities and ate the flesh, including bones!

Today, anybody takes up the job of an undertaker but in the past it was mainly a Mhar’s job. They did not only bury Christians in cemeteries but they also prepared funeral pyres and conducted cremations for the Hindus


As soon as a person died, one of the relatives/neighbors/friends went out of the house, snatched a “chuddtti” (leaf of a palm tree) from a “kavoto” (young coconut tree,) separated the “vhir” (stalk of palm leaf) and measured the dead body.

A person was then dispatched to a coffin shop to buy a ready made “kaixa” (coffin made of wooden frame and covered with black cloth and gold color paper bordering) per the measurements, or he placed an urgent order for a special coffin if the dead person was extraordinarily tall or fat.

A white coffin was ordered for infants, adolescents, teenagers, spinster and bachelors.

In the olden days, in the absence of transportation, a person from the Mhar community was hired to carry the empty coffin from the shop to a dead person’s home. He carried it on his head and walked all the way from Mapusa to Anjuna.

A “kaixanv” (coffin made mostly of teak wood) needed two persons to carry it due to its weight. As the person(s) walked with a “kaixa/kaixanv” on his/their head, people looked at him/them and said: “Konn tori babddo melo astolo!” (Pity, somebody must have died!)
Most coffin shops in Mapusa were located on the road starting from Benão shop and
ended behind the cemetery.

Speaking of coffin carrying, I remember an incident that took place on a highway around 40 years ago.

Bautist (Baptist) was walking on the road with a coffin on his head when it suddenly
started raining. One of the truck drivers stopped his truck and asked him to get in the back of the truck. Since it was raining, Bautist decided to sleep in the coffin with the cover on.

After a while, some laborers waved at the truck driver, who stopped his truck and asked them to get in the back of the truck as well.

Bautist, who had been sleeping in the coffin, wanted to know if the rain had stopped. So, he slowly lifted the cover of the coffin from inside and stretched out his hand to feel the rain. The moment the laborers saw his hand come out from the coffin, they screamed and jumped out of the running truck into the paddy fields and broke their limbs; one person died on the spot!

Thank God it was rainy season; the fields were full of water and the ground was soft, otherwise there would have been more deaths and serious injuries. Bautist is still alive to tell the tale!


In the olden days, palm fenni liquor was served at the end of a funeral.

A male was hired to carry a “panttli bhor soro” (basketful of liquor,) filled in bottles which were sealed with a “katheachi guddi” (coconut husk cork,) including bottles to be given away for a confre, which needed three persons to carry it - one person to carry the main cross and two persons to carry candle holders. A quota of one bottle liquor was reserved for the pede.

The person walked with a panttli on his head behind the funeral procession.

In Anjuna, for people on the south east side of the Church, once the procession reached the foot of the present staircase leading to the Miraculous Holy Cross, the person carrying the liquor would stop “odda pondak” (under the banyan tree) and he would wait there until the burial was over.

Most men stopped at the “oddachem zhadd ” on their way back home from the cemetery,
had “ek vo don kotteo bhor” (one/two coconut shell-full) fenni and walked away.

In Goa, it is customary to either throw out full contents of the first “kals” (cup,) or part contents of the kals. Some just dip middle finger in a cup and sprinkle the liquor by flicking it thrice. This is done in honor of the departed souls!

Some drink to their hearts’ content; get tight within no time and begin to ‘measure the road!’ Sometimes they begin to swear at the dead person!

“Confre” carriers also joined in for free drinks and collected their quota of free liquor bottle. This traditional practice has been discontinued now.

Who do you think was hired to carry fenni at a funeral? It was one from the Mhar


In the past, a dead person’s family offered him/her at least three masses in the first year – (1) seventh day mass, (2) month’s mind mass, and (3) the first death anniversary mass.

Every coffin has a metal plate on its lid to indicate a dead person’s name, date of birth and death.

As soon as the dead body is brought out of the Church, his/her face is covered with a white handkerchief. Before the lid is placed on the coffin, one of the family
members/friends makes sure that the metal plate is detached from the lid along with
the crucifix and metal wreath and brought home.

On the eve of the seventh day mass, the metal crucifix with dates is fixed on a wooden cross, which is painted in black – the higher the class of the deceased, the better crafted a cross would be. Nowadays, wooden crosses have been replaced by steel ones. The cross was then handed to a Church pedo with a request to plant it at the head of the deceased person’s grave.

The pedo was asked to decorate the grave. He would gather some mud on top of the
grave and beat it with a “pettnnem” (pounder) so as to give it a firm shape. He then
placed a “kapa” (black piece of cloth with white cross painted in its middle) on the grave.
He decorated the grave with flowers and also planted candles all around, which he lit before the priest and crowd entered the cemetery for blessing of the grave.

Of course, people gave tips to the pede for doing the job but weren’t they sweet to do that job for us in the cemetery?

Today, people decorate a grave with the help of relatives/friends. Does that make them pede?


In the olden days, a priest carried Holy Communion to the sick/infirm on foot or in a machila (palanquin). He placed the Host in a container, held it in his hands and covered the sacred vessel with a Benediction Veil also known as the Humeral Veil.

The sacristan who accompanied the priest carried a little “kampinn” (bell), which he rang every now and then to signal the priest’s arrival with the Holy Communion.

When people noticed a priest was approaching them with Holy Communion, they
immediately knelt down and bowed in respect. We don’t see this kind of respect these

The pedo rang the Church bell as soon as a priest left the Church. He then climbed down the stairs hurriedly and joined the other three pede to carry the priest in a palanquin, which some considered as slavery.

When palanquin carrying was discontinued, the night-duty pedo still accompanied the
priest at night.


The Sacrament of the Infirm is for someone who is sick, old, suffers from mental illness, someone having to undergo a major surgical procedure, or someone who feels they would benefit from it. Anointing of the sick is a sacrament of healing. In it a priest says special prayers and anoints the sick with oil blessed specifically for that purpose. This Sacrament can be repeated many times.

The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason begins to be in danger by reason of illness or old age. A new illness or a worsening of health enables a person to receive the sacrament a further time

In the olden days, as soon as a priest left the Church on foot or in a machila to administer the last rites to an individual, the pedo rang the Church bell at which people uttered:

“Padr Vigar/Padr Kur konnank tori sontesanv ghevn bhair sorlo astolo; Devan taka
mornantlo vattanvcho vo tannem prann soddlo zalear tachea othmeank sorginchem raj
favo zanvchem.” (The Parish Priest/Curate must have left the Church with the Sacrament of the Infirm; may God save him/her from death or if he/she is dead, may his/her soul rest in peace.)

In those days, people approached the Church any time even after midnight - 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and the priest was ever ready to administer the last rites. Nowadays, despite having transportation at their disposal neither the parish priest nor the curate has the time to give the last sacrament to the dying!

Weren’t the Mhars God-sent people to remind us to pray for the weak and the dead?

To be continued …………….


Domnic Fernandes
Anjuna, Goa
Mobile: 9420979201

© All rights reserved

Thursday, October 29, 2009




Church bells are believed to have been imported from Europe, especially from Italy,
during the Portuguese rule in Goa. Mostly, each Church has two towers. While one of
them houses bell(s) the other one is a show piece.

In the olden days, Church bells ruled everyday life in the villages. They announced
marriages, births and deaths. Laborers woke up to the Angelus bell at dawn to start their daily chores. Long distance journeys like a pilgrimage to Old Goa, shopping trip to Aronnem (Aronda) on foot began at the stroke of morning Church bell.

In Anjuna, there is a steep staircase built into the tower, which leads to the top where bells are located. In the olden days, each Church had at least four pede, who besides other Church-related duties also rang bells.

The Anjuna Church has two bells - one gives bass sound and the other a little lighter sound. The pede employed in our Church in those days were expert in ringing these bells.

Two pede were required to ring these bells. They stood on a wooden platform, which was placed in the middle of the staircase well next to the bells. They pealed the bells thus:

Ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv
Ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv
Ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv
Tttanv-ttanv-ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv; ttanv, tti-ttanv, etc.

Our pede had such a good ear for the music that even the pealing of bells was done

Fr. José Leandro de Abreu, served Anjuna Church as a Parish Priest from 1923-37. He
hailed from Saligao and carried an ancestral nick name - “Kombo Padr Vigar”.
Obviously, his home was known as “Kombeager!” He knew solfas (music notes) and
loved music.

The above-mentioned ringing style of Anjuna Church bells was created by Kombo Padr
Vigar. He taught Anjuna boyyas to ring the Church bells rhythmically on ‘do-re-mi’

Just out of context, here is an incident that took place in Anjuna Church while Fr. José
served as a parish priest, as narrated by Epifanio D’Souza, colloquially known as Efulo,
who though 85 years old, still goes about everywhere on his bicycle.

The daily nustekarn brought fish to the Church. Kombo Padr Vigar asked her: “Aiz
nustem kitem haddlam gho?” (What fish did you bring today?) She replied: “Kombe,
Padr Vigar!” The moment the parish priest heard this he was furious because he thought
the nustekarn was teasing him by his nick-name.

So, he went inside, brought his “rot” (walking stick) and started beating the nustekarn
mercilessly until Church cook came to her rescue and told Padr Vigar she did not mean to
tease him but that the name of the fish she had brought was “kombo.”

The parish priest felt sorry. He put his hand in his pocket and gave her Rs.20 and asked
her not to tell anyone what had happened. Keep in mind that Rs.20 was a very big
amount in those days.

The warmth of money was so much that the nustekarn told everyone what had happened
placing emphasis on the gift of money rather than the beating she received. Thus, the
news spread all over Anjuna like wild fire.

Every week, pede kept on rotating their place on the plank while ringing bells in order to
avoid striking them in the same place, thus extending their lifeline.

The rhythmic ringing filled the midnight air on Christmas Eve, New Year and Easter; at
baptism ceremonies, at nuptials, at the end of salvi, at vespers, at the feast Solemn High
mass, etc. Our Church bell-ringing sounded the best and may have been one of the best in
rhythmic ringing in Goa. I thoroughly enjoyed ringing of our Church bells.

Today, there are no pede in Anjuna Church to ring bells. A long rope is tied to each bell
and bells are pealed by a Church servant or a sacristan from next to the Church “roz-
angnnem” (inner church garden.)

There is a saying in Konkani: "Te poder mele, te undde kabar zale" (With the passing
away of bakers from those days, came the end of their bread). Similarly, “te pede gele ani
teo ghantto marpachem kabar zalem” (those grave diggers went away and with them the
rhythmic ringing of bells was silenced.)

Children were forbidden to go to the tower housing the bells but sometimes when we
found the pede sleeping in their niches in the afternoon during our Catechism classes, we
would quietly climb the stairs and enjoy the view from atop the Church tower. Since we
were small, we couldn't reach the window opening. So, we sat on each other's shoulders
and watched the view by taking turns.

Once, one of our stupid friends struck the bell which awakened the pede. We were caught
running down the staircase. Pede asked us as to who rang the bell. We had no alternative
but to name the friend who received a tight slap from the pedo with a warning never to do
that again. Thank God, he did not report us to the Padr Vigar who would not only pinch
us but would also hit us on the head with a big door key!

At the end of nuptials or christening of a child, the Church pede would hurriedly
approach the groom or parents/godparents of the child and plead thus: “Baba/Baie, hea
khoxechea nadar amkam kiteim diat re/gho!” (Sir/Madam, please give us something at
this happy occasion!)

Mostly, people gave them generously and they quickly thanked them in the Goan way:
“Baba/Baie, Dev borem korum, Dev tumcher bessanv ghalum!) (Sir/Madam, thank you –
may God bless you!)

But there were others who were “imtte” (miser.) When pede approached them for tips,
they spoke to them roughly: “Chol, voch!” (Go away or get lost!) To them the boyyas
quietly murmured: “Tumchem padd poddonv” (May you be cursed!)

If a child’s parents/godparents resorted to the above-type of rough behavior, they would
murmur among themselves: “Tuka dista hanchea bhurgeachem borem zatelem? (Do you
think their child will prosper?) His partner would reply: “Kednanch nam!” (Never!)

Every year, Maundy Thursday was a special begging day for the Church pede. They
would place a white handkerchief on the stairs on the North and East entrances of Anjuna
Church compound and expect people to place alms for them on their handkerchiefs,
which most of us did.

After a Church feast was over, some women from the Mhar community and even Church
pede were seen begging alms, especially at the North and East entrances of Anjuna
Church compound from where people exited and went to the feast fair to buy chonne,
kaddieo-boddieo, mana’a, laddu, khajeacheo biyeo, etc.

Most people gave them generously, as it was an opportunity to serve the poor at the end
of a feast.

We are grateful to the boyyas for bringing joy into our lives by ringing our Church bells

We are grateful to the boyyas for bringing joy into our lives by ringing our church bells


The pede always maintained slim-and-trim figure – none of our pede had a paunch. Do
you know why? It was because every time they were required to ring Anjuna Church
bells, they had to climb up two long staircases.

The first staircase has 28 stairs – it starts on the ground floor and ends by the choir door.
The second staircase has 32 steps – it begins outside choir door and runs through the well
of the bell tower.

The Catholic Church reminds us through Church bell to pray to God five times a day as
per the following timings:

(1) The first Church bell rings at 5:00 a.m. - MATINS - reading wake-up. It is a wake up
call to parishioners. As children we woke up at the sound of the Church bell, thanked
God for giving us a good night sleep and for helping us to wake up, said our morning
prayers and began our morning studies.

(2) The second Church bell rings at 6:00 a.m. - LAUDS - morning prayers. It is a
reminder to people to begin their day with prayers; attend holy mass. Most people in the
olden days went to Church for 6:00 o'clock mass.

(3) The third Church bell rings at 12:00 p.m. - SELT - mid-day prayers. It is a reminder
to people for mid-day prayers followed by lunch. Most people in the past ate their lunch
soon after the mid-day Church bell rang. Laborers stopped their work to have a meal
followed by the mandatory Goan siesta.

(4) The fourth Church bell rings at 7:00 p.m. - VESPERS - evening prayers. It is a
reminder to people for evening prayers which is usually followed by the Angelus. When
the Angelus bell rang, all stood and prayed.

In the days of yore, movement outside one's home came to an end at the stroke of the
Church/Chapel Angelus bell. Children stopped play, came home running and the family
gathered at the ‘oratorio’ or olotor.

Children had only 5 minutes grace time to report home after which they were punished as
soon as the Angelus was over. This is when we used all our energy to sprint 100 to 500
meters or more, depending on the place where we were at the time of the bell.

“Petrolache dive” or kerosene lamps, which were later, substituted by chimney lamps,
followed by Aladdin lamps and in some houses by petromax, and candles were lit, and
the Angelus was said.

Well before the Angelus bell rang, the domestic animals would have been gathered and
put into their respective places “kombieancho, dukrancho gudd,” (chicken’s coop,
pigsty), “gorvancho, bokddeancho gotto” (cattle, goats stable) for the night.

(5) The fifth Church bell rings at 8:00 p.m. - COMPLINE - night prayers. It is a reminder
to people for night prayers. People prayed for the departed souls at the stroke of this bell.
Most people ate their dinner soon after the bell rang.

The ringing at the above-mentioned five events was with a single stroke of the bell –
dong; dong; dong!

Besides, pede were also required to toll the bell for the dead. For this purpose, they used
each bell alternatively - ttanv, ttanv-ttanv; ttinv, ttinv-ttinv and so on.

If the Church bell rang continuously and unusually, it meant that something had gone
wrong with the Church premises or its staff - remember there was no telephone or any
other mode to communicate with parishioners.

In my life, I witnessed such bell ringing only once when I was about 6 years old. It was
when Padr Kur's (curate's) room was robbed. As for St. Anthony's Church in Vagator,
people there have had many chances to witness such bell ringing because, to my
knowledge, that church was burgled many times since its inception in the mid 1950s!

The above ringing as well as ringing of the bells at the daily three masses (presuming
three priests were available in a Church, as sometimes there were as many as five priests
in a Church) resulted in boyyas climbing up the stairs at least 480 times (60 stairs X 8
times); they climbed down the stairs that many times, plus they tolled bells for the dead
as well as at masses for the departed souls. So, on an average a boyya climbed up and
down around 1080 (540 + 540) stairs every day – a feat none of us were and are able to
do in our daily life!

They also engaged themselves in cleaning and mopping the Church every day, plus dug

No wonder, they were able to maintain a trim and slip figure! Weren’t they some of the
most tough people?

I attribute our childhood upbringing to the pede because had it not been for their pealing
of bells, we might not be what we are today!


Today, people hire a hearse van to carry a dead person’s body from a hospital morgue to
his/her home and from there to the Church cemetery.

In the past, two pede, who were also known as boyyas, carried a dead person from his
home to the cemetery.

They pulled an empty carriage from the Church to the dead person’s house and brought it
back to the Church with the dead person in a coffin.

Mind you, in those days mud roads were full of pot holes. Poor boyyas, they walked
bare-feet and pulled the loaded carriage like two bullocks tied to a “boilancho ghaddo”
(bullock cart) or a “zot” (yoke of oxen.)

In those days, if the Mhars had gone on a strike, nobody would be buried since doing a
pedo’s job was considered below dignity and nobody was prepared to do it.

So, don’t you think we should be grateful to them for doing the job for us?

To be continued …………….

To be continued ........
Anjuna, Goa

© All rights reserved

Forwarded by
gulf-goans e-newsletter (since 1994)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 8

The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 8

By Domnic Fernandes
Anjuna, Goa
Mobile: 9420979201


Until the Sixties each Church employed at least four “pede or boyya” (grave diggers).

In the Fifties, the Anjuna Church had four resident priests, and it employed six pede. Four of them were required to carry the machila or the palanquin.

The pede worked day and night. While five pede did day-duty, the sixth pedo was assigned night duty, which lasted for a week. They worked on a rotational basis. He rang the bell at night when a “sontesanv” (the sacrament of the infirm) was given to a parishioner; he also accompanied the priest.

He was assigned a small room on the left side of the cemetery where he spent the night; the others joined him in the room during day time or rested in the niches under the staircase leading to the choir.

Besides cleaning and mopping the Church, pealing the bells, watering the Church and cemetery garden (there were croton plants all around by the inner cemetery fence) and coconut saplings in the “igorjechem bens” (church property,) sweeping the Church compound of fallen leaves, gathering and breaking firewood, etc., they also dug graves and carried the Machila. The salary of a pedo was Rs.20 per month!

Today, Churches in Goa do not employ pede; instead, they employ laborers, mostly migrants, but they are hardly familiar with a pedo’s intricate duties.

Pede were experts in digging graves and burying people. When it came to burial, the four of them worked as a team.

The coffin is carried from the Church to the cemetery by pall bearers. As soon as people enter the cemetery, everyone proceeds to the grave dug for the deceased person.

Once at the grave, the coffin is kept on the pile of mud. The boyyas/pede would place ropes in coffin handles at both ends and lower a kaixa or kaixanv (coffin) into the grave. They rarely faltered because they were experts at this job.

The priest recites prayers, blesses the grave, catches “foreacho danddo” (hoe handle) and throws “tin forim bhor mathi” (three hoe-full of mud – actually, it is three fistful of mud) in the grave and walks away; everyone follows suit. Finally, the pedo fills the grave with mud and closes the cemetery.

Today, when a coffin is about to be lowered in a grave, practically everyone who was carrying it tries to help the lonely laborer to lower it in the grave; the result: Sometimes helpers land in the grave!

Not only that, there have been instances when people found out at the last moment that a grave was not dug (this never happened pre-1970s.) There being no other option, the relatives/friends had to dig a grave themselves in the cemetery.

Did that make them a pede?


Besides using bones of a “natuk” (owl) and “balgem” (female fox/hyena), roots of certain trees for manually-prepared “vokot” (medicine) to drive away “devchar” (evil) and “dixtt/nodor”(evil eye), which was prepared by rubbing on a “fatorn” (granite stone), a sorcerer also used bones of a “meleli avont” (a woman who dies with a child inside her womb.)

Who do you think obtained those bones? Of course, it was our pedo who had the chart of each and every dead person’s grave – mind you he did not know how to read or write yet he knew in which grave who was buried!

In the olden days, with a smaller population to contend with, a person’s grave was dug out after five years. Later, the process was reduced to three years, and now sometimes a grave is dug within a period of less than two years!

For the sorcerer’s purpose, the bones of an avont had to be obtained at night, preferably after midnight, and the only person who had the guts to do that was our Mhar brother – the pedo. Of course, he didn’t venture out alone; he always had his friend for his company - the “soro” (liquor!)


The mhars were also quack doctors!

Many Goans were and are still used to having a yearly ritual bath in the sea, which they believe helps circulation of blood.

In the past, they exercised this ritual in mid-May, as by then they would have made all the monsoon provision such as drying boiled paddy and husking it, extracting “khobreachem tel” (coconut oil), preparing paddy fields for “dhumpek” (kharif crop) and repairing and/or stitching houses – a yearly practice to clear “ganvtti nolle” (local tiles) of tree leaves and other dirt which, if not removed/cleaned, causes water to leak through tiles.

Besides the above, there were other methods which helped Goans keep their blood pressure under control – so at least it was believed.

Some Goans used leeches to withdraw supposedly “vaitt rogot” (bad blood) – I say supposedly because they actually sucked good blood.

One just bought about half a dozen leeches from Mapusa Friday bazaar, or from any pharmacy where they were kept in mud in a bottle. Leeches were held in hand and applied on the desired spot – lower legs - calves, thighs, etc.

When leeches fattened with blood, they were removed by puffing cigarette/beedi/pamparo smoke at them; application of a little salt also immediately dislodged leeches from the skin.

Some people performed “xiro marop” (cutting of veins) - it was more of a figure of speech than cutting of the veins.

This job was undertaken by a “malo” (barber). He usually performed the task by lacerating the inner forearm with the help of a razor. He then withdrew blood by placing a “ventoz” (fomentation with cups) on the area.

Similarly, one of the Mhar community male members was hired to suck blood. Just like a malo, he, too, lacerated the spot on the inner forearm and used a “gorvachem xing” (bull’s/cow’s horn) to suck blood through its thin end! Sounds disgusting but that’s exactly what he did!

About application of leeches, kharem udok navop ani xiro marop, the present-day doctors and scientists may find it bizarre but it worked perfectly well for the people in olden-days!


In today’s world, if anything goes awry we call it ‘bad luck.’ In the past everything was attributed to ‘dixtt’ (evil eye) cast by someone who was jealous of your possessions, prosperity or even general well being. This ancient belief was deep-rooted until the late Seventies/early Eighties.

When one was diagnosed with dixtt, he/she was taken to a dixttikar/dixtikarn - a person who draws out the negative energies from the body and rids it of the 'evil eye'.

The Mhars or the so-called lower caste of Goan society had the powers to remove evil eye and the tradition would automatically go down to the next generation of the family but not if the daughter married a member of a higher caste.

Their hand was said to have the power of being able to rid one of the evil eye - they were believed to possess powers of exorcism. The ritual of driving away evil spirits was performed on Sundays and Wednesdays – the two days on which these powers were believed to be activated.

Children, especially infants, are considered to be the most vulnerable and many methods were used to thwart the evil eye. That’s why children were always made to wear black beaded cords. Black dots of kaajal were applied on the forehead, chin and cheeks. Kaajal was also applied around a child’s eyes; a black cord or a munz was tied around the waist of a child.

People also prepared pendants with owl’s nails/bones and tied them in the form of small “pottleo” (bundles) on necklaces. Similarly, garlic is believed to be a repellant of evil; hence, it was tied in a cloth in the form of a pottli and added to a child’s necklace.

It is believed these tools can ward off the evil eye cast by people seeing the baby for the first time or, if they are envious of the baby’s lively personality.

When an evil eye is cast on a child, the child cries non-stop, it stops eating and eventually falls sick. In the past, those who could afford, would take their children to a doctor or consult the elderly and yet find no cure. Their next stop would be a dixttikar’s/dixttikarn’s place.

There are two types of evil eye: One is weaker or mild, the other is of a stronger force. Some children get well immediately, others have to visit the dixttikar/dixttikarn, at least thrice for a complete cure.

A mild evil eye requires the dixttikar/dixttikarn to say a short prayer while he/she sprinkles a few drops of holy water and freshly ground roots of the addoso plant. The plant is commonly used in homes to drive away the evil eye.

Mothers are known to pray over their children and sprinkle the mixture of holy water and addoso if they appear to be frightened or act strangely. This practice is known as “vokot marop” (application of medicine.)

The stronger evil eye, it is believed, does not leave a person straight away. It is believed certain people have a ‘bad eye’ and once cast upon a person, can harm the person in an unhealthy way.

To rid of this evil eye, dixttikar/dixttikarn recommends three chillies, a handful of salt; an egg, whole bread and a banana to be looped around the head of the person in circular motions and discarded at a crossroad. This is called ‘umvaddi vovdavop.’ Mothers do this over their children at night and keep them indoors till dawn.

A dixttikar/dixttikarn’s tools are chilies, a piece of rock candy and one mixture of holy water and ground addoso root. Evil eye is removed only on a Wednesday and Sunday, the days considered auspicious for cleaning the people.

When it came to chasing away evil eye, spirits, cobras, the Mhars were simply the best. Just like a voijinn (mid-wife / local female doctor), the Mhars were summoned by Hindus as well as Christians to exorcise evil eye and spirits.

The Mhars were associated with their demon deities. They worshipped the devil-god ‘Maru’, who lived on hilltops and treetops, especially “oddancher” (on banyan trees.)

Whenever they wanted to drive away evil, they would call out their devil-god thus:

“Oddavoilo Guru, Ximevoilo Maru, amche gorjek pavu.”
(Oh devil-god who dwells on the banyan tree and who controls the borders, please help us in our need.)

This is why we saw small shrines around the base of odd and pimpoll (fecus indica) trees, where Maru was placated with offerings of miniature clay horses. Such trees were never cut down. Here’s an example:

When one enters Mapusa from Panaji, there is a roundabout with statue of Gandhiji. During Portuguese times, there was a big 'oddachem zhadd' (banyan tree) with many zageache sorop (snakes belonging to the spot) around it. The Hindus lit “telacheo ponntteo” (earthen oil lamps) and “agarbatis” (incense sticks) on the pedestal around the tree, and threw coins at the foot of the tree.

The Portuguese government tried in vain many times to get rid of the tree in order to widen the road but people, especially the Hindus, were simply not ready to take on the task in their hands and those who volunteered were punished with injuries, including deaths. Finally, the tree was cut by the Portuguese military personnel but not without paying for their lives.

In 1960, the Portuguese introduced a modern 'rotunda' (roundabout) in place of the oddachem zhadd and installed the statue of Mr. Manuel Antonio De Souza – the hero of Massangano.

But within less than two years, precisely four days prior to Goa’s Liberation, the statue was destroyed by a bomb purportedly by the Portuguese military intelligence from the Mapusa quartela, but the blame was put on the Indian government in order to create mixed feelings among Goans. Obviously, some people attributed the destruction of the statue to the devil-god, Maru!

The Mhars used salt to perform an “umvalli” – an act of exorcism in which a spoonful of “mitt” (salt) and “tin sukeo, motteo mirsango” (three fat, dry chilies) are held in the right hand and passed over affected person’s body from head to toe while at the same time murmuring:

“Saiba, ghorcheanchi dixtt laglea zalear, vatten ietea-voiteanchi dixtt laglea zalear, vaddeantlea lokachi dixtt laglea zalear, cheddeanchi/cheddvanchi dixtt laglea zalear, sogleanchea dolleanim mitt poddonv, tanche dolle futtonv. Soitana, hea bhurgeache/munxeache kuddintlo koddsor ani nattak zav!”

(Lord, if the person is affected by the evil eye of his/her relatives, passers by, villagers, boys/girls, may the salt get into their eyes and may they go blind! Evil, leave this child’s/person’s body and get lost!)

Finally, the “dixttikar/dixttikarn” stands in front of the person and makes three anti-clockwise circles with his/her hand around the affected person’s head.

At every circle, which begins and ends at the face, he/she asks the evil-affected person to forcefully blow at the fist and say: “KHAK THU!”

Once the “umvaddi” is taken, the “dixttikar/dixttikarn” hurls the salt and chilies in a “chul” (fire place) where it bursts like little crackers and chilies make a crackling sound – TTOV-TTOV-TTOV at which the “dixttikar/dixttikarn” exclaims:

“Dixtt geli! Pollelam mungo bai/baba, mirsangancho koso far zalo to? Tujea putak/dhuvek, bhavak/bhoinnink jerul konnancho tori dollo laglolo punn atam bhirant nam; to dollo futtlo ani itlean tuzo put/dhuv boro/borem zalo/zalem.”

(The evil eye is gone! Did you notice how chilies burst in the fire? Surely, your son/daughter, brother/sister was affected by an evil eye but don’t worry, that eye is destroyed and your son/daughter is now cured of the evil eye!)

But if the chilies just burned quietly, the dixttikar/dixttikarn and others looked at each other in consternation and interpreted the foul odor emanating from the flames as “Dixtt vochonk nam.” (The evil eye has not left).

Obviously, people paid the Mhar community for their services.

Wasn’t the Mhar community a fearless tribe??

To be continued ........
Anjuna, Goa

© All rights reserved

Forwarded by
gulf-goans e-newsletter (since 1994)

The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 7

The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 7

By Domnic Fernandes
Anjuna, Goa
Mobile: 9420979201


The “sotrekarn” was a female who carried a “tambddi, viludachi vo domaskachi sotri” (red, velvet umbrella) at weddings, religious ceremonies/processions, receptions of dignitaries, etc.

Usually, she was well-built and dark in complexion; she always had a smile on her face. She came from the Mhar community.

At weddings, she wore a “suti” (cotton) or “chitachem” (printed calico - derived from the Portuguese word ‘chita’) kapodd. No matter what the quality of material of a kapodd was, she had to wear a red kapodd at a wedding ceremony.

In the past, when one’s close relative(s) passed away, it was the norm to wear black clothes in the first year of mourning.

If a sotrekarn who was arranged for a wedding ceremony was mourning, she would not take up the assignment but would instead send another sotrekarn who was not mourning and could wear red clothes.

At a wedding, she became part of the groom’s and bride’s company at every step, right from the beginning of the function till the end, including the “portovnnem” (reciprocation) ceremony.

The tambddi viludachi sotri is big in size and quite heavy. “Sotrecho danddo” (The stick of the umbrella) is about 6 feet long. Golden tussles are fixed all around the border of the umbrella, which added to its allure.

On a wedding day, the sotrekarn is the first person to arrive at the groom’s/bride’s residence with a folded sotri placed on her shoulder. Keep in mind the sotri is big and heavy; so, she can’t carry it in hand like an ordinary umbrella!

She would enter the mattov, proceed to the balcão, place the sotri in one of the corners of the balcão and then take a seat on a sopo.

On learning that the sotrekarn has arrived, the “ezman” (groom’s/bride’s mother) would take her to the temporary kitchen mattov behind the house and offer her tea in a “kanso” (bowl) and a couple of bread. She would eat one of the bread and place the other in a small cloth pouch, which was tucked to her kapodd at her waist line.

As soon as “besanv” (blessing) is over, the bride/groom leaves her/his home for the Church. The sotrekarn opens the umbrella and accompanies the bride/groom to the car (in the past it was a boilanchi ghaddi” (oxen-ridden carriage.)

When the bride/groom reaches the Church compound and alights from the boilanchi ghaddi or car, the sotrekarn again opens her umbrella and leads the bride/groom to the entrance of the Church under the shelter of the tambddi sotri.

After the nuptials, the sotrekarn accompanies the bride/groom from the church door to the boilanchi ghaddi or car.

Usually, the groom as well as the bride hired one viludachi tambddi sotri each for the occasion. But sometimes, to show off, more than one viludacheo tambddeo sotreo were hired, mostly by the groom’s side.

In such a case, one would witness three umbrellas instead of two – one from the bride’s side and two from the groom’s. If the bride’s father was a well-off person, he, too, hired two umbrellas with two sotrekarni. Obviously, the sotrekarni had good company and they also received good remuneration from both the parties!

Singing of Mandde/Dulpods/Dekhnni/Zoti at Goan weddings adds flavor to ceremonies. At every stage, a Manddo/Dulpod/Dekhnni/Zoti is sung. For e.g. when the bride’s folks arrive at the groom’s mattov, the following zoti is sung:

Man ghalun sokol
Kaibori cholta hi vokol
Man ghalun sokol
Kaibori cholta hi vokol

Novro voklek sangta kanni
Kaiborem voklechem nanv Annie
Novro voklek sangta kanni
Kaiborem voklechem nanv Annie

The sotrekarni were very good in singing Goan Mandde/Zoti, etc. They never hesitated to show off their singing talent, especially at weddings when they were treated differently; thus, they would give company to others who sang.

The following Dekhnni is sung at a portovnnem (reciprocation) ceremony. In this Dekhnni, bride’s brother requests his brother-in-law to use an umbrella to take his sister. He further requests him to take her under the shade of an umbrella so the sunshine won’t effect and make her dark:

Manank mojea sotri lavn, sotri lavn, vhor kunhada
Manank mojea sotri lavn, sotri lavn, vhor kunhada
(Please, brother-in-law, take my sister by using an umbrella)
Manank mojea savllechean, savllechean, vhor kunhada
Manank mojea savllechean, savllechean, vhor kunhada
(Please, brother-in-law, take my sister under the shade of an umbrella.)

One of the duties the “sotrekarn” was entrusted with was to look after the evil spirits throughout bride’s journey from her home to the Church, to the photo studio and back to her new home, and later from her husband’s house back to her house on the third day for the portovnnem.

The Mhars had a connection with evil spirits!

As explained in my article “Devchar (Evil Spirits) ani Voijinn Maim”, people then believed in evil spirits and it was believed that they controlled village boundaries and roads, especially road crossings, including a “Tiskem” (connection of three roads – a T-shaped road) where a lot of “azneri” (strange incidents) took place.

For this reason, one found and still finds a Ghumtti erected at borders of villages. The locals traveling in the area seek blessings of the “rakhnno” (guardian) at the Ghumtti to protect them along their journey.

How did a sotrekarn please the evil spirits? She carried enough “pan-bedde” (betel leaf & nuts) in a “lugttachi poti” (cloth bag), which she tucked into her kapodd at her waistline.

The moment they reached a cross road/tiskem, she would remove one of the “pan-beddo” from her bag and throw it away, supposedly for it to be picked up by the evil spirits who would be pleased with it and would not attack or do something bad for the bride/groom.

When transportation became available, the “sotrekarn” always sat by the window so she could toss out the “pan-beddo” at every road crossing and “xim” (border). She strictly instructed the bride/groom not to look back while she did the job either while they walked the distance or traveled by a car.

While “xim portop” (reciprocation of border or bridal departure ceremony where an imaginary line is drawn by pouring liquor separating groom’s and bride’s coteries) took place, the sotrekarn quietly moved aside and did her duty – tossed out a “pan-beddo”.

The sotrekarn also accompanied “ezman” (bride’s mother) with tambddi sotri when she went around inviting people in the ward for the portovnnem.

The ezman would hurriedly visit each neighbor’s house and extend invitation thus: “Hanv portovnneank sangonk aileam; vegim kens-matem korat ani mattvan eiat.” (I have come to invite you for the reception at our place; comb your hair, dress up quickly and come to the pavilion.)

In the days of yore, prior to the availability of the car, the groom’s sister along with another female companion covered the distance from groom’s house to the bride’s on foot. They were accompanied by another female, usually a sotrekarn, who belonged to the Mhar community.

She carried a “pett” (trunk) on her head containing bride’s wedding dress and other garments, gold ornaments, bobby pins, powder, etc. The moment the three women left the groom’s house, a barrage of crackers were fired which was an indication that groom’s people had left for the bride’s house with “voklechi nesovnni” (bride’s garments).

A red velvet umbrella was also used whenever church or political dignitaries visited a village. Obviously, a sotrekarn was hired to accompany them with a tambddi sotri.

The Hindus, too, used a tambddi sotri at processions carrying a deity, etc. and they, too, hired the services of a sotrekarn.


In the olden days, everything was done in the name of God and everyone invoked God’s blessings in everything.

Once the portovnnem was over and vokol returned to her husband’s, she visited the ward on the fourth day and distributed “vojem” (weight) - a basketful of Goan sweets like “bol” (sweet, hard bread made from coarse rice, jaggery and grated coconut), “kokad” (a sweet prepared from coconut), bananas, etc. given by the girl’s parents as part of the bridal trousseau.

The vojem had a connection with the dowry i.e., the number of bol depended on the amount of dowry. If a dowry of Rs.10,000 was agreed upon, “ek ozar (1000) bolanchem vojem divnk zai aslem” (one thousand (1000) bol had to be given.) For a dowry less than Rs.5,000, “painxim bolanchem vojem divnk zai aslem” (five hundred [500] bol had to be given,) and so on.

The vokol was dressed in a “saddo” (reddish color dress) that looked bright; the “chuddo” (green and yellow glass bangles) in her arms added beauty to her body. She also wore all the gold which was given to her by her parents and in-laws to show it to her new ward members.

Some of the neighbors and relatives took a closer look at the necklace, earrings, and bangles and rings, praised the design and enquired as to which “sonar-xett” (goldsmith) crafted the ornaments.

The main purpose of a vokol distributing the vojem was to get acquainted with the ward people, and, of course, to sweeten their palate with sweets and leave a long-lasting sweetness in their mouths. Along with sweets, she also carried and revealed her character.

While the vokol distributes vojem, it gives an opportunity to her neighbors/ward people to get a closer look at her, notice her behavior and judge her instantly whether she is a friendly or a reserved person.

A sotrekarn accompanied the vokol and vojem with a tambddi viludachi sotri. She followed the vokol at every step, covered her head with the umbrella and protected her from sunshine. Since the umbrella was big enough, the “dheddi” (bridesmaid) and even other accompanying members sometimes took shelter under the umbrella, especially during the hot summer season when the heat is really unbearable.

The dheddi accompanied the vokol with a “dalem” (large tray woven from bamboo – a pettaro cover) on her “bhendd/mhatem” (waist/head,) which mainly contained bol, “chonneanchi doce” (a sweet meat made from gram flour) and bananas; sometimes “dodol”, “kokada” and “bathk” were also included. The top of the basket was covered with a white, net-type cloth.

In Anjuna, tambddi viludachi sotri was available on hire in Mazalvaddo at “Celestinamger/An-Morieger” (Celestine’s/Anne Marie’s); in Mapusa it was available at Bhairão shop. The sotrekarni hired the red velvet umbrellas from these sources.

The only sotrekarni I knew in Anjuna from my childhood until the 1970s were Mrs. Idalina Fernandes, colloquially known as “Idalgem” from the Mhar vaddo, and Mrs. Severine or Severlem from Tembi mini mhar vaddo. Both belonged to the Mhar community!

Wasn’t the sotrekarn a part of our culture?


In Goa, no function is complete without firecrackers – it’s a must for every occasion, including birth of a child.

In the olden days, at the end of Salvi, feast mass, Christmas and Easter midnight mass, weddings, etc., our Church employees, pede or boyyas, prepared and fired fozne (mortars.)

Two pede were positioned on the tower to ring the Church bells and two were assigned to prepare and fire fozne.

Since a match stick usually goes off in the open air, people find it easier to use a “ujeachem sodnn (burning husk of coconut) to light firecrackers. Most pede smoked a pamparo or beedi. About ten minutes before Church ceremony came to an end, pede would prepare a small fire with soddnnam and then add some xirputtam (firewood sticks) to it.

Fozne were somewhat conical in shape with broader base; their top and bottom was flat. Each fozno weighed around 10 Kg. The pede filled them with dharu (gun powder) with the help of a bamboo piece. Each fozno had a little hole at its bottom.

When all fozne were filled or charged, they were arranged and kept individually or in separate rows, depending on how they were planned to be fired.

A line of gun powder was drawn on the ground from one fozno to another until it reached and touched the tiny hole at its bottom. Once fozne were filled or charged, they were arranged and kept at a distance of around six feet from each other.

When it was time to fire fozne, pede would pick a burning stick or sodnn and get ready to set fire to the gunpowder line on the ground.

The signal to fire fozne was the pealing of the bell. The moment they heard the bell ring, they lit the gunpowder line, which got to each fozno and instantly activated packed gunpowder and produced a big blast.

Fozne fell flat on the ground as if the life in them was over! The blast was so powerful that it could be heard in all the adjoining villages.

The pede were experts in preparing fozne; rarely any of their fozne failed. It was interesting to see them prepare fozne, light them up and run way.

As children, we knew when it was time for the fozne to go off. So, we would stand in a safe place, away from the firing site and enjoy the blasts, which sounded like bomb blasts. They were arranged and fired from outside the west entrance of the Anjuna Church compound.

Anjuna Church had a set of twelve fozne which two pede fired simultaneously. They were stored in a corner next to pede’s resting place “kontrel” (niche) under the main staircase leading to the choir.

Gornal (hand made grenades), which were prepared by a “foger” (manufacturer of artificial fireworks) were also used at the above-mentioned festivals/occasions but they were not as effective as fozne because their sound did not travel as far.

Wasn’t preparing and firing fozne another feather on the Mhar community’s cap?

Here I recall the good old Konkani proverb: “Rogddea khustar san’nam; Fulu khustar fozne!” (Make merry at others’ expense!)

To be continued ........
Anjuna, Goa

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