The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 8
By Domnic Fernandes
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?
BONES OF AN “AVONT”
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!)
GORVACHEA XINGAN ROGOT CHINVON KADDOP
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!
SORCERY & EXORCISM
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 ........
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