Sunday, 13 August 2017

Saptah, Sonepur and Snows

-Brian Mendonça

Bazicha-e-atfaal hai duniya mere aage
Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha mere aage.

[The world to me is merely a children’s fairground
Every night and day the spectacle is enacted.]

-Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869)

Recently two annual events were observed in Goa, one on the heels of the other. The first was the eagerly-looked forward to Saptah or seven days, celebrated in the town of Vasco. The other was the Feast of our Lady of Snows church, Raia (popularly known as Konsanche fest).

It seemed as though the people were undeterred by the rainy months and pressed on regardless to buy their gram (chonne) and  kaddio-boddio at the fair. In this amalgamation of the hoi polloi I recall the earthy simplicity of ‘Flemish Fair’ a painting by Dutch master Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638) where he paints so expressively the tumultuous scenes of the peasants at the fair. Some are eating away, others performing on a stage, still others coming to blows, groups carousing, and there’s even a couple of saffron flags as an effigy is carried in procession. (See painting below)

Through squelchy tracts the villagers of Raia disappeared behind the wide plastic sheets to ferret their toys, balloons and cheap knick-knacks. There was also a football match to be witnessed, with pounding music to woo the early birds. The housie prize was not to be sniffed at – a cool Rs. 50,000 for the full house, by some estimates. What delighted me was that the stalls were strung up in the pathway leading to the cemetery. No spectre of death would dissuade the revellers believing in making the best of the moment in the vein of carpe diem / Make the best of the day.

Vasco being short on space, it had to use up an entire main road to host the saptah. This caused great inconvenience to the houses and shops along the road but patience is a virtue that Vascoites have cultivated. Even after emphatic announcements to shut down the shops at the end of the 7 days, the authorities always backtrack and allow it to continue ‘till Sunday.’

In places where there is ample open space the fair is zoned out off the city area. In Kharghar, Navi Mumbai the main attraction of the fair was a giant Ferris wheel. There was also a water park where kids could paddle their boats, a toy train in the shape of a snarling dragon, and Khurja pottery displays.  Howls of delight went up in the air as the brave-hearts went on their death-defying rides.

Near Patna, in Bihar is the Sonepur mela which I visited in 2009. Here ‘painted teens / shake it for the crowd.’ In the distance the Kali Gandak river flows by. At Kali-ghat, ‘You merge with the Ganges / as pilgrims bathe furiously / with soap and water.’ Monkeys, langurs, puppies and parrots squashed in a cage are sold for a princely sum. Earlier at this cattle fair elephants too would be sold, and of course, cows.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on Sunday, 13 August 2017. Pix top of the Raia feast on 5 August 2017 with the church spires in the background. Taken by the author. Second pix of 'Flemish Fair' by Breughel the Younger. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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