Monday, December 27, 2010

Gau Pallan - An exotic event of mass evacuation

The Cannon ready to fire at the temple ground

Its Time up. 

The tent.....

Villagers erecting the tent. 

Erecting the tent.
Getting Ready....

The Rameshwer Temple of Achra

Three to four days before, the villagers start developing make shift tents, kitchens and the planning begins for a grand evacuation. Gau Pallan they call it and there is an excitement around the obscure village of Achra in Sindhudurg just 20 Km from Malvan (an age old port town). This is an event which happens once in three years just after Datta Jayanti (a important festival in the region). Gau Pallan is an age old tradition and there are various myths behind it. Some call it a purification of sought, others have religious believes that the grand evacuation pleases to local deity. In this costal region it is believed that the physical property belongs to God and the residents are just tenants. There are also faithful that believe that the event began during the days of plagues and epidemics and the wise thought it would be best for the entire village to stay in the forests for a couple of days so that they would not spread the out break of any decease.

What ever the reason this was an event worth experiencing. Sanjay the local villager who was actively taking part in organizing his families stay in the forests away from the village tells me that this event also helps in resolving any ambiguity among villagers as when you stay together in the forests for three days with limited resources you have plenty of opportunities to reconnect to one another and the nature. There are various rules of how the event has to be self executed and it is amazing to see the whole village very religiously follow these rules. The whole village has to compulsorily take part in the event and they have to be living in the forests in make shift tents for 3 days. The whole village will also have to leave the village within a stipulated time. To warn the village about the time there is a cannon which is fired at the temple grounds and a second and the last cannon is fired at the market ground to make every one aware. Within an hour of the last cannon fired the whole village has to be empty.

It was amazing to see the whole village get ready for the event. Households were busy packing for stock for the coming days in the forest. The women were busy with getting the Kitchen packed and the men were giving final touches to the make shift tent and also busy gathering livestock. When you say whole village it includes the cattle, pet and all living things in the village. Villagers choose their spots on the hills or near by forests and the erection of tents start a couple of days before the D day.

For us it is something exotic and unbelievable for the villagers of Achra it is like an extended picnic. The women have a delicious minimalistic menu in mind and they do all the pre preparations for the dishes well in advance. The whole day in the forest is spend relaxing, eating and enjoying each others company. There are no luxuries like your favorite programme on TV or even electricity. I believe those three days would be memorable and truly enjoyable with no distraction of any kind together with one another and the nature. Back in the village everything is closed,a all the houses, bazzars, shops and everything were deserted and all that were left were a few stray dogs howling who probably might be wondering were all the humans were.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mando - The Love song of Goa

Mando is called the love song of Goa. In fact in the past, mando did not deal with themes of love alone. There were also many other issues projected through the mando, but on the whole mandos were composed on different shades of love and hence it came to be known as the love song of Goa. Mando is also called the dance song of Goa as it is accompanied by a dance  while being sung. Family celebrations uded to culminate around the singing and dancing of mando.

Goa has different types of songs and dance, it can be classified into religious, childhood, marriage, random folk, occupational, caste theatrical etc. Goan music in the past was mostly monophonic. Due to the Portuguese influence Goa was exposed to Harmonic music. The first type of Goan music to use harmony were those sung in the church. Subsequently other songs like the Dekhni, dulops, tiatr songs and mando all started using Harmonic music.

Although the mando is alove song expressing varied emotions of love, the dulops bring before you interesting happenings in society. Dulops are mirrors of our society. A real dulop will hit hard at a particular issue while at the same  time drawing laughter from the audience. It deals with the issues prevailing in society.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Omlette like never before

As you drive down from Coquiero circle in Porvorim towards Calangute you pass through villages of Sangolda and Saligao. The beautiful drive takes you through these sleepy villages in narrow road with old houses on both sides. After you cross Sangolda comes the village of Saligao which has one of the most photographed churches in Goa.
Just before the church is Samrat Restaurant.

A very small restaurant similar to a tapri, the restaurant has just 4 tables and 6 items on its menu. Rus Omlette is the star of the show here. Rus omlette is nothing but a regular omlete with chicken gravy on top of it. It is spectacular in taste. The chicken gravy is of the famous Xacuthi which is made of coconut paste and whole load of different spices, blend together in the right consistency to form a delicious dish. Chicken Xacuthi in itself is extremely tasty and famous export from Goa but when it comes to a perfect breakfast nothing to beat the Rus omlette. The omlette itself is very well cooked and the gravy over it forms the perfect add on. The different spices of the gravy and it’s consistency just carries on in your mouth when you suddenly discover the omlette which is just perfectly cooked to be fluffy. The onions and chilies in the omellte gives a nice crunch.

For over a decade I have been feasting on this lovely dish. When everything seems to change around you and within you, Samrat restaurant is a place which is stuck in time. Everything from the tables, benches, plates, spoons, cups, to the cook and the kitchen have never changed. The taste and the no frills service has been extremely consistent over the years.

The best time to go to have Rus omlette is in the morning by around 1000hrs, this is the time when Andrew the village baker comes with his freshly baked bread. Bread in Goa is not just bread, it comes in different shapes, sizes and forms. There is the regular pav which we all know, then there is katranche pav which looks of the shape of a butterfly, there is unne which is very hard local bread, there is sweet bread for the children and many more. The timing mentioned above is perfect as Andrew brings his different types of bread which are freshly baked and are hot. There is nothing like hot bread. You could have just the bread by itself when it is warm, I guess that is the way we are supposed to have it. Bread when gets cold looses its texture and taste. For your perfect experience at Samrat restaurant I strongly recommend you the katarcance pav with ras omlette.

There are few options available here other than the tasty rus omlette, you can opt for the tamat bhaji (Tomato bhaji) or patal bhaji ( channa bhaji) served again with pav. For breakfast’s you have omlette and then for the lunch you have chicken Xazcuthi. The restaurant opens from 0830 to 1730 hrs. They also have Mirch bhajji, samosas and batata vaddas but they are all out sourced. These are the only items that you will get in this tiny restaurant. They also do not serve rice, chappati or puris as accompaniments; it is only the diefferent types of Pav that you can choose from. But when you have a dish as tasty as the rus omlette why would you order anything else. In the past so may years I do not remember ordering anything else.

Sunday mornings is something I and my wife look up to. A lazy drive through the villages in your bike with the wind blowing through, the freshness and the greenery around with normal morning routine of the village activities finally takes you to Samrat restaurant, where we have been having this great dish regularly. As we just finish with our breakfast and have a cup of hot tea to complete the experience the church bell rings in the vicinity and then Samrat gets full with men and women dressed in formal shirts, trousers, skirts and gowns. Greeting each other and having fun.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shravan & the unique festivals of Goa

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The Shravan month as per the Hindu calendar is a auspicious month and full of festivals around India. The climate is considered to be just perfect across the peninsula; there is a renewed energy & freshness in the nature around after the heavy rains of July. The fields are ready with their offering of the freshest of vegetables and produce, probably that’s why we have onam, rakshabandhan, narli poornima and various other harvest festivals around India.

In Goa these festivals are more on a micro level. Every village has a different version of festivals, feasts & jatras happening. These festivals are a treat as the whole village gets together in celebrations. Vasco celebrates the famous Saptah Jatra, we have Saligao chapel’s feast which is famous around Goa for the earthen ware which is at display in the various make shift shops, bonderas celebrated in Divar island, Konsachem fest (harvest festival) celebrated in the various villages particularly uniquely in Taligao.

The enchanting world of brass bands, ceremonial umbrellas, canon fire, high mass and sumptuous banquets will come alive as Taligao comunidade and it’s gauncars celebrate the annual 4 day harvest feast. This year, the Taligao gauncars take extra pride in the fact that they will be celebrating 500 years of the special privilege accorded to them to present the first corn to the governor of Goa. On the day of the feast 4 canons will be fired at 0830 sharp to mark the march & procession to the Church under the cover of ceremonial umbrellas and brass band. The procession will then proceed to a designated field where the priest will bless the new paddy and a senior person will cut the sheaves. This will be followed by high mass at St Michaels church. Later the blessed sheaves will be taken to Se Cathedral in Old Goa and later to the Archbishop in Altinho and then to the governor in Donapaula. This tradition is being still preserved and it is the 500th year that Taligao village got this right.

Bonderas is another 400 year old festival celebrated in Divar islands opposite Old Goa. The festival started as a flag festival to protest against the Portuguese rule, it is still celebrated with revelry as the villagers come together with floats from the different vaddo’s followed by music, dance and snacks served at the church square. The bonderam parade will kick start at 1500hrs from the Malar flag post and wend it’s way to the village with brass band and floats.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vasco Saptah - Goa's largest fair or jatra

There’s a carnival like atmosphere, with over 700 make shift stalls selling everything from food to kitchen ware to clothes to furniture. The prayers and devotional songs continue from the Damodar temple nestled in the front portion of the Joshi Residence. This ancestral home witnesses long lines of lakhs of pilgrims who come to seek the blessings of the divine.

The celebration dates back to 1899 when seeking to be saved from a plague that had gripped the port town, residence of Vasco traveled to Zambaulim in South Goa and brought back a coconut blessed at the Shri Damodar Temple. Constant prayers later the plague ended. Folklore holds. When the coconut was brought from Zambaulim, one Shreedhar Joshi was asked to perform the Puja. This tradition has continued for the past 112 years at the temple which is inside the Joshi residence in Vasco.

Incidentally the statue of Laord Damodar was installed only in 1970 in the temple, earlier only the coconut was worshiped. The Saptah starts with the anointed coconut from the Lord Damodar temple being ceremoniously taken in a procession to Khariawada where it is immersed. Back at the temple Prasad is given to devotees. After the distribution of Prasad a new coconut is anointed as bhajans are sung uninterrupted, for 24 hours.

Through the week long celebration there are various events. Groups called Pars bring in floats depicting various mythological characters and stories. Saptah is the celebration of the entire Vasco city and is a much awaited event among all Goans.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Folk Flock to Beaches

With just about a month of summer remaining, a rush is witnessed at the beaches of Goa by Goans for the annual ritualistic and traditional dip in the sea waters. It is believed by locals that the venturing into the seas in the month of April and May cures one of prickly heat, rheumatism, pain in the joints and limbs etc.

"The sea is a gift to human kind and not only because of the fish that we get to eat and other riches but also because it is blessed with many other wonderful things that we may not even know about". My land lady tells me. She also adds that the annual bath includes staying or visiting the beaches for 3 or 4 days continuously can have a good effect on your body.

This is a age old tradition in Goa. These days the concept has changed into a picnic where food and other necessities are carried to the beach and families laze around for the whole day in the beach by just sleeping, reading, listening to music, singing some songs together etc. While the young have their own activities like games and sports which are played on the beach. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cash Deposits for Vindaloo

I recently so a commercial on TV of ICICI bank about how the employees go out of the way in delivering a personal touch to the services they provide. I though it was all a gimmick. Some commercials really do touch you but not this one. The farce in the add was way to evident to me, having experienced the bank many times. I have always found the bank to be very chaotic though they have brought in some good changes the way Indians bank. On the other hand I find more at home at our own SBI Bank where at least the staff is not trying to ape some MNC's. ICICI on the other hand I feel is trying to put up a face of genuine care and concern but is as chaotic as any of our local banks would be.

My routine bank visits include a trip once in a while to our local village corporation bank. There is no reason for me to be there but I have to be for the sake of some delicious Vindaloo or some other delicacies which Antao aunty trades in favor for her cash to be deposited. The offer is too tempting for me to consider. The bank in which her account is has 04 employees including the manager and the office boy. Everything moves at snail pace here. depositing the money is an affair of half an hour to fourty five minutes.

This week as usual Aunty entrusted me with the job of depositing some cash, she caught me well on time just as I was trying to sneak away. Her pass book and cash comes in a very neatly kept plastic cover which is the same for the past 3 years. As usual she reminded me to enter the deposit on the pass book, which she is extremely particular about. Not updating the passbook means going though the same ordeal the very next day and this time without any incentive of vindaloos or bebincas. Over the past 3 years I had very clearly learned my lesson.

At the bank as I was waiting I could not miss the expression on one of the employees who is getting transfered next week to a branch closer to her home. She was telling every known customer walking in at her counter about the transfer. Each customer wished her good luck and said they would miss her. There was happiness as well as a sense of loss in her expression. I am very sure she would miss the present branch along with all its customers. She had been there for the past 5 years and had personally known most of its customers. Being a village branch there were very few close customers as well. The whole emotions around the bank was eating into my time but some how I did not mind it. There were various concerns raised during her conversation with her beloved customers.

Most of them wanted to know who was replacing her. She was happy that she was moving closer to her home but worried that she is being transfered to a city branch in Mapusa where there would be some added pressure compared to a village branch. There was a genuine concern in everyone involved in the conversation.Finally when my turn came which was after about fourty five minutes she asked me about Antao aunty and asked her to convey the news about her transfer.

I wished her all the best at the back of my mind was the commercial of ICICI Bank.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The summers and the Jungle Juice

The summers are here and so is the aurrack, the favourite drink of Goa. It is the juice of the cashew fruit which is mildly alcoholic. There are various ways to have it but the best one is the way my friend Denniss makes it - Loads of crushed ice, 180 ml of the juice, lot of lime squeezed into it with a dash of salt in a tall glass. It doesn't give you a kick like the other drinks thats why we have 180 ml in a glass instead of the standard 60 ml or 30 ml.

From March if you get a chance to travel through the hinterlands of Goa, I bet you will not miss the sweet, fruity striking smell of the ripe cashew fruit. One of the greatest imports by the Portuguese, this fruit has influenced the way I beat the heat about 350 years after the first fruit was born on this land. These fruits are seasonal and starts riping from February to April.  It is a richly flavored fruit so it is had lightly sugared or salted. Another way to have it is with the recipe mentioned above. Which I think is much better.

Come February the state is waiting for its favorite drink. It just cools the body down and sleeping after a couple of drinks is strongly recommended. This is for sure a summer drink, there is a reason why mother nature produced it during this season. The drink tastes even better with of course some fried mussels or the heavenly juicy Bhangada.

It is in-fact worth a trip to Goa only to explore more about this juice. It is famously called Jungle Juice in Goa. I guess the name suggests alot. At least it is natural compared to some of its other bottled counterparts. It is also good for health, It is played a big role in the small jungle juice belly that I have. In the traditional method of making cashew fenny, the cashew apples are manually crushed in a rock on the hill which is carved or shaped like a basin with an outlet for the juice, called a coimbi. The juice is collected in a huge earthen pot called a Kodem, which is buried in the ground. The juice is then distilled in earthen or copper pots. Recently Cashew Fenny got its GI registration as a specialty alcoholic beverage from GOA.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fish - The life line of Goa

In Mumbai it is the local train network. But not here. Squids, Mussels, Prawns, Kingfish, Mackreal etc is something which Goa and Goans cannot live without. The day of my Goan friends begin with their moms waking them up to go to the local market to buy the fresh catch. There is always an anxiety and excitement during this period which ends with the consumption of the catch at lunch. The success of your day is measured by the freshness of the fish you manage to Get.

Some common questions when 2 Goans meet each other. "What fish have you brought to day and from where"?

When you go to a restaurant in Goa you do not ask the menu you ask "What is the fresh catch available today"?

In between conversations the Fish strikes - "These days you do not get fresh fish at all". I heard that Siolim market has better and fresher fish".

Fish is always on a Goans mind. My Goan friend landmarks his way to our apartment in Kharghar by the fisherwomen sitting by the roadside with their catch.

Some times there are joint missions undertaken as well "Tomorrow wake me up lets go together to buy fish".

A life without these aquamarine species would be unimaginable. But when you have the various fish curries and fries and various other preparations like caldin (cooked with coconut milk) Balchao (a pickly & spicy thick Goan cuury)  or a normal coconut based curry with rava fried fish you realize the whole exercise is worth it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gudi Padva - Happy New Year

There wouldn't be a better day to start blogging than on the first day of the year. Gudi Padva is widely celebrated in Maharashtra & Goa as the first day of the new year.  This year is my first Padva as a married man & my wife began this year with a bang with some awesome Carrot Halva. It really set me up for the coming year. My wify is one of the best cooks that I have come across and her style of cooking is my favorite, less masala, very simple style of cooking and delicious. She cooks Indian food the way you would have European food & I am now looking forward for a delicious culinary year ahead.

The new year began with the delicious Carrot Halwa and then proceeded with reading the local news paper and when you read that a new Monginis store is opening in the neighborhood you realize the world around you is fine at least till the borders of Goa. Goa being a very small state with a small population you end up having newspapers with headlines of store openings and robberies and thefts and so on.  Goans do not like to read about national and international news. The hot topic that sells here is about a new store opened, a new bus service launched, the local football matches, a theft or robbery etc. 

On the auspicious day of this new year there are 2 new stores opening in our village and there are 2 different state ministers coming for its opening that is when I realize that our village is getting more prominent in the map of Goa. We have international brands and more store opening up here. 

Our quaint village is located ideally @5 Km from Panjim (the capital), 4 Km from Mapusa (a city with the wholesale bazzar) and 6 Km from Calangute (the most important beach belt for tourists). With the development of these places around us our sleepy little village is getting more attention because of its location.