Easter Celebrations With a Blend of Traditions in Goa
In India, Easter is not as popular as Christmas, which observes people from all faiths engaging in celebrations. But in Goa, this auspicious day is celebrated with full gusto, much like in the West. Let us see how the Catholic Goans combine their local traditions with the European (Portuguese) style of Easter celebration.
But Easter is not entirely a somber occasion. After the mass and the procession, people gather around to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and of course, the beginning of spring, both symbolizing new life. They decorate eggs in colourful patterns, or make delicacies in the shape of Easter eggs and share with one another.
The egg itself has a symbolic meaning. Some say that since an egg also gives birth to a new life, it is representative of Jesus’ resurrection. Others say that the eggshells symbolize the empty tomb from which Jesus was resurrected.
The people of Goa also exchange gifts and engage in singing and feasting during Easter. One of the most popular dishes of Easter, the Simnel cake, eaten in the United Kingdom, Ireland and other countries, is also enjoyed by the Goans. Perhaps, this dish too came with the Portuguese in the 15th-16th centuries. Cross Bun, another Easter treat enjoyed in the UK and elsewhere, is also quite common in Goa.
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his death by crucifixion. Easter always falls on the Sunday at the beginning of the spring season, symbolizing the beginning of new and fresh life. It also marks the end of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting, prayer and repentance.
In India, about 2.5% of the population are Christians, making them a religious minority. But traditions associated with Christianity followed in the West are popular even in India. Goa, the heart of Christianity in India, is truly the best place to be if one wishes to witness Easter day celebrations like that of the West.
Christianity came in the present-day state of Goa with the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century and has, ever since, remained the dominant religion of the majority of people. Goa even celebrates the Carnival festival, a grand one-week celebration that precedes Lent, and boasts a distinct Portuguese influence.
Easter celebrations are best witnessed in Panjim, Goa. On this auspicious day, hundreds of Catholic devotees gather in the Panjim Church, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, to listen to the special mass for Easter.
But the Goans also incorporate their own local ways of celebration into Easter. They make authentic dishes like vindaloo which took its birth in the state itself. Although vindaloo is also inspired by the Portuguese, it most definitely has a unique flavor, making it indigenous to the Goans.
Vindaloo was actually a mispronunciation of the Portuguese dish, carne de vinha d’Alhos, meaning meat marinated in wine vinegar and garlic. But when the Portuguese came to India and popularized the dish, the locals modified it because of the unavailability of wine vinegar.
Similarly, Sorpotel, inspired by the Portuguese dish Sarabulho is another dish that is prepared during Easter. Another authentic Goan dish is bebinca, a sweet delicacy, and it is widely enjoyed by Goans during Easter.
Easter may not be that popular in many parts of India, but it is surely celebrated by the Christian followers in states like Goa, with the same enthusiasm as the people of the West.
What’s more interesting is that Goa, being a former Portuguese colony, has not merely retained the Portuguese traditions they incorporated during their colonial years, but they have also successfully incorporated their own local traits into the festival of Easter.
Interestingly, the mass is organized in Konkani, Goa’s official language and not in English as seen in the masses in European churches.
People dressed in formal outfits come in large numbers, often larger than the capacity of the church itself. Following the mass, a huge crucifix is unveiled in the church, which is symbolic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
The followers carry this crucifix and parade down the street what appears to be a re-enactment of the scene depicting Jesus on the day he was crucified in Mount Cavalry. The parade is symbolic of the path that Jesus took and hence, the name of this tradition is called “The Way of the Cross”.
The entire scene is quite sentimental, as people walk in two parallel lines, some having a solemn look on their days, and others wiping the tears off their faces. It is indeed one of a somber occasion, as the followers remember the trials and tribulations that the Holy Father, Jesus went through for them. A band plays soulful melodies in the background, further increasing the intensity of the tradition. People, who remain in their houses, come out to watch this procession in silence.