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Goa hails the three kings today

Goa hails the three kings today

Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
The Catholic Church world-over celebrates the feast of the three kings on January 6, twelve days after Christmas. Goa too follows this tradition, with people celebrating with pomp and gaiety in villages like Verem, Reis Magos, Cansaulim, Cuelim (chapel of Our Lady of Remedios) and Chandor (church of Our Lady of Bethlehem). The feast of the Three Kings also known as the feast of ‘The Magi’, is the day of the Epiphany in the Christian liturgical calendar. It also marks the end of the festive season of Christmas for Roman Catholics. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi or Three Wise Men of the East to the child Jesus born in Bethlehem. In Eastern churches, it celebrates the baptism of Jesus. Epiphany is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘appear or to show oneself’. As a religious term, it refers to an appearance by a divine being into the physical world. For example, the Bible tells that God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.
On the day of the Epiphany, the faithful enact the journey of the three men. They found their way from distant lands to the manger of the infant by studying the stars and following the bright star of Bethlehem. Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior carried gold, myrrh (resin), and frankincense, a type of aromatic resin. The gold stands for Christ’s royalty, the frankincense or incense stands for the fact that he is God and myrrh, a resin used for burial, somewhat foresees the death of the child for the salvation of mankind.
In Goa, one of the most colourful feasts is no doubt the one celebrated at Cuelim. At the top of the hill in the village of Cuelim, in Salcete Taluka stands the chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies). The main alter at the chapel is in honour of Our Lady, who stands with the Infant Jesus in one arm, while the other holds a small vase. This vase is said to enclose panacea of all ills. People approach the Madonna to get rid of their ill health and to pray for protection and children for sterile mothers. Locally this hill is referred to as Remete Saibinicho dongor. The Chapel was built circa 1599 by Fr. Goncalo Carvalho S.J., the parish priest of St. Thomas Church. The present structure in Hindu-Baroque style was erected in 1721 and is affiliated to the St. Thomas Church in Cansaulim.
There are many legends regarding the establishment of the chapel on the top of the hill. Some say that it was the Jesuits who had built the chapel in this remote area to evade persecution from Marques de Pombal. The existence of subterranean passage in the chapel gives weight to this theory. The mile long passage terminates about a mile away in a huge boulder with six secret openings through which it is believed that the faithful entered the chapel.
On the feast day three little boys each selected from the three villages of Cuelim, Cansaulim and Arossim, represent the magi Gaspar, Baltazar and Melchior carry the gift to the Infant Child, gold, myrrh and frankincense. The three boys are the descendants of the gaunkars of these three villages, a privilege reserved only for the direct descendants from the respective villages. It is interesting to note that though majority of the religious traditions are male oriented, in this particular case, sons born to daughters of the villagers are also allowed to wear the mantle of king. Before the High Mass, the Kings arrive on horseback, from three different routes, dressed in royal garments, elaborately embroidered in gold and silver, wearing a crown studded with glittering stones along with a retinue of attendants holding colorful parasols, flag carriers and others. Crackers are lit and each procession is preceded by a brass band which plays along the route. The procession starts from the boys’ residences on their journeys to the top of the Cuelim hill. The first stop for the ‘king’ from Arossim is in front of the Chapel of St. Lawrence, where the chaplain recites a short prayer and bestows his blessing. From there the entourage continues along an age-old path behind the chapel to the Comunidade paddy fields to the south and then turns north to the foot of the hill in Cuelim. At the foot of the hill all the three kings meet and after a short rest ascend to the top of the hill in time to attend the high mass and present their gifts. Because of the increased attendance in recent years, the religious services are now celebrated outdoors in front of the chapel under a canopy erected for the occasion. After the mass the ‘royal travelers’ descend the hill by a different westerly trail back to their respective villages to continue the celebrations at their homes.

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