Killing Community Spirit of Chovoth

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
15 September 2010 20:06 IST

I am a non-believer; but I never miss Chovoth in my village. The basic concept of Chovoth fascinates me. There may be hundreds of temples (legal and illegal) of Lord Ganesh. But still practically every household celebrates Chovoth in their own house, not in the temple. Chovoth was not conceptualised as a religious feast around the temple, but a Community Festival in and around the houses. It has been conceptualised by our ancestors as a Worship of Mother Nature; not a mere idol worship.

From Lord Ganesh's mother & father -  Gauri & Mahadev to Lord Ganesh, every God is made from the nature. The Father & Mother are made of coconut and different leaves while Ganesh idol is made of special clay called ‘Chikann Mati'. The ‘Mattolli' - a square-shaped grid made of bamboos - is a real treasure of herbal medicines and fruits of the season. The decorations and even pooja-related items are full with flowers, especially ‘Jayo', and other ‘vanaspati' like ‘Durva', ‘Bel', ‘Tulshi' etc. The Chovoth food is full of seasonal fruits and vegetables with ‘Khatkahtem', ‘Pattolyo' and ‘Heett' reigning supreme over all the equally delicious food items.

But what fascinates me more is the community spirit of this festival. The ‘Ghumat Aartyo' and ‘Fugdyo' are never limited to one or two houses. It's a community ritual through folk forms. And no folk form can be performed without a community. It integrates the whole neighbourhood, keeping aside all the differences and petty fights they had throughout the year. It's a festival that either buries the minor squabbles or isolates those who adamantly maintain such enmity during Chovoth.

I have personally witnessed two phases of Chovoth - the real village Chovoth of '60s and '70s of my childhood and the recent Chovoth of urbanised Goa. The transition is not as simple as we see it. It reflects the detachment of the communities and a slow death of the community spirit with which the festival was conceptualised.

What is scarier is the scene if we visualise of the next 20 years, may be by 2030. It's going to be a death knell for the community spirit of Goa, which our forefathers have skilfully built for generations together.

In 1961, when liberated, 80 per cent of Goa lived in the villages. Even 20 per cent urban Goa was a city with a similar community spirit of a village. Over the last 50 years, the picture is almost opposite. The 2001 census showed urban:rural ratio at 60:40. It would not be a surprise if 2011 census shows it exactly opposite of 1961 census - 20:80 to 80:20.

The trend of local urbanisation is not much in the Old Conquests - the talukas of Salcete, Mormugao, Tiswadi and Bardez. The trend there is of migration abroad. It's mainly among the Christian community since these talukas are Christian-dominated. But the trend of local urbanisation within Goa is more prominent in the New Conquests - the seven talukas of Pedne, Sattari, Bicholim, Ponda, Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona. These are Hindu-dominated talukas. They are far away from the main cities of ‘opportunities and facilities'. The urbanisation thus becomes inevitable. And thus matters the Chovoth.

Till ‘70s, in our childhood,  our generations lived in the villages. We always celebrated Chovoth as a community festival. It simply did not matter who celebrates Chovoth for only one and a half days and whose Ganapati ‘stays' for five or seven days. The Chovoth spirit dominated the whole village for not less than seven days. In fact this spirit used to start haunting at least one month in advance.

We - as children - used to launder around the ‘Chitrashala', where the Ganesh idols were made. That was our annual crash course of sculpture-making and painting. Growing vegetables on the hillock behind our houses was our School of Horticulture. Collecting all the items for ‘Mattolli' in the forest was the School of Ayurveda. And seven days of ‘Ghumat Aartyo', ‘Bhajan' and ‘Fugdyo' (with rehearsals starting at least one month in advance) was the School of Music, Dance and Singing.

Obviously, none of this activity could happen without the Community Spirit, the inherent part of the whole Festivity,  with which our generations learnt togetherness, tolerance, accommodative nature and the greatness of Oneness.

The Christians in our village were never isolated from this Festival. They too were integral part of it as much as Hindus were part of Christmas festivities at community level.

THIS was the strength of Goa. Chovoth definitely played a major role in maintaining our community spirit and even our communal harmony.

But now, with urbanisation, the scene has changed drastically in the last 50 years. Every year witnesses a new slip of degeneration. ‘Mattolli' items as well as vegetables and fruits are purchased in the market. Some of them even feel proud in buying plaster-of-paris Ganesh idols, by killing the basic concept of Worship of Mother Nature. For the city-goers, ‘listening' to ‘Ghumat' and ‘Shamell' played by handful of villagers is a novelty. Hardly anybody can sing ‘Aartyo', without holding a booklet printed by several newspapers, organisations or political leaders.

The case is little different for the youngsters of yesteryears, who have become the adults today. They rush to the village when comes Chovoth. The dead village becomes alive. The lost friends meet. The lost memories resurrect. The nostalgia spreads all over the village.

But not a similar case with their sons and daughters. They don't know the neighbours. At the most, they know their cousins, who come together once in a year, to celebrate Chovoth. The younger generation eagerly waits for the festival; not to meet the whole village, but their cousins and relatives. For them, the village is a Holiday Home, without any affection or affinity to the place as a whole, but only the ancestral house. The cousins or relatives otherwise meet only for birthdays, weddings or such family functions. But Chovoth becomes a prolonged family function, with days full of fun and games (including cards) and nights fully loaded with more ‘Gojali' and less sleep.

Chovoth is thus an inspiring scene witnessed in most of the households today in Goan villages. It's an occasion everybody waits for. The silent village waits for their ‘urban villagers' while the migrated birds fly back to their nest, once in a year. For today's adults, it's a village coming together. For today's youngs, it's a joint family coming together.

The most precious coin of Chovoth has thus two visible sides to it. It's one, but still dividing the village. The village of villagers and the village of urbanites. (One villager from Pedne told me that they call the urbanites  ‘Dhove Kavlle' - white crows).  Some of these urbanites have even started playing Dandiya in the villages when they come down for Chovoth - the festivity of the urban villagers. The rift is becoming crystal clear.

Another equally dangerous trend is to come for Chovoth and rush back to their air-conditioned rooms in the cities. These people have already detached themselves from the village lifestyle. They feel hot and restless in the village. They don't get proper sleep at night. Thus they curse the village and go back to their posh nests. They don't look at Chovoth as a community festival anymore. It is a mere ritual for them. God-fearing activity...

But for many more, especially the youngs, Chovoth is a long-awaited festivity. But they are not allowed to enjoy. By whom ? Well, by none other than our own education system and our own Government. They are forced to rush back to the city within three days.  Even if they don't want to go back, our great education system does not allow them to stay in the village, to experience the community spirit. The Chovoth holidays are limited to three days. The choice to prolong this holiday to a week is a prerogative of the city school, by adding few other local holidays to it. if not, going back to the school is a must.

Chovoth is not the only community festival in the world. Each state has such a festival. Unfortunately, the spirit of community living is encouraged there with a month-long school holiday, unlike Goa. For example, have you heard of any educational activity during Onam in Kerala or during Durga Pooja in West Bengal or during Navaratri in Gujarat? But our ‘most literate' Goa has been doing it for the last 50 years. Among all, the ‘most educated' professional colleges are on a forefront to kill this community spirit of Chovoth and to detach the younger generation from the spirit of togetherness and oneness.

On the contrary, the Maharashtra model of a month-long holiday for Diwali still continues in spite of the fact that Diwali festivity does not last for more than four days. A proposal submitted by few sensible educationists of a proper holiday pattern is gathering dust in the department. Neither the so called educationists running the department are bothered about it nor are our so called education ministers aware of it. A strange state indeed!

In this background, I am more worried about the scenario two decades later. The matter of worry is also the new family culture being developed,  along with urbanisation. Due to urbanisation and ‘flat culture', the joint family culture has withered away. In addition, the nuclear families have shrunk to the new culture of ‘minimum one, maximum two' children. The fertility rate recorded today is 1.7. It means 1.7 children for a couple of 2. Totally disproportionate. If such nuclear families have both the daughters or one daughter and one son, it would be a horrible scene at Chovoth by 2030...

With these children growing old, getting married and shrinking the fertility rate further to ‘only one', can't we imagine a scenario two decades down the line? It does not mean we should have more children or only sons and not daughters. But we need to develop alternate support system for this trend of nuclear families, to keep the community spirit of Chovoth alive. Otherwise, even the ‘joint family spirit' of cousins, which is found  today, would start dying. The adult generation of today would either be old or start dying. The spirit of togetherness even among the family would start dying. The community spirit of the whole village would be a history.  This would not only affect the basic concept of the community festivity called Chovoth, but would also adversely affect the spirit of togetherness, the spirit of tolerance, the spirit of accommodation and the spirit of oneness.

If we don't think of it today and take remedial measures at all levels, tomorrow's Goa would be indifferent, self-centred and fully detached from each other. The community festivities like Chovoth thus should not be looked upon as mere religious festivities but a community festivity that would maintain our oneness and harmony. And let us not behave in our regular ‘educated' style of cursing the Government alone for the remedial steps. To save the community, the community has to rise. Ultimately, the people who run the Government also rise from the same community. Therefore, we require a community initiative to save Goa. And this community initiative can happen only if each one of us take initiative. Otherwise, ‘ME' should be held responsible for killing tomorrow's Goa. God cannot save it...

Blogger's Profile

Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of HCN and Prudent, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities.

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Previous Comments

Yes it is true that the joint family system has been disintegrating. The marriage age has gone up as a result of which the bride coming in the family at older age- makes it difficult for her to accept the husband's family as her own family!

Due to migration of mainly Hindus to cities due to various reasons, the village-houses have become almost vacant secluded like ghost houses! Even if there are few people remaining- they are old and infirm!

It is true, the fertility rate is 1.7 but the vacuum is more than made up by the in migration taking place from all other parts of the country from unskilled to professionals! And this is true even in small villages like Loliem!

One more dangerous trend has been observed of late and that is to search places in the villages for dumping the garbage generated in the cities! The villages should not become dump grounds for the dirt generated in the cities or serve as the grave yard for the hazardous chemicals generated in the industrial estates managed by the city dwelling industrialists! If one visits places like Sanguem, Pale, Bicholim one can see this happening!

The villages have to be preserved with their rich environmental features! One should not forget that the green trees in the villages also purify the air for the rich in the cities! The various water bodies and reservoirs of water need to be kept clean for meeting the drinking water needs of the people!

The revenue collected by exploiting the villages should never be spent in enhancing amenities in the cities! Sizable budget should be spent to enhance amenities in the villages!

Creation of jobs in green industries should be encouraged in villages to create local employment opportunities to put a stop to the migration!

After all the villages are the places where our ancestors have spent their many generations !

Chavath is the occasion which still brings the birds back to their nest who flew out in search of greener pastures! It is a occasion for the family to enjoy and share some time together !

- vishwas prabhudesai, loliem | 18 th September 2010 10:46

 

Your Concern is appreciated

many people have similar concern for tomorrow's Goa. but at this stage only money power is working.

Politicians also wait eagerly for CHOVOTH so that they can distribute free RICE , COCONUT, SUGAR, etc to their voters.

- Sanjay Dessai, Curchorem | 17 th September 2010 16:12

 

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