Goa fest brings hope to childless couples

Cucumber is the offering at the festival

Panaji: On July 26, the Feast of St Anne, a religious festival is celebrated in Goa, where people pay homage with a special prayer on their lips— ‘Senhora, tomai pepino, dai me menino’. Don’t let the Portuguese line throw you off. This prayer, whispered reverently by thousands of Goan Christians, Hindus and Muslims at the Church of St. Anne in Talaulim, near Panjim, is also followed by an unusual offering — cucumbers.

The folklore surrounding the 435-year old church situated on top of a hillock was first penned in Portuguese in 1710 by Fr. Francisco de Souza in his book Oriente Conquistado. It says that in 1577, a Catholic hermitage was built on the hill next to a lake and one day a mysterious old lady with a hat, and carrying a stick appeared out of the water and claimed the hermitage as her home. This event was followed by the tale of a Hindu woman who was severely ill, and dreamt of a similar looking old lady, who called herself Anne, asking for a place to stay. The sick woman was cured, and St. Anne found her home on the hillock.

Biblically, St Anne is the grandmother of the Lord Jesus. Legend has it that she was childless for 40 years till she conceived Mary, the mother of Jesus. The saint’s feast day is also known as Touxeachem (cucumbers in Konkani) feast in Goa. So why offer cucumbers?

Portuguese script and rhyme is crucial in this tale about the feast says Fr. Joaquim Loiola Pereira, secretary to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman. He says, “Spinsters and bachelors also queue up albeit with different offerings. Single men come with wooden spoons, while spinsters visit holding split black gram in their palms.” If the cucumber, wooden spoon and dal are translated to Portuguese, they rhyme with what one needs. Pereira explains further, “Senhora is a reverential term for a lady. The appeal for a wife is made with a spoon and the prayer goes, ‘Senhora, Tomai Colher, dai me mulher’ (Take this spoon, give me a wife). In a similar rhythm, unmarried women plead, ‘Senhora, tomai urido dai me marido’ (take this ‘dal’, give me a husband). And finally, newly-married couples pray, ‘Senhora, tomai pepino, dai me menino’ (take this cucumber, give me a child).”

The cucumbers are blessed at the feet of St Anne and are taken home to be eaten. Grateful couples also line up with more cucumbers, to thank their deity for having blessed them with a child. “After my grandchildren were born, we came to say thanks because it is not enough to just pray and get a child,” says Pasquina Figeredo a resident of Cansaulim in South Goa.

The ones who are truly blessed are the vendors selling thousands of cucumbers outside the church, Joncy Pereira, the local priest sums up the importance of the vegetable. “In the rains, it is the first harvest of the season,” he says.

(This appeared in The Times of India on July 27,2015)

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