Panaji: Come September, in every neighbourhood in Goa, the Catholic community gathers at one of its brethren’s homes to welcome the blessed Mother. There, they pray litanies and rosaries, sing Ave Marias, and then share boiled chonne in a spirit of fellowship. And while the tradition of ‘Saibinn’ — the house-to-house visitation of Mary — may have changed over the years, the fervour surrounding it continues to be strong.
No sooner is the feast of the Nativity of Mary celebrated on September 8, parishes and chapels send out her statues to all their wards. Then, for the next few weeks, she makes her way around the neighbourhood, from one home to another in a candle-lit procession to a vast repertoire of Marian hymns. Once it reaches the host home, a member of the family leads the community.
But it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, the elders of the house would recite the Lord’s prayer and hail Mary continuously for various intentions. Then, once the visitors left, a member of the family would ordinarily sleep in the room the statue was kept. “The family would recite the rosary thrice during the day,” says Fr Victor Ferrao, professor of philosophy at Rachol seminary.
“Today, the intensity of the presence of the statue of Mother Mary is viewed differently and limited to particular hours of prayer,” he says.
Traditionally, the matriarch of the home received and handed over the statue. “In a patriarchal society, here there is an important space defined for women to conduct the prayers,” Ferrao says. While ‘Saibinn’ always did its rounds in September, adjustments have been made as many Goans gradually grew dependent on tourism. Thus, some parishes permit ‘Saibinn’ in August.
In Mandrem, a route is chalked out in such a way that the houses involved in tourism and closest to the beach are given preference over the others, a resident told STOI. In Saligao, which has a strong Catholic community, statues are sent out after the feast of the Assumption on August 15, so that all homes can be covered in time.
Church historian Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas traces the history of ‘Saibinn’ to 1952, when a statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought from Portugal to Old Goa. He says that in that year, 150 makeshift altars were built and 150 masses held. “It was only after this that domiciliary visits the way they happen today started,” he says. Another priest, Fr Carmo Martins of Margao’s Grace Church, says that the devotion to ‘Saibinn’ is inspired by the apparition of our lady to saint Catherine Laboure in Paris, and also signifies our Lady’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.
But the tradition has a practical purpose too — of promoting harmony and forgiveness. “The main idea is to keep families united and establish good relationships in the neighbourhood,” Fr Martins says.
Those good relationships are maintained and cultivated after prayers, when the host family distributes the ‘channa’ and other snacks. But modernity has taken its toll here too. Now, it isn’t unusual for the host to parcel the snacks and hand it over to their visitors as they leave the house. Modern attitudes to environmental conservation have also touched these traditions. In Nagoa, for instance, the parish priest requested his parishioners to adopt eco-friendly habits and to do away with all plastic.
‘Saibinn’, at its core, is a religious celebration, and displays of affluence are strongly discouraged. For instance, in some villages of South Goa where well-to-do hosts serve everything from doughnuts to fried rice to stew to up to even 80 guests, parishioners have been instructed to serve just two items.
And while ‘Saibinn’ visits are encouraged, the Church doesn’t encourage it as a social obligation lest people neglect their other duties. “People need not spend the entire month going to various neighbours’ homes,” says Fr Evaristo da Gama of Olaulim’s St Anne’s Church. “Attending to their families, volunteering their services and taking up social causes are more important than spending excessive amounts of time with religious ceremonies. As Christians, we have to care for society and do good in this world. People cannot get completely alienated spending hours in devotion. Otherwise when will they have time to do good in this world?”
(Times of India)