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Saligaokars And Goan Religious Folk Songs

by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas

It has been said that folk songs of a country or region “reveal the soul of a particular race”, and that “the art of the people is the voice of their heart and truest confession of their thought”. In this sense, the Goan folk songs are historical documents that record the feelings and doings of the Goan life from birth to death.

There are about thirty distinct (surviving) types of folk songs in an area of roughly 3,500 square kilometres. In other words, Goan folk songs are certainly the greatest treasure in “the great song wealth of the microcosmic India that is the Konkan,” which is now ten centuries old. They are also the best known, thanks to Christian contribution. The Christian Goan Folk Song may be divided under two categories: Religious and Profane.

History

When people were converted to Christianity in Goa, great care was taken by the religious ministers to keep the converts away from cultural practices or customs connected with Hindu worship. In this endeavour they had the solid backing of the State. Now, all Hindu folk art is predominantly religious. It has its source in religion or in the festivals of the locally venerated deities. Songs such as bhajans, aarti, sigmo proclaim their inspiration in their very names. Even the songs that accompany folk dances or folk dramas sing of gods and mythological heroes. The new converts, therefore, were strongly discouraged from taking part in these expressions of Hindu culture. In 1585, for instance, a decree of the third Provincial Council of Goa said that ‘no Christian must enjoin nor allow the women folk of his family irrespective of status, to dance, play or sing in the Deccani Style, or cultivate any other pagan songs and dances.’

The innate Goan artistry could not be suppressed, however, and before long, new experiments in the musical arts resulted. This musical “encounter of Europe with India on the soil of Goa, took place in the Churches, colleges and religious institutions established in Goa and was fostered in the parish primary schools which supplanted the old patshalas of village temple complexes. Here, singing was an important and honoured subject. When their fine oriental ear for melody had been exposed for some decades to the richness of the western harmony, choral singing and instruments like violin, organ, the harp and the dulciner, Goans began to compose their own music, a subtle blend of east and west. The free and sinuous melodic lines of Gregorian plain chant which had so much in common with the traditional music of the folk of India, the simple songs of many European countries taught to them by the missionaries, particularly the early Italian songs, the delights of the polyphonic singing, all these had impressed themselves on the keenly receptive Goan ear.”

Religious Compositions

As might be expected, the first attempts were religious compositions. Devotional songs were created anew, and ranged from very simple invocations in the primitive ‘ovi’ metre to the classically haunting motet. Innumerable are the hymns, litanies and masses, unpublished but still existing in one or another church collection, which were composed by Goan musicians from the 16th century onwards. The melody is sung in two voices, at intervals of thirds or sixths in the Western musical scale, but with all the subtle nuances of interpretation and expression of Indian Classical music.

Our religious folk songs are not just simple invocations. They are a profession of deep-rooted faith burning with consecrated fervour. One of the best examples we can think of is this:

Ami somest kor(I)tanv hi bhett,

Tujea Mha-Povitr(a) kallzak.

This hymn of love and adoration is a sort of Pater Noster of the Goan folk songs in the almost Gregorian simplicity of its melody and the richness of emotion. It implies a vast multitude come together in a spirit of prayer and dedication.

Particularly endearing among these, are the songs addressed to the Eucharistic Jesus:

Jesus mhojea Deva, anvddetanv gheuncheak Tuka,

Ie, ie mhojea Jezu, soglench mhojem, kalliz Saiba, ditam Tuka.

To the Mother of God:

Vinoti kor Maie, Tujea Put(r)a laguim, mellun gheuncheak ami, Sorginchim dennim

And to saints like St. Francis Xavier and St. Anne:

Sam Francisku Xaviera, Tuji Kuddu Goyam xhara, Jezuchea sangata, sodanch tuji niti vortota.

Sant Ana, mozott kori, Amam pordexam. Eh bhagivonti Ana, Sorginchem raj choloitai, Boddveanchea sangata, Amche pasun vinoti kor…

Not all our religious folk songs, however are quite explicit. Some of the outpourings are so enigmatic and ambiguous that they hardly seem logical. Take this verse on Saint Anthony:

Santo Antonio ange, paus ghall sanje.

What ‘ange’ means is difficult to know. All that our minds can grasp is a certain familiarity with the Saint who is undoubtedly one of the most popular of the Goans, and so our familiarity with that saint seems to justify the threat that is given to him. Good old St. Anthony commended to bring down rain and that too today, this very evening.

Even though much may be condoned to us because of St. Anthony’s miraculous power of changing dross into gold, there is no justification for treating other saints with equal indulgence.

There is a verse on St. Sebastian:

Sam Sebastiao Bhogta,

Tum Konknneachea Putra.

Konknneachea, here does not mean that St. Sebastian is a native of Konkan. What is implied, I suppose, is paganism and the lack of faith, especially in reference to saint’s father who was a pagan in Rome, Italy.

Saligaokars and Folk Songs

There is no doubt that there is music flowing in the veins of every Saligaokar. In the years gone by every male member from every second house in the village used to join the parochial school to learn music, which was the education and culture easily available those days.

Religious singing in the church, chapels, ward crosses, brought people from the village to break down the barriers of shyness and embarrassment and open their hearts to one another in praising God, Mother of God, Angels and Saints, for their goodness.

This religious fervour they have carried far and wide and the testimony of this are their annual gatherings in India, England, Canada, Africa, Persian Gulf, Australia, etc.

Those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, yet kept alive the rich tradition of our religious folk songs, composing and singing them at various occasions, we living, just cannot forget them.

I shall mention just two personalities of the past era who played a significant part in arousing in the hearts of the subsequent generations the best of praise in folk song which in turn has resulted in having at least half a dozen composers from Saligao to set music especially to liturgical and religious words. These hymns are today sung in all the churches and chapels in the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman.

The first personality that comes to mind is Joaquim Antonio Mascarenhas who gave us the hymn “O Brihante e a estrela!” Brass bands, especially those in Bardez, play the tune of this hymn during festive processions and in the Saligao Church it is sung with much gusto and enthusiasm. It is a hymn that elevates the spirit of the Saligao villagers towards their patroness Mae de Deus. It brings into play the inner emotions of our hearts and minds. It is a song that unites us, builds a community, evoking nostalgia for the village regardless of where in the world the person might then be.

O Brihante e a estrela,

Com rutilos brilhos seus (2),

Nao se comparam com Ela,

Virgem pura, Mae de Deus.

Coro: Salve, Santa Mae de Deus.

Nossa Guia e Protectora

Salve, Rainha dos Ceus,

Sacratissima Senhora

The other personality is Santana Gabriel Vaz, from Mudd’davaddi in Saligao, who composed a hymn in honour of St. Anne.

Santa Ana Mai amchi,

Sodanch templan ti magnnem kortali

Aplim dukham golloitali,

Aplo kusvo uzvaddai mhunntali. (2)

Such is the power of this hymn that it brings Christians and non-Christians alike at her feet in the chapel of St. Anne at Tabravaddo, Saligao, every year.

We hope that the current generation of youngsters of Saligao will spend some moments of their time to learn the art of Mozart. Luckily we have teachers interested in imparting this musical knowledge to our youngsters of our dear village even in our days. May our villagers make their mark in every field of music and compose new religious and other folk songs to praise God, Mother Mary and Saints in heaven and entertain with religious fervour their own brethren here on earth. This is the earnest desire of the elders of Saligao.


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