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Goan Traditions

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Goa's cultural diversity is amazing. Some might argue it is the scenic beauty of Goa that attracts tourists. But actually it is the rich cultural heritage reflected through the local lifestyle, habits, attire and their susegad ( care free ) attitude towards life that are fondly remembered. The festivals celebrated, mostly in the summer, are unique in all respects and some of them reflect the influence of South India and the Portuguese rule.

Virabhandra is one of the festivals performed in typical south Indian style in Sanquelim ( Bicholim Taluka ). It is performed once a year as a religious observance. The Virabhandra dances with two swords in his hand while two other men dance by his side; while the rest of the troupe accompanies them in dancing and singing slogans in Kannada. The dholak and the tasha are the main musical instruments used. The costumes are of Kannada influence and the turbans reflect the Mysore style. The musical beat follows the typical South Indian Thai-Thai-ya or Thak-Thak-Thai-Ya. The slogans chanted during the dance include "Kailasa Valige Viranbhandra Annaha Udo" ( Shankara's son / elder brother Virabhandra - hail ).

On the night of the observance, a theatrical play called Dakshakany sati is also performed. Legend has it that king Daksha wanted to marry his daughter but on the occasion he thought it awkward to invite Parvati, wife of Lord Shankar. Though un-invited, Parvati attended the wedding. Daksha Raja insulted her for coming without invitation. After being humiliated in front of all the guests, Parvati decided to jump into the fire and die rather than face any further embarassment. Lord Shankar on hearing the news of his wife's death got infuriated and created Virabhandra by melting his hair on land and ordered him to kill Dhaksha Raja. In the play, as Virabhandra enters, the other actors  run off the stage. Virabhandra starts dancing with two swords. Suddenly Avsaar (God's spirit) enters his body and he tries to lay himself on the ground. The people by his side try to hold him from doing so. They then sprinkle coconut milk on his head and he finally comes to his senses. If Virabhandara succeeds in touching his body to the ground, he becomes so violent that he goes on to chop off the heads of anyone who comes in his way and then the only way to stop him is to shoot him to death !

In Sanquelim, during the Portuguese rule, a man named Mahamatkar used to perform the dance of Virabhandra. He performed it for many years until one day when Avsaar entered him and he became so violent that the Portuguese soldiers had no other choice than to shoot him. His family left the tradition of performing the Virabhandra after this incident. However, sometime later, some other people in Sanquelim village began performing Virabhandra which lasted for around 15 years. Later it was transferred to the Shirodkar family which is still performing the role. Mr Rohidas Shirodkar ( age 71 ) is one such person who performs the dance. He is deeply concerned about who will take charge of this long preserved tradition after he is gone. He laments on the vast changes that have come about in Virabhandra's make-up and the music played by the musicians. "They do not possess the spirit which their ancestors had, when they used to play the music. Today it has totally lost its enthusiasm. Young musicians today fear for their life as they have to play their music by standing near Virabhandra who holds two swords in his hands which may prove to be dangerous"

The festival of Virabhandra has survived only through the efforts of the locals, while it is has still failed to get any financial assistance from the government. It looks as though  Virabandra too will not be able to stand to test of time and will just be a thing of the past soon.

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