community, place

The Delights of Diversity in Colorful Goa

“The life thatI touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”–Fredrich Buechner, The Hungering Dark

With only a few hours of sleep the night before, my traveling companions and I arrived in colorful Panaji in India’s southern state of Goa where we spent the Indian Dusserah holiday. Dusserah is the celebration of good conquering evil–the celebration of when Ram killed the 10 headed demon king, Ravana, who had abducted Ram’s wife Sita. Ravana wanted Sita for his own, but she resisted him. In the end, the goddess Durga gave Ram the secret knowledge of how to kill Ravana and Ram and Sita were reunited, demonstrating, Hindus believe, that we can be saved from the difficulties and chaos that threaten to overcome us–God still remembers us. In Delhi, Dusserah is a holiday where throughout the city people burn effigies of Ram.

In Goa, people celebrate with flowers instead. From busses to tractors to motorcycles, everywhere vehicles are strung with marigold garlands. Flowers hang from door frames along the streets. It’s a pleasing sight.

The Malabar Coast has been an important center of trade for 3,000 years, trading with the Mediterranean region. The Portuguese came to India in 1498, with Vasco de Gama’s arrival in Koshikode in Kerala, south of Goa. The area was important for its spices. Afonso de Albuquerque soon after developed Goa into an important trade center.

Religious tolerance has vacillated in Goa. The original openness changed to intolerance during the period of the counter revolution in Europe. If this taxi stand in the photos below is an indication, it seems that once again, people are living in open acceptance of each other’s different ways of thought. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Portuguese surrendered their control of Goa, and this forcefully when Indian troops marched into Goa. Goa was an autonomous area until 1987, however, when it became an Indian state. Portuguese influence can still be felt in the architecture and food. Churches, roadside crosses, and statues of the holy family are scattered through the neighborhoods, along with Hindu temples and mosques. The layers of culture add interesting texture to the city.

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Everywhere one looks in Panaji and Old Goa, it seems there is something to notice–so many things to behold all carrying their history. Four centuries after the Portuguese arrived, we still see their touch on India’s history in the region. Even older, is the celebration of Dusserah in India. In Panaji, just like the orange shrine at the taxi stand demonstrated and Buechner’s quote at the top of this post describe, for good and for ill, histories intersect. Down through the centuries, our lives touch each other, the tremblings are felt.