The Pernem Zatra

The village of Pernem in north Goa, nestles in the foothills of the Sayadhris bordering Maharashtra. For the most part it is a quiet place, save for the two industrial estates in the area. But, once a year, just after the Hindu festival of Dussera, it comes alive with the famous Pernem zatra, drawing crowds from across Goa and neighbouring states.
The weeklong festival begins on the day after Dussera. Crowds flock to the three temples in the area to pay obeisance to the gods. The two traditional ‘tirangas’ or canopies are taken in procession from one temple to the next, across the period of the festival.
Folklore has it that several hundred years ago, the festival used to have three canopies that were taken in procession to the three temples. However, one canopy fell into a well in the area. To this day, on the night of Dussera each year, villagers claim to hear the sound of a splash in the vicinity of the well.
Another folklore is set in a period before the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa. According to village elders, one devout villager was away in the neighbouring Maharashtra at the time of the zatra.

Desperate to pay his respects at his ancestral temple, he was travelling on the final night of the festival and came to the Pernem river. He fervently prayed for some means to cross the river to reach the temple. Of a sudden, a man passed by in a little canoe and offered him a ride across. On getting to the other side, he turned back to offer the canoe rider some money. But mysteriously he had vanished! The man’s house, now in ruins, is still a pilgrimage spot during the zatra.

The final day is truly special. According to believers, on this night, a spirit descends on a village elder who is then endowed with special powers. Possessed with the spirit, he runs through sections of the village with his followers behind, blessing the faithful. Faithful bring those possessed by demons in the hope that they will be cleansed this day. Unfortunately, even those mentally unstable are brought here, to their detriment.

Crowds throng the area for blessings or just a glimpse of the man gifted by the spirits. Darkness fills the night, save for the light of fire torches as they make their way through the village. The passion and devotion is indeed palpable, the atmosphere is thick with the supernatural – an eerie silence falls over the teeming thousands.

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