Sheni Uzo at Molcornem
On the first full moon night after Shigmo, a remote village in Quepem called Molcornem played host to a unique and ancestral village ritual to celebrate the festival as well as their founding fathers and beliefs.
In a fast changing world that is being defined by its use of modern technology, one will be left in bewilderment as these villagers proudly use nature’s bounty for this traditional ritual called ‘Sheni Uzo’.
They use dried cow dung cakes known as ‘sheni’ and leaves that when hit against each other causes sparks (uzo), and while villagers walk through the fire dance created by select villagers, areca nut tree trunks from select plantations are carried around the Mallikarjun temple by bare-chested men.
The same men, who observe a strict vegetarian diet before the event, not only form three rows, where villagers walk through the tunnel of ‘Sheni Uzo’, but later on, they climb the same tree trunks, while the sheni is flung on their backs and they proudly endure the sparks.
The villagers added that the men who perform the ritual have been taught from a young age and for them, it is a matter of great pride and honour.
The areca nut tree trunks come from the plantations of select families that are chosen every year and the ritual of carrying the trunks around the temple is a big part of the ceremony. The trunks that are thrown in the air and caught as they come down are also accompanied by a drum beat that is unique and characteristic of their village customs, so much so that the same is not followed in other parts of Quepem.
There are some men who carry a trunk single-handedly, and while there are some who even carry two trunks at a time, they complete an average of three rounds.
The ceremony begins with the creation of sparks at all the shrines in the village, starting with the shrine of Zalmi, which is considered to be the founding father of the village.
What makes the event so mesmerising is the display of sparks against a canvas of darkness, as the ritual is performed in an area that is not illuminated.
“This has been followed by generations over hundreds of years, and the Hindu and Christian communities that live here participate in this,” said Surendra Gaonkar.
Gaonkar added that they were told by their ancestors that the tradition began at a time when there were no doctors and the ritual was considered to protect them from diseases. At present, many couples walk through the sparks in the hope that the sparks will bless their family with children and prosperity. You will find people wanting to be touched by the sparks, as opposed to the instinct of trying to move away from fire.
There is another important aspect to this custom, where the villagers believe this is a test of their purity; one is not harmed if they pass through their fire as they have not sinned, and thus, do not get any burn marks as proof of their purity.
When pointed out that times have changed and there are doctors available, Gaonkar said that tradition is still continued, and when asked if the people don’t find it dangerous, he added that there has not been a single incident where anyone had suffered any injury.
Article written by Karsten Miranda for Herald