Holi is celebrated with colours in India but the scene is a bit different, even scary for some, in Malcarnem village in Goa where people shower hot embers on their bodies, a unique tradition associated with the festival in the country.
In many States, the festival of Holi begins the next day after people burn pyres of wood, marking the end of the evil ‘ holika’, on the previous night.
However, people in Malcornem village, located 80 km away from Panaji in South Goa, follow a different and unique celebration, which they have been observing for centuries.
“No one has a record of when this tradition started. But ‘Sheni Ujo’ is an integral part of our temple culture. Once a year, this tradition is observed on the eve of the Holi festival,” said Kushta Gaonkar, a village resident.
In Konkani, ” sheni” means dry cow dung cake and the word ” ujo” stands for fire.
On the night before Holi, hundreds of people start gathering in the open spaces between various temples including Shree Mallikarjun, Shree Vagrodev, and Shree Jhalmidev where the “Sheni Ujo” ritual is performed.
Vagrodev temple is dedicated to a tiger with the idol of the wild beast being worshipped for several decades.
The entire cluster of temples is unique as they house 43 Shivlings.
According to Mr. Gaonkar, the preparation for “Sheni Ujo” begins a fortnight before the Holi festival. Those who want to participate in the ritual have to follow a strict vegetarian diet and have to follow pious living.
On the night ahead of Holi, villagers gather at an open space with three huge trunks of beetle nut trees for performing various rituals that culminate into “Sheni Ujo .
“You have to be barefoot while performing all these rituals. The rituals continue the entire night. The participants run around the temples before gathering on a nearby ground. In the wee hours, they light cow dung cakes and throw embers on themselves,” said another villager, Sonu Gaonkar.
Spectators can also run under the falling embers on the occasion.
On March 6 night, the festival was celebrated with a traditional fervour with the participants performing “Sheni Ujo” amid loud cheers and a crescendo of traditional music against the backdrop of darkness, part of it illuminated by the “shower of embers”.
“It is believed that if you run through this fire, the sins committed by you in the previous year will be forgiven. It is also believed that diseases will be cured,” Mr. Gaonkar added.
When asked if people get injured, Mr. Gaonkar claimed no such incident had occurred in decades.