The famous Jatrotsav of goddess Devi Shree Lairai at Shirgao-Bicholim was celebrated on 4th May 2014, Sunday with various traditional religious rituals and cultural programmes. This is one of the most famous and more unusual Jatra (Hindu festival) celebrated in Goa. Shirgao is a small village in Bicholim taluka, at east of Mapusa. The Shirgao Jatra or Lairai Jatra is famous among devotees and tourists alike for the celebrated walk on hot coals raked from an enormous bonfire.
This famous Lairai Jatra is celebrated on Shudh Panchami day of Vaishakh Hindu calendar in month of May, when thousands of devotees of Devi Lairai descend on the small town and religious rituals and pooja’s dedicated to the Goddess are performed throughout the auspicious day. The main feature of Lairai Jatra is the “Agnidivya” which is performed by thousands of vratasth devotees (locally known as Dhonds). This Agnidivya is performed by dhonds walking through burning coals chanting “Har, har Mahadev”, “Shri Lairai Mata ki Jai”.
Thousands of devotees, including about 25,000 Dhonds (special devotees of Lairai on fast), have been attending the festival. In years gone by, the Jatra would take place over a period of five or six days, however, in recent times the one day celebration has been the norm. The festivals is celebrated by the tribal communities living in the area although the devotees come from all over.
This festival begins early in the morning and continues throughout the day. Men and a few women who participate, take a ritual bath in special water tanks located near the Temple. The devotees then walk all the way uphill to the temple as an act of penance, endurance, and worship of the Goddess.
The evening brings many more devotees who all perform the same rituals of worship and penance. Most of the devotees wear a peculiar type of dhoti (Hindu traditional dress) especially for the festival, a white t-shirt, a colorful cape around the shoulders, and a scarf-like cloth around the waist. Special flower garlands made from jasmine(Mogrya Kali we call in Konkani) and other local flowers are worn by the devotees around their necks.
A special stick ( also called as”Benth Kaati” or “Benth” in Konkani), about 6 feet long, made from twisted vines is carried by the worshippers throughout the rituals of the day. You can see it in above picture. The sticks are made by the devotees themselves and decorated with coloured yarn which symbolises the flowers used in festivals of previous years. This coloured yarn on stick is also added with new such every year
Late into the night, as midnight approaches, the devotees perform a frantic dance inside the temple which is all lit up for the occasion. The dancing takes place to the rhythm of drum beats, in a tight circle in front of Goddess Lairai. While chanting and moving in a tight circle the devotees hold the special sticks clashing them against one another.
The circular dance reaches a feverish high with a single drum beat denoting the end of that dance session. A new set of devotees enter the temple to start another session as the dancers who have already participated go back down the hill to bathe once again.
The dance sessions end around midnight when all eyes are on the huge pile of wood kept in a large clearing near the temple. The final and most spectacular part of the Jatra is then begins, when a specially chosen person races from the temple to the wooden pile and lights a massive bonfire with a blazing torch.
The chanting and dancing then continues around the massive bonfire with the devotees touching the holy fire with their sticks. The devotees believe that the closer one comes to the fire, the more devotion and courage is demonstrated.
In the early hours of the morning when the fire has died down, the raking of the coals begins. The devotees await their turn to walk on the holy path of hot coals. Around 4 a.m., the actual ritual starts, with the devotees walking through the hot coals carrying their sticks and shouting the name of Devi Lairai.
As the crowd watches in stunned silence, some devotees do the ‘hot run’ once, others do it several times. Those who have finished their run, then remove and throw their flower garlands onto a nearby Banyan tree and return home. The Jatra reaches its conclusion as the “moad” (the person or the bhat carrying Kalash) walks on the fire at the end. Before that, a special song called “Horsavni” is sung near the Homkund before the Moad walks on fire and then sun rises in the distant hills and jatra cames to an end.
Here are some more pictures of the festival:
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