The port town of Vasco is the scene of perhaps the biggest festival in Goa in terms of sheer number of vendor stalls, the crowds and the duration of its celebration. The Saptah is celebrated in the month of Shravan as per Hindu Calendar, is the only big festival in Vasco.
The word Saptah literally means seven days and the festival actually lasts for a week, although the stalls selling various items linger on for more than fifteen days. The festival which is more than a hundred years old, is celebrated in the temple of Lord Damodar in the centre of the city
Legend has it that in 1898 there was a cholera or plague epidemic in the city. With the health facilities at the time being quite poor, the local residents turned to Lord Damodar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva for help.
The residents of Vasco went to Zambaulim temple (near Margao) of Lord Damodar and brought a coconut as prasad to be installed for worship in Vasco. The initial installation was at the Old Mata High School.
As luck would have it, their prayers were successful and the epidemic died out once the worship began.
A leading business of the time, donated a part of his residence premises to install the idol of Lord Damodar. This make-shift temple is the centre of the celebrations and remains attached to the original house even today.
The Saptah starts with the main pooja being offered at the Old Mata High School, from where the anointed coconut is taken out in a procession to the Lord Damodar temple. The coconut used for the previous year is taken in a procession around the city and then released in the sea at Kharewada.
A specially selected person carries the sacred coconut. Along with him, a troupe of dancers goes around the city visiting the residences of prominent citizens. The performance of the troupe is called as Gopalkala by the locals and is a sight to behold in the pouring rain. The dancers are also drenched by water thrown by the people from the houses they visit.
After the immersion of the old coconut, the people return to the temple and anoint a new coconut amidst singing of bhajans (devotional songs). The bhajans continue uninterrupted for 24 hours.
A glittering ceremony takes place at night with specially decorated tableaux coming from various wards of the port town. These are known as 'pars'. People come here from all over the state to watch the parade.
There is also a cultural programme at night with devotional songs for which wellknown artistes perform.
The temple is located on the main avenue of the city, the Swatantra Path, and the biggest crowds are seen here. Consequently, the entire main road is closed for traffic for the seven days of celebration.
All along the roads and bylanes of the city of Vasco, the vendors put up their make-shift stalls. The vendors come from all over India to sell everything from trinkets and toys to furniture and the latest in fashion.
The usually drab and sedate port-town wears a festive look with gay decorations and huge, noisy crowds visiting the temple and the stalls throughout the week. Cultural programmes are also held during the weeklong festival.