The Feast of Our Lady of Flight Church at Cunchelim, Goa is celebrated on the Second Sunday of May every year.
Cunchelim is a land-locked village, surrounded by Duler in the South, Siolim (Marna) in the west, Camurlim (Maina) and Colvale in the north and Tivim in the east. You come upon it suddenly. You feel you are in high country, but find yourself in a flat valley covered with nice-smelling trees, swaying palm-spiked groves and flooded with cashew plants on the surrounding rolling hillocks. Like Batim and Betim, the media often mixes up Cunchelim and Cuncolim!
Cunchelim is just a deep breath from Mapusa in Bardez; some two-and-a-half kilometres. If you take the carreira – usually crammed with commuters – plying between Mapusa and Siolim via Marna, you get down at the first intersection on entering the village, and walk some 300 metres. If you travel by the Mapusa/Siolim bus via Sodiem or the Mapusa/Camurlim one, you alight at the main junction, near the church, where most of the village dwellings are clustered. If need be, you could also take the Colvale/Mapusa bus and alight at Gotnicho Vau.
There is a rivulet, Lover, which originates at the feet of the hillock up the Gotniche Vau and rushes down to the Kuntla Spring, where you get a panoramic view of the waterfalls during the rushing rain waters, and cuts through the middle of the paddy fields. There are two bridges across the Lover. The smaller one Porno Sanvok, like the Panaji Patto bridge, built during the Portuguese era of simple but tough stones, continues to give service unhindered. This Lover is vital to the fields along the banks. Seasonal fishing is done. The water is blocked and stored soon after the rains, so that most parts of the stream hardly get dry. It is ideal for cattle to bathe, especially for buffaloes to romp about in the muddy waters to keep themselves cool during the month of May.
The chapel of Nossa Senhora da Fuga, around which life revolves, was elevated to the status of a Church on 30 October 1977. There is a special plaque put up for ‘Benefactors from Iran’, since the bulk of donations came from Persian Muslims. May sees heightened activity with the yearly feast, 10 days of interest-enriched activities that provide the community with a focus for living. At this time of the year, there are a number of weddings and celebrations. The Church bell at Angelus keeps the folks toiling bent over in the fields with their bottoms up, aware of the time. Where Our lady is, there is devotion from all, irrespective of creed or caste. There is a Boy’s Cross, with a tiny enclosure, along the road. It has a history. A few hundred metres away is St Jeron chapel. There are chapels of Holy Cross at Zor Vaddo and another at Madian.
On the hillock to the west, the goldsmiths’ temple Datta Deul, which is being extended, is prominent, and there is a lot of activity. Near the playground there is also a tiny Sai Baba temple and right in the heart of the village stands Rastoli Zatra. The Hindu community celebrates the festival of Ganesha with a spirit of openess and goodwill, reflecting the essential goodness of the Hindu way of life. In every Hindu household the sense of Ganesha prevails, a sense that sustains many a wretched life, a sense that rekindles hope in a better life, a sense that keeps the bond with the past alive. In every household there is a flicker of light, a beam of hope, a hint of peace. It’s a happy holy day and holiday. The Ganesh images are subsequently immersed in the Lover.
The Kuntla fountain is famous for its healing waters. The Tourism Department has partially fenced the place, planted bougainvilleas, converted a green patch and children’s park as well as constructed changing rooms. With the first real strong rains, trout-like fish, Darde, climb and jump at the waterfalls, to get to still waters to lay their roe. Folks with nets rush to catch them as they jump. Oh, ho! That’s sport.
The problem nowadays is that shabby hutments have sprung up on the hillock and the famous spring waters are perpetually polluted. Gone are the days when the spring waters beckoned, when one could really enjoy a refreshing bath. Now soggy laundry is washed too close to the main spring. It gets waterlogged. It’s a crying shame!
There is a Duonnom to keep a bamboo basket, rest a little, refresh yourself with the spring water, lift your basket, without anybody’s help, and move on to your onward trip. This was a great help in olden days for a long distance traveller carrying a heavy weight on the head.
The village has several vadde. Kodpa, San Jose, Madian, Martha and the less-known Gavan. The population is roughly 2,000. A lot of Cuncholcars have spread to all parts of the world – Africa, the Middle East, UK, Australia, Canada… You name it, and you’ll proably find a Cucholcar there!
The spiritual fertile soil has produced a number of priests, like Fr Salvador de Silva, Fr Albert D’Souza, Fr William Rodrigues, Fr Golbert D’Souza, and the latest one ordained in November 1997 is Fr Roy Pereira SJ.
There are a few doctors who have come out of this village, like Dr Luis Xavier de Silva, Dr Tony Martins, Dr Melvin De Lima, Dr Kevin Pereira, Dr Cyrus D’Souza, Dr (Ms) Marianella Afonso, Dr (Mrs) Freda de Souza, and the popular one, Dr Pedro Monteiro at ‘Apurbai’, St Inez. I vividly remember ‘Shetcar’. May his soul rest in peace. He was a simple humble person in his cluttered quarters amidst cattle and cow dung. He had a healing power and he would prescribe remedies – roots, bark of trees, leaves – and would treat any ailment with sure success. He felt there was nobody in his family worthy to continue the tradition. So that when he died, his secret formulas, too, died a natural death.
Salvador de Silva was a distinguished freedom fighter and advocate of the High Court. Simon Paes held several important government posts like excise officer, deputy director of civil supplies, administrator of Bardez comunidades, additional deputy collector at the Collector’s Office, Panaji. He has since retired, is a shining star of Cunchelim, and is held in high esteem.
On the head of the hillock sits a (pebbly) playground. It is centrally located and a meeting and relaxing place in the evening. There are tables and sitting arrangements made out of boulders, and many a noisy truque game was played in the bygone years, whilst the youngsters did justice to the playfield.
Once a slaughter house was located on the hillock above the spring and it was only meant to stable cattle. Slowly, slaughtering of animals was undertaken. People came to know of it, waited for the month of May, when outstation villagers came for their holiday and are greeted with open arms. Armed with sticks and what not, the place was surrounded. They climbed the high walls and caught butchered animals. They complained and the offenders were immediately sent packing away. Otherwise, the waters of the fountain would have been polluted One menace has gone and another has migrated in!
Well water is still used, but piped water is aplenty. The village now comes under Ward One of the Mapusa Municipal Council, and roads are electrified. Most houses have electricity, but power cuts are frequent and for extended periods.
Monkeys descend on the hamlet in hordes, anything between 50 and above, cradling their young ones on their chest. Tragedy stalks. They eat anything in sight, bamboo shoots, the tenderest greens, fruits and what not. They leave a trail of merciless disaster behind. People have to wrestle with reality; every year spending huge sums on woodwork repairs, replacing roof tiles and ridges.
Not many years ago, laterite stones were extracted from the high mounds. No wonder you see quarries which are now getting filled up, and some cashew plants have sprung by themselves, thus nature is helping itself.
Coming to Cunchelim from Maina from the Camurlim side, is a spot where Raoji Rane was killed. In rememberance, passers-by used to carry with them stones, big or small, rough or smooth, and deposit them on the spot. So much so that over the years, a natural monument has sprung up for posterity to applaud – a huge heap of stones. Tivim Industrial Estate is opposite the Gotniche Vau, and Cunchelim folks prefer to seek employment there, as it is close to their homes.
Our Lady of Flight watches all the activities with equanimity and smiles benignly. No wonder the villagers are a happy lot, clearly placing a higher value on the rudiments of civilised life than on accumulation of raw wealth. They are amiable and live at peace with nature, sharing the bounty of their harvest, and are generally on good terms with one another.