The Cross & The Tulsi

A leisurely drive around the countryside and one will notice either a Cross or a Tulsi adorning a prominent place in the compounds of Goan homes. The Hindus regularly perform a pooja of the Tulsi while the Catholics adorn the cross with marigold flowers, light candles and pray. However, once a year, a litany at the Cross is in order and a Tulsi cannot be deprived of a Tulsi Lagn.

A cross and a tulsi vrundavan can also be found on Bat Island in the Arabian Sea, just off the Bogmalo coast. Since the island is uninhabited, these symbols of the Catholic and Hindu religion enjoy each other’s company in blissful isolation with no human to attend to them. The island is usually out of bounds under the official secrets act of the Indian Navy and no one dares to stray into forbidden territory.

CROSS-IN-A-CHURCH-COMPOUND

 But then, one day in the Hindu month of Kartik, scores of boats from all directions head for the island with two of them carrying special people; a catholic priest and a pujari. Once on the island, the Hindus head to the tulsi vrindavan where the pujari performs the lagna. Prasad is distributed to all present. The latecomers pay their respects and offer a garland of flowers to the tulsi. The Catholics meanwhile organize a mass complete with a choir. After mass, the whole crowd heads to a black rock on which is perched a white cross. A litany is sung with traditional fervour while people keep garlanding the cross and burning candles. Bursts of firecrackers mark the end of the litany after which refreshments are distributed. Having taken care of the religious obligation, the folks spread out in all directions.

Besides a privately owned cross in the family yard, one comes across crosses located at different locales around the villages. In the church yards, large crosses are seen mounted on exquisitely ornamented pedestals. At isolated spots or lonely roads, one may spot a cross to put an end to superstitious beliefs like ghost sightings. A cross may also be erected at the site of an accident, a small marble slab, mentioning the incident and requesting prayers for the departed souls. Dangerous river banks where drowning tend to occur are marked with crosses as a symbol of protection. One even finds sluice gates or culverts which have crosses – erected to keep the places free from evil.

You find people treating them as friends. Young and old, men or women, Catholics or otherwise, they go to the cross, bow down in reverence and whisper secrets. Sometimes they weep, embracing the cross sending their prayers across in a vale of tears. At times they shower the cross with garlands of flowers and pray that their lives too may be as beautiful and fragrant as their gifts. And at dusk, some hurry to unveil the darkness with dozens of candles. As they light them, grateful lips murmur prayers of thanksgiving for the day just gone by. And hopeful hearts petition for a peaceful night. As the flame melts the wax, they hope that their hearts’ desires reach the heavens and melt the heart of their creator! This makes the wayside crosses little lighthouses providing solace from the blackness of the night as well as darkness from their lives. Answered prayers keep the candles ablaze every night…!

In fact, the Bambolim Cross has become a legend. So many flowers are heaped upon it that you can rarely see the cross and is hence fondly known as the ‘Fulancho Khuris’. From a roadside cross, it has now become a full-fledged shrine of the holy cross. Standing beside the National Highway 17, the cross receives salutations from passing motorists. Drivers of interstate buses halt at the cross to pray for a safe journey and pick a garland of flowers from there as a sign of protection from the cross.

By: Pantaleao Fernandes

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Author: Pantaleão Fernandes
Pantaleão Fernandes is a Goa-based author, photographer, and cultural researcher.

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