The feast of the Epiphany commemorates the adoration by the Three Magi, at the feet of the Baby Jesus. This feast is usually celebrated on the 6th of January, or the first Sunday in January. It is celebrated in a lavish way in three places in Goa. The first is the Reis Magos Church at Verem in the Bardez taluka in North Goa, the village of Chandor in South Goa, and at Our Lady of the Mount, or Nossa Senhora Dos Remedios, in Cansaulim in South Goa.
This festival is marked with grand processions and the crowning of three kings from the three villages, who are then escorted with pomp and fervour to the church on Remedios hill.
Story of the Magi
The word ‘Magi’ comes from the Greek word ‘Magos’ which is also the origin of the word magic. However, the Greek word itself is taken from ‘Magupati’ which is a word denoting a high priest of ancient Persian religions. The Magi, therefore, were wise men, rich and powerful in their kingdoms and skilled in the arts of science and astrology.
The story goes that after the birth of Christ, there appeared a new star in the sky. Seeing this, the Magi knew that it foretold the birth of a great king in Judea. They therefore undertook a long and arduous journey, bearing gifts fit for a babe of such high birth. The Three Magi were:
1. Caspar or Gaspar, who is believed to have been from the Indian Sub-continent. He is described as having brown hair and beard and is portrayed wearing green robes. He brought with him the gift of Frankincense, which celebrates the Godly aspect of the Christ Child
2. Melchior is believed to have been a king of Arabia. He is described as being older than the others with a flowing white beard and hair, and is portrayed wearing a gold cloak. He brought the gift of Gold, signifying the Kingly aspect of the Christ Child.
3. Balthazar is believed to have been a king from the African regions. He is described as having swarthy features and a black beard and hair and is portrayed wearing a purple cloak. He brought with him the gift of Myrrh, which is a spice used in the burial practices of those times, and signified the suffering and death of the Christ.
The kings stopped at the court of Herod to enquire of him the way to the new born babe. Herod, fearing that this new king would displace him and take his throne, beseeched the Magi to tell him also of the baby’s whereabouts once they had found him. The Magi, however, after finding the Holy Babe, were visited in a dream by an angel, who warned them of Herod’s evil intentions and thus they returned to their kingdoms by another route.
The novena for the feast starts nine days in advance of the Epiphany. Crowds flock to the Church of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, to beseech her blessings upon their endeavours or to wreath her statue in gifts and offerings of thanksgiving for favours already received.
The Church being set on a hill, the people climb the many steps to reach it, in what then becomes a pilgrimage that they make devotedly for nine days every year. On the feast day, three boys between the ages of 8 and 12 are chosen from each of the three villages and they are crowned the Magi for that year. This is a great honour and the boys groom themselves and conduct themselves accordingly. They are swathed in rich costumes and brought in procession, via three different routes, astride white horses and preceded by a brass band, to the Church on the Mount.
There is a High Mass which is then celebrated on this day. Most of the villagers who partake in the procession, attend the Mass, along with other devotees. The three little Magi are escorted to a position of honour from where they can serve as altar boys during the Mass. After the Mass is over, they are once again escorted back to their respective villages with equal pomp and grandeur, accompanied by the deafening noise of fireworks, a brass band and the singing and dancing crowd.
The festival, also boasts a vast fair that springs up, as if out of thin air, around the Mount. It’s possible to buy just about anything here, from traditional sweets and foodstuffs, to cookware and other household items.
The entire spectacle is one of old fashioned grandeur and pageantry, and if one is in Goa at this time of year, it is well worth the time it takes to observe and perhaps even participate.