By Elaine Peterson
Although examples of giving to the less fortunate can be found in many Indian traditions and customs, I would like to talk about a unique tradition that is found among the Goan Catholic families during wedding preparations. Goa is predominately a catholic state in India, having been occupied by the Portuguese who converted a large portion of the population. English is widely spoken and the western way of dressing is the norm.
A couple of days before the wedding, usually on a Tuesday, a lavish feast is prepared and 7 or 9 poor people in the village are invited to the bride and groom’s houses. This lunch is termed “Bikareanchem Jevonn” (i.e meal for the beggars); ‘bikari’ meaning “beggar” and ‘jevonn’ meaning “meal”. The significance of this lunch is to remember and pray for the dead ancestors and invoke their blessings on the engaged couple. If possible, the poor are chosen in line with the age and gender of the departed souls. During the preparation of the lunch, certain traditional songs are sung. These are called “Zotis” and are basically prayers for the engaged couple, wishing them a happy and long wedded life and lots of children.
The lunch consists of pork, beef, fish, rice and a special curry called “Samarachi Koddi” which is cooked with dry prawns and mango sol (dry unripe salted mango). Coconut or cashew feni, the special liquor brewed in Goa is also served. The guests are seated on the floor of the dining hall and the meal is served on jack fruit leaves that are woven into a plate and held together with fine bamboo sticks. The bride and groom personally serve the guests, invoking their blessings.
At the end of the meal, a sweet dish made of gram dal and ‘soji’ or wheat/semolina is served along with a banana. A cigarette or locally made beedi (tobacco rolled in a leaf) is given to the guests according to their preference. Coconut oil is given as a gift for them to take home and use for their hair.
In the event that no Bikareanchem Jevonn is held, the poor are given one measure of rice and some money.
The giving of gifts has always been a huge part of every joyous event in the Indian tradition. When a child is born, sweets are distributed to family, friends and neighbours. A “laddoo” (round sweet made of flour) symbolizes the birth of a boy while a “peda” (flat sweet made of condensed milk) symbolizes the birth of a girl. Sweets are exchanged on the occasion of various festivals. Christians will send traditional sweets to their Hindu and Muslim neighbours on the occasion of Christmas and they in turn will send their traditional sweets over on the occasion of Eid and Hindu festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali. Gifts are exchanged between brothers and sisters on the occasion of Raksha Bandan, a festival that celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters.
“Philanthropy” may best be defined as, “private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of life.”(Wikipedia) and we see this manifested in both individual traditions as well as corporate programs.
The Beggars’ Lunch: http://www.saligaoserenade.com/2008/08/05/the-beggars-lunch/
Catholic marriages – traditions and customs: http://www.goanwedding.com/articles/customs.php