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he church of St Lawrence the Martyr in Agassaim..

.. celebrates the feast of its patron, St Lawrence, on August 10. With a high mass and a unique coconut breaking tradition thereafter, the people bid farewell to the monsoon

As the monsoon recedes and the dreary weather gives way to clearer skies, the people in the villages of Goa get out their festive clothes. It is the time for gaiety and a time to celebrate. The people of the village of Agassaim begin the festivities with the first feast of the season – the feast of St Lawrence that is celebrated on August 10.

St Lawrence is the patron of the church of St Lawrence the Martyr, Agassaim, and is known the world over as the patron of the poor and the cooks. The reason behind this, is an interesting story as recounted by Fr Jonsie Colaco, parish priest of the church, “During the reign of Emperor Valerian in 258, Pope Sixtus II died. Lawrence was a deacon at that time and he was ordered by the prefect to turn over the riches of the church. However, within three days, Lawrence had distributed the riches and church to the poor. When he was summoned and asked to present the riches, he presented the poor people and said they were the true treasures of the church.” Legend has it that this act made the prefect so angry that he had a big gridiron made, with coals beneath it and had Lawrence placed on it. After Lawrence had suffered in pain for a while, legend has it that he cheerfully remarked, “I am well done, now turn me over.”

The preparation of the feast begins with a novena, like all other feasts in Goa. This year, the focus of the novenas was the Small Christian Community (SSC). “The Archdiocese is hosting a nationwide SSC convention in Goa from 19 to 21 November. We wish to make the local SSCs more vibrant, ” said Fr Colaco. During the novenas, contributions at the daily offertory was collected and distributed to the poor on the vesper day, as St Lawrence is also the saint of the poor. The preacher on the feast day was Fr Alexio Menezes, rector of the Rachol Seminary.

The rain does not allow the putting up of stalls and a feast fair, but the smallest ward in Agassaim, Dugrem, is known for the cultural festival that is conducted by the Young Stars of Dugrem. “This year we will be celebrating 43 years of this event, ” says Romao Gonsalves, president of the association. An unique event among the various activities at the cultural festival is the coconut breaking event. “The tradition dates back to many years ago when the bhatkars of the village would break coconuts in front of the crowd to prove to the people the superiority of the coconuts in their plantation. The winner would then celebrate by distributing coconuts to the mundkars, ” he says.

Over the years, the rule of the bhatkars waned and the practice developed into a prize-winning event. Now, a person who wants to participate goes around choosing strong and good coconuts. They believe that coconuts from the oldest tree are the strongest. The coconuts have to meet certain parameters – they should have a diameter bigger than 10 cm and should not be rotten. The player then rolls each of his coconut towards the opponent. The opponent tries to break each of the six coconuts with his own coconut and without breaking his own. At the end, the participant with maximum coconuts is declared the winner. The cultural event also has other activities like a dance competition, fancy dress and a singing contest where the voice of Agassaim is selected.

   Over a month ago