The unique Urus of Arabo


Sanjeev V Sardesai

In Goa, references are mostly made about feasts and jatras, and we barely become aware of the festivities of the Muslim community. However, the community that ruled over these lands, prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1510 AD, still carries out some of their festivities, at various villages in Goa, displaying a harmonious weaving of rituals with the Hindu community.

On February 23 2020, one can visit North Goa, just about seven-eight kilometres from Mapusa and participate in one such festivity. This Urus or ritualistic feast is celebrated at the dargah (tomb) of Hazrat Abu Shaikh R A, at the quaint village of Arabo, immediately after Dhargal. Arabo Village is situated on the banks of River Chapora, and in the past, had a huge importance to traders from the Mediterranean region, due to the hinterland port, which offered safety to the ships. It was also the ease of trading which attracted the Arabs to this place. It was from here that the Arabs conducted trade on their in-demand Arabian horses and other goods to lands as far as the Vijayanagar Kingdom.

Having found this inland port to their ideal requirement, the Arabs settled here in this village and that could be the origin of the identity of this village as “Arabo” or a village, where reside the Arabs.

One of the most impressive heritage sites that catches every persons eye, as you pass through to Pernem is a huge open masonry palace like one storeyed mansion, with huge twin towers. This is the ancestral home of the Arabo Desai family. The house is barely occupied, and with scanty activity throughout the year. However, the scenario changes for two definite events that happen with this house as a fulcrum. One is the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, when the families of the Arabo Desai, come from far and wide to visit their ancestral home and pay respects to Lord Ganesh.

The next unique event that is held, at the Arabo Desai mansion, is during the Urus or anniversary rituals of a nearby dargah. It is worth a visit to this village, on this day, as you can experience, first hand, the brotherly and sisterly bonding between the Hindu and Muslim community, during the celebrations. I must compliment a young villager, Siddhi Naik, who once invited and apprised me of this amazing festival of communal bonding.

It was informed by the locals that a saintly “Pir” Hazrat Abu Shaikh RA, lived in this village many centuries ago. When he passed away, he was buried at the grounds, where today stands the dargah. Over a period of time, the people forgot about his tomb. It was about half a century ago that another seer of their community informed them about this saintly ‘Pir’ and celebrations started.

The surprising part is that the land on which stands the Muslim dargah belongs to a Hindu family. This family openly accepts that as the “Pir baba” is venerated by the Muslim community, so do they; and they seek his blessings everyday as they go about their daily chores. Their house, just about 10 – 15metres away from the dargah, literally becomes the headquarters of this festival. You can find people of all communities sitting in their hall and their verandah, and the entire precinct in front of their house is a place decorated for venerations.

On this day, the Muslim community, through a well organised dargah committee, replaces and offers a new beautifully embroidered ‘chaddar’ (galaf) or blanket to cover the tomb. The designs on this ‘chaddar’ are religion related. This ‘chaddar’ is kept well folded and covered in a bamboo basket. At around 7 p.m., the entire congregation led by their maulavi, senior members, and their traditional musical instrument players, carry this basket with the ‘chaddar’ and head in a procession, to the palatial mansion of the Arabo Desai.

They are given direct access to the first floor of this huge house, which has balconies opening to an inner courtyard of this house. Surprisingly, there is a tall spike like structure, about eight feet tall, about five-six inches wide and about two-three inches thick covered with a cloth, and affixed in a tall niche near a east side wall. This spike is called as the ‘behrag’. It was informed that it was brought here from Iraq, by the trading Arabs.

Though the exact history of this could not be elucidated, it was informed by senior community members that this house earlier belonged to the Arabs, who later sold it to the Desai family, with a condition that this ‘behrag’ be kept at the same place, and the Muslim community be allowed to visit it once a year. The promise is kept till date, by the family and the community.

When all are assembled here, the ‘chaddar’ is kept near this ‘bahrag’ and the ‘maulavi’ chants prayers, and all the gathered members join in. After this, ‘sandul’ (sandalwood paste) and flowers are offered to the ‘behrag’. The ‘chaddar’ is then taken down and out of the house and unfolded. Some devotees carry the blanket, holding it at all outer points and corners and head back to the dargah, where the chaddar is placed atop the tomb of the Hazrat Abu Shaikh RA. Joint prayers are said and then the feasting starts.

Huge urns are placed on wood fires and steaming hot biryani is served to all present. The ladies have a separate enclosed area to have their meals. Entertainment is provided by a troupe singing quawwalis. This programme carries on till late night.

It must be mentioned that at every stage of your visit, you are made to feel extremely comfortable by the people in general and the committee members in particular. Head for Arabo Village and experience the Goan communal harmony- first hand.