A festival truly unique to Goa, this is the largest celebration that takes place in the town of Vasco in South Goa. ‘Saptah’ literally means seven, and the celebrations go on for a week. However, the fair and stalls set up sometimes carry on for up to fifteen days.
This festival worships Lord Damodar who is an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It is believed that worshiping him saved Vasco from an outbreak of cholera in the late 19th century, and the tradition continues till today.
In 1896, there was an outbreak of cholera in the town of Vasco. Without the benefits of modern medicine, the townspeople were dying like flies and the elders of the town felt that something had to be done. Being a largely spiritual people, they turned at once to god.
A coconut was brought from the famous Damodar temple at Zambaulim and installed in the local high school temporarily. Later, one of the businessmen of the village offered the use of his house as a temple, and this is the centre of celebrations even today.
Lord Damodar is an incarnation of Lord Shiva, one of the gods in the Hindu Trinity. When there was a severe outbreak of cholera in Vasco in 1896, the people decided to start worshiping Lord Damodar, praying that he would cause the outbreak to abate.
With this is mind, the elders of the village visited the famous Damodar temple at Zambaulim, some 22km from Margao. They brought from there a coconut which had been blessed to use for Prasad and install for worship.
This coconut was initially installed at old Mata High school. Worship began and the outbreak came to a halt. Delighted with this outcome, a part of the house of one of the elders of the village was converted into a temple for Lord Damodar. This annexure to the main house is the centre of the festive celebrations even today.
This festival takes place in the month of Shravan (July/August) right after Nag Panchami. The coconut was installed the previous year is taken in procession around the village, held by a specially chosen individual and accompanied a brass band and dancers. The procession gets drenched in the rain and thanks to the water being thrown at it by the townsfolk.
The old coconut is finally released into the sea. A new coconut is then ceremoniously installed in the temple, which is an annexure to one of the townhouses.
The Damodar temple is located on Swatantra Path which is the main thoroughfare of the town of Vasco. This road is closed to vehicular traffic for the seven day duration of the festival. The old coconut leaves the Damodar temple to be taken in procession around the town accompanied by singing and dancing before being immersed in the sea.
The people then return to the Mata High school to anoint the new coconut with puja and the singing of bhajans. The bhajans continue to be sung for 24hours. The new coconut is then taken in procession and installed at the Damodar temple so that worship may continue for the next year.
In the evenings there is a procession of tableaux known as pars that come from various wards of the porttown. There is also a cultural and religious programme that is organized during the festival with performances from artists who come from all over India.
There is a huge fair that is set up along the Swatantra Path and the side roads with makeshift stalls constructed of bamboo and cloth. Vendors from all across the country come with their wares ranging from eatables to trinkets to clothes and accessories to household items.
The entire port city is bedecked with streamers and flags and takes on a carnival atmosphere for the duration of the festive week. With various events being organized apart from the religious observances and processions, this festival is fun and frolic all week long.