Musall in Chandor: A fusion of Christian & Hindu traditions, invoking Lord Shiva’s blessings

Gautam Phadte | FEBRUARY 11, 2024, 11:36 PM IST

O Simha O Vira voss(u) re ghara,

Satxim (sattasai) ganna Hariharak oh

Satxim (sattasai) ganna Hariharak...!! 

Hariharacho fell(u) fellota,

Fell durgabhair(i) Xinvorota oh

Fell durgabhair(i) Xinvorota ...!! 

Whenever I used to hear this song in some folk dance programme, I would get a curiosity about this dance. I mean whether it’s a game or a dance, what is the history of it? How did King Harihara come to be mentioned in this? If you want to get answers to all these questions, you will have to go to Chandor, a beautiful village consisting of old villas located in South Goa on the banks of river Kushavati.

Chandor, which was once known as ‘Chandrapur’, was the capital under the Kadamb rule which was later moved to Goapuri or the modern day Goa Velha. The ruins of an ancient Shiva temple built by them can still be seen here. Chandrapur fell first to Muslim rulers and then to the Christians, before Goa achieved liberation in 1961 BC.

These remains of ancient Shiva temple also known as Isvorachem, are located in Cota next to Mand Khuris. This archaeological site is well explained with a signage by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). This temple site was first discovered by Rev. Fr. Heras in 1929. The ASI has made two excavations at this site, one in 1974, and the other in 1999-2000. The site now has the lone Nandi and a step–well, which is now covered with a wired fencing may be to avoid accidents.

Some of the known dynasties that had come to Goa during the historical years, were the Bhojas, Mauryas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Shilaharas, Kadambas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, the Vijaynagaras and Deccan Sultanates. The power race of Indian rulers finally ended here, and in came a new player from across the seas, the Portuguese. After the Portuguese conquest of Goa in 1510 and its subsequent rule by Portugal, Goa’s indigenous population underwent a large-scale conversion to Roman Catholicism. This village flourished during the Portuguese rule too. The palatial houses and the other buildings are the witness to the Portuguese rule. 

In the same village, on the second night of the carnival i.e. on Monday in the castle of ‘Kota’ in Chandor, and on Tuesday in ‘Kavorim’, a Kshatriya Christians (Ganvkars of this village) performs a beautiful traditional dance called “Musall Khell”. Musall Khell, literally means “the pestle dance”. The Musall or the pestle is a six to seven feet long colorful bamboo stick. In the middle of this stick, within the hollowed part an iron plate chuck is fixed. So that when this stick is struck on the ground, a nice melodious sound is heard. 

According to the custom of Musall khel, the Ganvkars gathers at a spot called “Mand Khuris”. All of them wear a certain type of dress. A kurta, a jacket, a dhoti, a feta on the head and a pestle in the hand. The head Ganvkar along with fellow ganvkars light candles in front of the cross. It begins with an invocation of Lord Shiva and is followed by Christian prayer. It is believed that the village gets the name Chandrapur from the famous Chandreshwar Bhootnath temple. And Chandreshwar Bhootnath happens to be another form of Lord Shiva. Hence, people invoke his blessings during this dance. When the prayer is over,

O Simha O Vira voss(u) re ghara,

Satxim (sattasai) ganna Hariharak oh

Satxim (sattasai) ganna Hariharak...!! 

Saying this, the Head Ganvkar starts the dance in the traditional way by hitting the ground with his Musall or pestle first. A simple two step dance is performed in a circle with the help of Musall in front of this cross. The assemblage then proceeds to the nearby St Tiago Chapel and offers conventional prayer called ‘ladin’ which is followed by the first performance of the dance there. 

“Utth go sungata kongre Jata,

Kaylink ghailyar sungot tambde jatam...!!

Jila, jila kanknnam sod ballara,

Jila, jila kanknnam sod ballara. 

These are some of the verses of the song of Musall khell sung by the dancers while marching towards the chapel. Two heritage instruments such as Ghumot and Zanj are used in this dance. From there, the group visits every Ganvkar house and performs in their courtyards.

After reaching house, the troupe sings a song and dancers standing in a circle, pick up their Musalls, turn to their sides and with a slant bang the rattling Musall on the floor. The rhymes of these movements follows the song and the music. The troupe then goes on to visit the next house. As they go from house to house they sing various songs, telling the story of Chandor according to different rules. 

If one has lost a family member, prayers are offered for him and they refrain themselves from performing Musall there. A lamp is lit outside everyone’s house during the dance. 

Giving more information about this dance, the head Ganvkar said, “Today we celebrate Musall dance as our traditional festival. This dance is performed as a symbol of the victory achieved by Vijaynagara King Harihara (I) over Cholas.”

Voir, voir maddiek pikholam poiem..

Hariharan jikilam goiem oh..

Hariharan jikilam goiem...

(These above stanzas narrates the victory of king Harihara)

He further says that earlier performing this dance used to be a lot of fun. But now the people of yesteryear are no longer alive and the enthusiasm has waned a bit as the younger generation has been in overseas for work. They had the privilege of representing the state of Goa in the 1978 republic day parade held in New Delhi.

Joe Dias also shared more information. “In the 13th century, Jamaluddin (Honnapur) made two successive attacks on Goa. The first attack was at Goapuri (Goa Velha) and the second at Chandrapur (Chandor). In the attack at Chandor, he brutally killed King Harihar and his soldiers and seized the kingdom. People did not defend their king in this battle. The queen was furious at her apathetic subjects. She commits suicide but not before cursing the villagers as,

Chandra ganv paddd zaum,

Vhoilolim vanzddim zaum,

Addlolim randd zaum

While cursing the widowed queen is said to be broken her bangles on the schist stone which now lies in from of the St. Tiago Chapel in the village. Earlier, the intensity of this curse was felt very much. But now looking at Chandor, it seems that this village has been freed from this curse.

Many a legends and folklore abound regarding this ancient form of dance and scholars are studying this folk dance and its deeper significance.

The book ‘Goa Cultural Pattern’ edited by Dr Saryu Doshi tells about the origin of this dance. The dance is said to have entered Goa from the Kadamba dynasty that ruled the place between 980 AD and 1005 AD, however, people believe that it was first performed to commemorate the victory of King Harihara of Vijayanagara, who defeated the Cholas.

The villagers of Chandor also believe that a calamity may befall their village if the dance is not performed every year. The late Zenaides Morenas, a researcher from Chandor has attempted to provide a historical perspective to the tradition in his book, ‘Mussol Dance of Chandor’.

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