Perched high on a hill in Quelim, Salcete, stands the tiny
centuries-old stone chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios or Our Lady of
Cures. The incomparably beautiful statue of the Madonna is seen holding
the Child Jesus in open arm and a small vase in the other, which has in it
the panacea for all ills.
A Festivity For Both Christians And Hindus
The Lady of the Mount is famous for her wondrous protection and miracles and is also reputed to be the giver of children to sterile mothers. On the day of the festivity She is covered with jewellery as tokens of gratitude by Catholics and Hindus alike for favors and blessings received. The chapel as well as the image are very ancient and are steeped in historical associations, traditions, and legends.
Every year thousands of devotees congregate at the stone chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Reis to offer prayers of thanksgiving to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception - a lighthouse of faith and courage to its people. High mass is offered on the day of Epiphany and it is a time to rejoice and partying.
Some say the Jesuits built this place of worship during the religious persecution that raged Goa during the time of the Marques de Pombal. This fact seems to be borne out by the subterranean passage found in the chapel that terminates about a mile away in a huge boulder with six secret openings through which, it is believed, that the faithful entered. These caves were later used by tigers and panthers as lairs.
According to a legend another boulder on a nearby hill is clearly stamped with two baby footprints and those of an adult, together with a trough carved out of the rock which, marks the spot where the Virgin rested with the Infant while the horse that brought them quenched its thirst, before proceeding to Hill of Remedies where she chose to remain.
However, some historians state that the site now occupied by the Chapel of Remedios was once the site of a Hindu temple. Perhaps that's the reason why a large number of Hindu devotees make the yearly pilgrimage to the Mount to worship the Madonna, bringing with them offerings of flowers, incense, and candles.
The Hill of Remedios is situated at such a dizzy height that one can practically see the whole of Goa nestling around in a panoramic picture at its feet. The chapel itself is the Goan mariner's lighthouse of faith, hope and courage.
Surrounded by the curious curves and shapes of maiden mountains, by waving and whispering palms, the softness of golden sands, the endless changing moods of sea and sky, and the bewitching magic of the chaste sun and moon, this sanctuary is truly the realm of mystic beauty, the Abode of the Gods, and one of perfect peace. One seems nearer to Heaven in this hallowed spot, and the sublime and child-like faith in the Lady of Cures by her ardent devotees makes you leave the hill richer in mind and spirit.
It is on the Festa dos Reis or the Epiphany on January 6 that the isolated Hill of Remedios and chapel suddenly spring to life and activity. After staying almost whole year in isolation, just nine days before the Feast of the Novena starts, the hill revives and resounds to human voices and feet. Come early dawn, kettledrums and the blare of trumpets, announce to the sleepy little neighboring villages that the day of rejoicing and festivity has arrived.
The tolling bells call the faithful to prayer and devotees visit the shrine in a non-stop stream. There's now an excellent road winding its way up the steep hill right to the door of the chapel, making the ascent possible by car. Still, most of the devotees prefer to climb up hill. Even the very old and infirm make their way up for nine consecutive days to hear Mass and recite the Rosary before the Lady of the Blue Mantle. Many come to offer their thanks for fulfilling their wishes. The devotees are always lead by a drummer-boy with his kettledrum who, by the loud beat of his drum, announces of another favor having being granted by the Lady of Remedios.
The Three Kings
The dramatic climax is reached on January 6, the day of the Feast of the Magi, when three little boys ranging in years from 8 to 10 are selected as kings from the three neighboring villages of Quelim, Cansaulim and Arrosim to bring their gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense to the Child-God. Throughout the year expectations and excitement run high as to who will be the fortunate ones chosen as it must be either a son or grandson from these three villages; no outsider can claim this privilege or honor.
To be a king, if only for a day is no joke, so the young monarchs take meticulous care to groom themselves for the exacting role. Meanwhile, on the Mount, the crowds gather from all parts of Goa to attend the Mass and get a glimpse of the three kings. An extensive fair also springs up covering the entire hilltop. One can buy anything from a meal to copper and brassware, furniture, clothes, toys, trinkets, sweetmeats, glass bangles and spices of all sorts.
The surging and trampling devotees congregate on the hill's edge to watch the three kings from three different routes make their appearance. Mounted on white horses, they make their way up, outfitted in their royal garments elaborately embroidered in gold and silver, a crown studded with glittering stones on their heads, and a whole procession of relatives, friends, retinues bringing up the rear.
Each procession is preceded by a brass band played as loud music and bursting of crackers all the way up. The crowd in a frenzy of enthusiasm hails the Magi with a deafening ovation. The kings dismount from their white steeds, and are solemnly led to the special seats of honor reserved for them to assist at the High Mass.
After the service, they are led down with the same traditional ceremony with which they were brought up the hill. The whole picturesque scene is a color-drenched dream of ancient pomp, pageantry and glory.
A curious feature of the festival on the Mount is that after midday, one will not find a single soul anywhere near by. The staggering and swelling crowds disappear as mysteriously as the huge giant fair, within a few hours, while the flags, buntings and other fanciful decorations are all removed.
Since no priest consents to reside in the parochial house, the chapel is closed till the next annual feast. During the year should any devotee wants a mass of thanksgiving to be said at the shrine, he goes up with the priest. The reason for this fear of the Mount is the belief that the place is haunted by Shivaji and his army who after dusk make their appearance with flares that light up the whole countryside around, which echoes to their marching feet.