Located in the heart of Goa is Ponda. It occupies a strategic position along the highways connecting cities in Goa and beyond. Temples mushroomed in this taluka as devotees  in an attempt to escape colonial oppression, sheltered their deities here. Known for its wild life sanctuaries and huge orchards, Ponda is also known as Goa’s cultural capital. Abuzz with a lot of creative activity linked to the temples; music, drama and dance have flourished here.

The ‘Zagor’ is a tradition shared both by the Hindus and Catholics in certain parts of Goa.  It is an informal mix of entertaining dance and theatre.

 Legend says that people used to hold a vigil for the deities who descended to earth on a particular night. If they remained awake during this occasion, the village was blessed the succeeding year. So, the only way of staying awake during this occasion, was some form of humorous entertainment all night long. ‘Zagor’ comes from the Konkani word ‘zagaran’ which means keeping a night watch.Here we view the depiction of everyday life, spoofs of current events and personalities, humorous takes on characters such as the village eve teaser or the rude government official.The ‘Zagor’ has plenty of moments of laughter to keep you awake through the night.

The artistes say the ‘Zagor’ is pure entertainment born perhaps from traditions which required the whole community to keep watch at night, like for example, keeping guard over the just harvested grain.

 It all began with the villagers sitting together in their courtyards after harvesting of the crops and as a diversion they began this ‘Zagor’, which was enacted in the courtyard. Now it is played anywhere. So when a song or an idea comes to mind, it is spontaneously enacted.

Before the dance begins, the ‘Zagor’ artistes and musicians along with the other community members bundle together to pray and make an offering to the deity. They light the lamp and after the senior members say a prayer, the artistes disperse to get ready to perform the ‘Zagor’.

The ‘Zagor’ has usually 67 characters, each enacting roles that represent 67 human tendencies. Sometimes people dance in the Zagor in order to fulfil a vow. Since women are not allowed to participate; men play the female roles too.

Goa being once ruled by the Portuguese, we find some of the characters in the Zagor are caricatures of the Portuguese officials like the tax collector. The costume is designed to match each character’s personality and social stature. For example the ‘rakhandar’ who is the village protector, is given prominent attire and higher stilts to walk on.

During the Portuguese regime, to show the importance of characters, there were certain names, like ‘Parbati’ who is a taxman and collects tax at the border. ‘Nikhandar’ is the guardian of the village. To show his elevated status, he wears stilts, giving him a king like stature. “

As there is no definite script, the Zagor allows its actors room for lot of  improvisations and impromptu performances to the delight of the audience.One of the most interesting characters in the Zagor is the ‘bebdo’ (the drunkard).  Dialogues between husband and wife  reveals how the drunkard makes merry by selling his wife’s gold to pay for his alcohol.The hilarious scene of the temple priest making an offering of bananas to the deity on behalf of the village people, reaches a climax, when he tells the people the deity has accepted the offering when actually he has eaten it himself.  Characters such as the village belle whom boys tease, and her lover who accuses her of romancing with the other boys, show situations that are common and typical, that people can identify in their own lives.Which marriage does not have its share of squabbles between husband and wife? Rare to find one which does not.  This act shows how a couple, the husband who is tired after working in the field, and his wife, who brings him lunch, fight. The reason- well may be silly, but it is because the food lacks salt.

In each place where the Zagor is performed, the character of the village influences the performance, making it different from each other in content and style of presentation.
For Dinesh, an Ayurvedic therapist, it does not matter what profession one is involved in. Taking part in an age old tradition like the Zagor is something he will never want to miss.

There is only one Zagor, even after converting; the Christians did not stop performing Zagor. But it was called Christian Zagor if performed by them, and that of the non-converts, Hindu Zagor. In the past, when some researchers visited and asked a few people, they documented it erroneously as two different types. Christian and Hindu Zagor, both are the same. The exception is Perni’s Zagor.”

The Zagor is performed in May. Zagor artistes say the Zagor is held on either a Saturday or a Tuesday as the days immediately falling a Saturday and Tuesday, that is Sunday and Wednesday, are days dedicated to the deity.

The stage for the Zagor is a simple courtyard barricaded with palm mats. On these, fruits like the coconut and flowers are hung. Music, dance and dialogue intertwine with each other during the Zagor.A few historians suggest that the Zagor which has components of music, folk play, dance and dialogues developed from the earlier dramas which were based on ancient mythology. The Zagor in its contemporary form, illustrates the everyday life of the common folk and the small incidents which make life enriching and entertaining.

The enactment comes to an end at dawn. The actors huddle together and offer prayers.

Go back to Traditional Dances of Goa

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