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Christmas Mélange In Colaba

By Manu Shrivastava

On Christmas Day, the otherwise-quiet premises of St Francis Xavier’s Chapel in Colaba, also known as the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, came abuzz with activity…music, dance and laughter!

After the two-year-long hiatus that dampened festive celebrations all over, Christmas celebrations in Mumbai's Colaba returned, this time with dollops of folk dance and traditional music!

The revelers at St Francis Xavier's Chapel aka Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Colaba
The music, however, wasn’t the usual choir sort, normally played during Christmas, but an upbeat rustic folk number that one could not resist dancing to, even from afar. 

What’s more interesting is it were those belonging to Central India, living and working in Mumbai, who gyrated to devotional Christmas numbers, sung in their native language complete with traditional beats.

The rare mélange of celebrations in ‘Bombay’ for the ‘Hindi-speaking’ Christians, as parishes would historically cater to the English, Tamil, Telugu, Malyalam and Konkani-speaking Christians, was welcome by all.

So, on Christmas Day, it was Colaba's St Francis Xavier's Chapel that hosted the 'Hindi-speaking' parishioners of nearby St Joseph R C Church, mainly from the Chota Nagpur region living and working in Mumbai, for a fun-filled evening of song and dance!

“What an exhilarating experience it was … I danced to ‘Nagpuri’ songs after a very long time. It reminded me of my village in Jharkhand and Christmas celebrations back home,” says Sanjay Ekka who originally belongs to Chainpur village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district and now lives in Mumbai with wife Sakhinta Tigga and children Sahil and Christina. 

Parishioners during service at St Joseph R C Church in Colaba
Like Sanjay, hundreds of Christians from India’s Chota Nagpur region - that covers much of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and parts of Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar – and have settled across Mumbai over the years, gathered in Colaba to celebrate the birth of their beloved “Yeshu”.

“It feels good to celebrate Christmas just the way we used to back home. In our villages, the celebrations are elaborate and dance and music last for a couple of hours, at least,” says Sudhir Surin, a Munda tribal, who came to Mumbai in 2002 from Salegutu in Jharkhand. 

As part of the Christmas celebrations this year, the group organised traditional dance performances and choir singing. Sudhir's wife Elisha says, “I love to participate in such cultural programmes whenever there’s an opportunity. This time, I was part of the choir and there were about 12 women who did the traditional dance to welcome the priests.”

Sudhir adds, “After COVID, this was among the first major celebration we had. We are making efforts to keep our culture alive. In fact, we have even brought traditional instruments like mandar, kartal from our villages, for occasions like these and others such as Karam festival, Nawakhani festival, etc., as they are not available easily here.”

Colaba’s Christmas, traditionally known for its Anglo-Indian flavour, is now changing, and how!

This feature is part of the #ChangingColoursOfColaba series initiated by The Draft

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