A short drive from Panaji, up a narrow lane in Old Goa, a brooding beauty stands: Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte, or The Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount. It offers a panoramic view: the famous Basilica of Bom Jesus and the snow-white Se Cathedral, the meandering Mandovi River and the petite islands of Chorao and Ribandar. But more than the view, it’s the peace that I return for, time and again.
I am cocooned in quiet. Not a bell peals, not a prayer is murmured; there is a stillness here that is hard to find, even in Goa. The sun sets on the horizon and I watch, along with the Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte, as it dips beyond sight. Four years ago, I sang as a soloist with the Newman Choir inside this chapel.
Every year, since 2002, this 500-year-old church has been the venue of the three-day Monte Music Festival, which sees a confluence of Indian and Western Classical music and dance. Every year, the faithful—connoisseurs of the classical arts—make a pilgrimage here for solo instrumental recitals and choir performances, but also to watch their beloved church come alive.
The year I performed, there was a Kathak recital before me and I watched mesmerized as the dancers performed against the spectacular backdrop of the setting sun. Behind them, was a carpet of coconut trees and a sliver of the Mandovi River glittering in the crimson light of dusk.
Monte Festival’s performances are held in three different settings: the amphitheatre, the courtyard, and the chapel itself. For both the audience and the performer, a concert here is a deeply fulfilling experience. Built by Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese conqueror in 1519, the church has fantastic acoustics and I could hear my voice resonating within its walls and soaring upward. Back then, churches and chapels were built so the sound of a choir or the sermon of a priest at the pulpit carried all the way to the back. Five centuries later, these acoustic features still hold.
The chapel today has the regality of a dowager in her prime, but just 16 years ago, it was almost a ruin. Off the beaten track, neither did it get government funding nor tourist footfalls for its upkeep. So the government of Goa and the Archdiocese of Goa requested the Fundação Oriente to undertake the restoration project. The first Monte Music Festival was held in 2002 after the restoration; the aim was to use Western classical music to attract people to this spectacular location. “Over the last couple of years we have included one Indian classical dance and folk music performance as well,” says festival coordinator, Yvonne Rebello. The festival draws a modest crowd during the festival, but for the rest of the year, it remains largely ignored and blissfully quiet.
Updated in December 2016.
The Monte Music Festival is from Fri February 3 to Sun February 5, 2017 at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount, from 6-9p.m. Passes available at the Fundação Oriente (175 Filipe Neri Xavier Road, Behind People’s High School, Fontainhas, Panjim. Call 0832-2230728 or 0832-2436108.) The schedule will be announced closer to the event. Check Fundação Oriente’s Facebook page for updates.
Getting There The chapel is about 13km/30min from Panaji by road. Private vehicles are not allowed to go up the hill, but frequent shuttles run between Gandhi Circle in Old Goa and the foot of the hill, throughout the festival.