Fun ‘n’ frolic at the fiesta

The Goa carnival, just like the Mardi Gras in Brazil, dazzles with colour, costumes, foot-tapping music, floats and a soul-stirring extravaganza, writes Susheela Nair

Venetian masks and colourful buntings add to the fervour of the fiesta. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Come March and the streets of Goa come alive with a four-day festival of colour, dance, drama, masquerade, a smattering of Goan cuisine, entertainment, and the spectacular display of floats, colourful parades and lively processions. Tourists descend in hordes to feast their eyes on this amazing fiesta of colour, light and sound, just before the 40-day fasting, abstinence and spiritual renewal period of Lent before Easter.

The streets sport a vibrant look with draped flags and festoons, welcome arches, streamers and multi-hued ribbons, and illuminated buildings. The Venetian masks decorating the landmarks in strategic places and colourful buntings add to the fervour. 

King Momo
King Momo in a colourful, regal attire atop the leading float.

 

Special to Goa

What is unique about this festival is that it is celebrated only in Goa in the Indian subcontinent, mainly in the four cities of Goa: Panaji, Mapusa, Margao and Vasco. The carnival is unique with villagers dancing to the beat of drummers around an oil lamp and singing songs to appease their ancestors. Floats with varied folk themes make their way through the streets. The genesis of this visual extravaganza can be traced back to more than 500 years. Considered as a farewell to the pleasures of flesh before the start of Lent, the carnival, like its international counterpart in Rio de Janerio (Brazil), is celebrated before the holy season of Lent and  was introduced in Goa by the Portuguese which is preserved till date. This is the local version of the carnival which is celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gras. The carnival epitomises the fun-loving culture that is characteristic of Goa. 

Carnival means a complete holiday dedicated to fun and frolic as a break from the daily routine and stress of everyday life. The word carnival originates from the Latin word ‘carnelevarium’ meaning removing the flesh or raising a gala storm. The word carnival is also believed to be derived from the Latin words carne (meat) and vale (goodbye), translatable as to take away meat. It is a cross-cultural hedonism at its roaring best and a farewell to meat (Carnevale) and, therefore, the beginning of Lent.

It is also believed to be derived from Carrus Navalis, the naval float used in processions on the rivers which were supposed to mark the final victory of the spirits of spring over the demons of winter and cold. Another version is that the word came from ‘Carrus Navalis’, the horse-drawn, boat-shaped carriage that was paraded during the Roman festival Saturnalia, in honour of Saturn. This ferried men and women in fancy dresses, wearing masks and singing obscene songs. Though carnival may be a Christian celebration, Goa’s fiesta is a juxtaposition of Hindu and Western traditions.

A float depicting a Goan wedding.
A float depicting Goan wedding.

 

Float parade

The float parade in Panaji heralds four days of joyous festivities. The carnival celebrations kickstart with hordes of carnival enthusiasts watching parades and floats making their way down the main streets of Panaji. King Momo, the carnival mascot and his tableau form the head of a parade comprising colourful floats, and troupes of revellers attired in gorgeous costumes, singing and dancing to live music. Tourists jostle for space to have a peek at King Momo in colourful regal attire, flanked by ‘queens’ atop the leading float. The frenzy of merriment starts with the arrival of the mythical King Momo and his entourage in Panaji on Fat Saturday (Sabado Gordo) when King Momo ushered in his three-day mock rule of pre-Lent festivities in Goa and proclaimed his decree ‘eat, drink and be merry’. As he waves out to the crowds, revellers greet him with chants of ‘Viva Carnival’ and dance with delirious joy and ecstasy.

The piece de resistance of the carnival is the procession of colourfully decorated floats with varied themes drifting down the streets. It is indeed a kaleidoscope of colour and sound with the strumming of guitars, whirling dances, elaborate costumes, headdress plumage soaring skyward, faces doused with paint, revellers with masks and inventively designed floats. While the floats typically depict aspects of the culture, traditions and lifestyle of the Goan people, some floats display themes relating to traditions, current affairs, nature conservation, forests, recycling, safety, women’s empowerment, say no to drugs, rural, self-sustaining communities, nature conservation, forests, Swachh Bharat, recycling etc. and other social messages such as  anti-smoking campaign.  

Besides these parades, people participate in the various cultural shows organised by local clubs, with the Red and Black Dance at the Clube Nacional in Panjim being the most popular. A food fest, with an assortment of food, wine and booze stalls ensure that the visitors are well-fed and light-headed. The merriment concludes on Shrove Tuesday.

 

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