Friday, February 20, 2009

The Goan Carnival - How, When, Why!

The Goan carnival is something with which Goa has been fondly associated with and in recent times, tourists from all over the world have found the Goan carnival as being one of the reasons to be here.

So how did Goa actually begin this tradition of hosting a festival most famously belonging to Europe? Portugal may be the spontaneous answer. Portuguese rule in Goa is indeed the prime reason for the transfer of this festival in this part of the world.

While Carnival is derived from the old Latin expression 'carne vale' which if translated means " farewell to meat" thereby implying that the days of merriment were being linked to be the last days of eating meat before the Lenten season sets in, during which Christians abstain from eating meat.

Roman empires are known to have brought forth this pagan festival and it therefore has roots of origin in Saturnalia which saw merry processions and revelry sunk people all across the Roman empire. This indulgence in fun and frolic eventually led to the present three day concentrated indulgence of festivity and merry-making right before the chaste season of Lent.

While this festival was originally celebrated in Catholic areas of Europe, the merriment was naturally descended to many colonies of Europe and as a result Goa has simply absorbed it from the Portuguese.

Originally in Goa, the Carnival was a very simple fest.The mood of carnival itself made up for the excitement associated with the festival and young and old Goans used to revel in taking part in the festivities. Water balloons and buckets of water ready to shower, were the weapons often baited with friends and village folks at vantage points in the vaddo or the city, which was often difficult to avoid.

The catholic church in the meanwhile has always abhorred the festival and always termed it a pagan ritual although it precedes the lenten season faithfully. In earlier Portuguese times, the stand of the Church was not very clear but post-portuguese the church has labelled carnival as a pagan festival full of indecent displays and an expression of senseless indulgence.

During the Portuguese times in Goa, people form all walks of life took active part in the carnival festival, swarming the streets with a splash of colours, powder, masks,etc. In the villages the wards or "vaddos" would take active part by competing in various competitions with each other. Carnival tiatrs were the order of the day and the tiatrs would travel from place to place within the state of Goa.

The Khell tiatr was another sign that Carnival in Goa had arrived. This open air art form is still strongly prevalent till today. A certain group gathers together and travels from place to place originally in an open pick-up van or bus and stops at various locations in the day, staging the "Khell-tiatr". The Khell-tiatr is another form of tiatr but of a short duration and is called "khell" meaning "play". There are 3-4 plays staged at one location by this troupe which packs its bags after that to go to another close destination to stage it again. People follow this troupes with utmost dedication and thoroughly enjoy this theatrical part of carnival.

The floats were introduced in Goa much after the Portuguese left Goa in 1961 but it was always a close affair with passionate groups of people taking part in the carnival fun. The government of Goa was not involved in the festivities of carnival. Often the old horse-carriages which were still present in Panjim in those days were used to drive these giant floats. Mapusa and Margao also had float parades and the people in Margao celebrated something known as the festival of fans.

The whole festival was an informal affair and survived on the might of donations and funds from various places given by the generosity of Goan businessmen and affluent people of Goa. The performers also made up their own costumes and were never in the fray for monetary benefits. The fun always took centre-stage and was never lost in pursuit of money. Small groups, individuals and large groups all found their place in the floats as if they belonged there.

The government of Goa stepped in the whole carnival celebrations in the eighties when the tourism department hit upon the novel idea of using Carnival as a means to drive the tourist traffic to Goa. The government therefore began pouring in the funds required to give the carnival celebration the necessary direction and soon enough corporates stepped in and it was a very commercial affair. Logos, ads and themes began ruling the parades. The King Momo was soon a necessity in keeping with the traditions followed in Brazil and the King Momo was introduced along with dancers, vintage cars and loud coloured floats. Music and bands followed. Skimpy clothes and scanty dressing also became an uncomfortable part but was soon disallowed.

As dusk sets in Goa is still alive with music and song just like before. The two traditional dances of Goa still survive the times and so the "Red and Black" dance organised by Clube Nacional is still strong on its brand in North Goa while the "Festa de Leques" is the dance to look forward to in the southern part of Goa for many decades.

The old spirit of Carnival though missing has some of its traces still left in the carnival in present day Goa. However the older generation feels that Goa has lost the old charm while the younger lot seem to prefer the current brand of Carnival  which is still a splurge of fun.

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