Dancing in the streets, watching brilliantly coloured floats festooned with a rainbow of flowers and feathers like a flock of exotic birds, masks - some beautiful, some grotesque - and of course the grand finale, the Red and Black ball; all this and more is part and parcel of Carnival in Goa.
Brought into fashion by the Portuguese colonists, and beloved for its bacchanalia and revelries, the Carnival takes place every year for three days before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season, and draws in people from all over the world.
There are various explanations for the origins of Carnival. In the pre-Christian era Carnival marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Winter spirits were believed to rule the earth and had to be driven out to allow the spirits of summer to come in. It was a rite of passage, a transition from dark to light. Additionally all the winter stores had to be eaten, as they would now begin to spoil with the warmer weather, and a period of fasting would begin, until spring brought the ability to lay in new stores of food.
After the spread of Christianity, Carnival came to be held in the 3-4 days preceding the Lenten season, which is traditionally a period of 6 weeks before Easter when the people fast, or abstain from meat and alcohol to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. This then was a period of final celebrations, one last humongous party, before the Lenten penitence began.
Goa celebrates Carnival because it was a popular Portuguese tradition. It remains the only state in India to hold this celebration. Brought in by the Portuguese colonists over 500 years ago, the celebration remains vastly popular even today. Given this history, the Carnival retains a Portuguese flavour in its celebration, even though it is now celebrated by people from all walks of life.
The biggest celebrations are held in Panaji, which is the capital city. Similar to its counterparts in other parts of the world, the celebrations are kicked off by an opening ceremony and have parades of floats in the streets. The streets are decorated with colourful streamers and there are stalls selling food and drink. The celebrations culminate with the famous Red and Black Ball which is held at the Clube National in Panaji.
King Momo, or the king of Chaos, is a character who is derived from the Greek god Momus, who is the god of satire and is usually depicted removing a mask. Like in the many of the Latino Carnivals, the Goa Carnival also crowns a King Momo, usually a large gentleman. The court of King Momo in Goa is usually made up of fire eaters, jesters, dancers, a brass band and other revellers who make their way down the streets of Panaji whilst the King encourages people to “Kha, piye aani majja kar” i.e. “Eat, drink and make merry.
The upcoming carnival, 2016 promises to be one of the most spectacular yet. With Brouhaha International, UK and Capetown Carnival, SA joining hands with GTDC there is going to be a never before witnessed exchange of ideas and cultural practices in this year’s display. The floats are set to be even more creative and colourful and there will be 30 costumes, unique to the UK which will be showcased at the 2016 carnival in Goa.
Partners from across the sea and a joining of hands, meshing ideas and cultures, truly something that should be witnessed in person.
The good news is that there are no tickets for the carnival and anyone and everyone is always invited. So get your glad rags on, dig out some nice comfy shoes and get ready to party Goa-style for three days straight. Since the planning has already begun, it looks like being the party of the year, and an experience you will never forget.