Stories, photographs and thoughts from a travelling couple taking walks and mapping their routes, while backpacking around India, and parts of the world.
Hedonism is not a quality that most Indian communities embrace too easily. Right from our childhoods, we are inherently taught that it is selfish to live with too much reckless abandon. Everything needs to serve a certain purpose or end. You don’t do things just for the fun of it. You save for rainy days. You do what’s ‘good for your future’... Not necessarily things that make you happy. I’m sure many of you have heard this downer of a line — “Don’t laugh too much now or you will end up crying later!” Or is it specific to a South Indian childhood? But let’s not delve into that now. The point I’m getting at is that it only makes sense that in a country like ours where people are wired to feed needs rather than wants, it is easy to understand how a celebration that is considered the height of unbridled hedonism around the world, was adopted by Goa which has 450-years of Portuguese legacy running through its veins. I’m talking about the carnival or carnaval, as its known in Portugal.
Carnaval, 2015: Right now, even as the streets of Lisboa and Maderia in Portugal are abuzz with decadent merrymaking and celebrations and the streets of Rio De Janerio are putting on a flamboyant display of the risque, bawdy and beautiful, Goa is celebrating its own Indianised or should I say, Konkanised, tamer and family-friendly version of the carnival!
Also known as Intruz, (originating from the Portuguese word, Entrudo, an alternative name for Carnival), these colourful celebrations were introduced to Goa by the Portuguese who ruled over Goa for over four centuries. The boisterous three day affair, that takes place in different parts of Goa, marks the same sentiment as the one that pervades the carnaval celebrations of all the Latin American countries — to go all out, lose all inhibitions, dance, eat, drink and make merry before the commencement of the Lent season of the Christian calendar, when abstinence becomes the focus.
From the extensive reading I did to get a deeper insight into the origin of these celebrations, I learned some interesting stories. One of them recounted how back in its early days, carnaval was a time of farce when the white masters (The Portuguese) mimicked their black slaves (usually from Mozambique), while the brown natives (Goans) enjoyed the spectacle. Apparently, the colonizers painted their face black, while the slaves plastered their faces with flour and they imitated each other, all in good humour... A practice which soon evolved into a social satire of the times. It is said that Konkani short plays called ‘felos’ were staged for the crowds and that the Portuguese Governor General and his retinue showered the crowds with confetti and danced with the public. There were reportedly mock wars with powder bombs, flour, flowers and more, with colourful procession of decorated floats in horse-drawn carriages and bullock carts setting the mood. While the horses and oxen have given way to motorized vehicles and while the floats take on a more commercialised nature than desired, with sponsors backing each entry, the general spirit of the carnaval is as merry as ever, with people throwing colour and sometimes, eggs on each other, singing themselves hoarse and dancing to the rhythm of the festivities.
The celebrations kickstarted in Panjim on ‘Sabado Gordo’ (Fat Saturday) which fell on February 15, and continues to Margao and Ponda on February 15, Vasco and Curchorem on February 16 and concludes on ‘Shrove Tuesday’ in Mapusa and Shiroda on February 17, one day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
The Panjim promenade that starts at Patto and ends at the Miramar circle is a beautiful tree-lined avenue with plenty of walking space for a leisurely stroll. On the day of the Panjim carnaval, this road was transformed into a pedestrian-only zone and wore a festive look as people tried to claim their spots, which would be their vantage point for the entire evening as the floats drift past them. While some of the seasoned revellers brought their own chairs, other climbed trees or made their way into high buildings, in the hope of securing a better view. The festive mood was absolutely infectious as everyone stopped to buy quirky wigs, masquerade masks and other novelties being sold quite opportunely by roadside vendors along the promenade.
Then, it was time for the party to spill out on to the streets! King Momo, who presides over the carnaval, declared the celebrations open! Rei Momo (Portuguese) is considered the king of Carnivals in numerous Latin American festivities and his appearance signifies the beginning of the festivities. The origin is said to be from the Greek God of Momos, who is considered the God of writers, poets, satire and mockery. In this adapted version, King Momo, is the King of Chaos, who is given a free reign of the state for three whole days. During his rule, revellers, acrobats, clowns, dancers, jesters and mischief-makers are allowed to run amok! A portly and jolly man usually plays King Momo. Geovani Bosco Santimano, from Colva, who is currently the Joint Commissioner of Customs and Central Excise is Goa Carnaval 2015’s King Momo. As he does every year, King Momo kickstarted the celebrations by commanding his people to ‘Kha, piya and majja kar’ — ‘Eat, drink and be merry!’
And that’s exactly what everyone did! Here’s what we saw...
Most of the photos are by Lovell D'souza.