Stories, photographs and thoughts from a travelling couple taking walks and mapping their routes, while backpacking around India, and parts of the world.
Growing up as a complete city girl in Hyderabad, summer trips to the hometown of Udupi meant a lot of unfamiliar and fascinating things. Temple trips were a mandatory and non-negotiable part of the itinerary with us tiny humans, having no say in the matter. But the only thing I would pray for was some drama. Drama in the real primeval sense… Painted faces, temple processions, ceremonial elephants, elaborate costumes, earthen lamps, fireworks and old-fashioned theatrics of grandiose beauty and charm. A temple utsav meant being able to experience mythological storytelling, relentless devotion and colourful festivities through music and dance. Be it the Yakshagana travelling shows at Kateel or the Rathotsava at Udupi, the colours, the energy and the sheer beauty of these visual performing arts had the power to move me to something I couldn’t put in words back then. It was like the stirring of some unnameable emotions inside me. The drum beats would make my heart beat in rhythm, the poetry of it all would make me well up and the stories would fill me with a sense of nostalgia for something I had never known before. For the wide-eyed little girl me, these moments were all too overwhelming and unforgettable.
Even today, as someone who believes that faith means different things to different people, this is the only form of devotion I can understand. Art. That’s why, I would never pass up a chance to attend traditional festivals that give me a little glimpse of more simpler times when celebrations were less about the religion or commerce of things, but more about the community it binds and the emotions it captures. The lesser-known Shigmotsav, which comes few weeks after the more popular Carnaval in Goa, was something we were looking forward to for the same reason. The festival brings with it the promise of a visual spectacle, traditional show of song, dance and a celebration of something so simple — the transition from winter to spring. But maybe, calling it just a ‘spring festival’ may be too simplistic, considering there are so many stories and legends surrounding this ancient tradition.
Stories have it that there are many reasons for the Shigmo celebrations. More than being a religious festivity, it’s a folk festival to celebrate the winter harvest. The word ‘Shigmo’ is said to be the Konkani word for ‘Phalgun’, the last month of the Hindu calendar, which is dedicated to mirth, fun and frolic. There’s also a story that claims the festival marks the homecoming of warriors who left their homes and families at the end of Dusshera to fight the invaders (the Portguese?). The festival is traditionally celebrated for 14 days in Goa. While the first five days of the festival that falls before the full moon day is called Dhakto Shigmo (Small Shigmo), the rest of the celebrations after the full moon, spill out on the streets and is called Vhaldo Shigmo (Big Shigmo).
We set out to catch the scene in Ponda, which is known for its enthusiastic Shigmotsav celebrations. Although, we didn’t get an opportunity to witness the naman part of the ceremony, where traditionally, the participants with their abdagiris & gudhis (sacred flagstaffs), colourful flags and ceremonial umbrellas, invoke the village deities and invite them to participate in the celebrations.
Having reached early, we could feel the excitement levels mounting as the empty and lazy Sunday streets gradually filled up with people who started taking their places in anticipation of what’s to come. But this is laidback Goa we are talking about. The entire event was delayed considerably due to ‘technical difficulties’.
But who was complaining? The participants and the audience were more than happy to pass time. It’s not everyday you see Goddess Mahakali walking about and chatting with the townsfolk, Lord Brahma talking on his cellphone, Yama, the Lord of Death flashing grumpy albeit winning smiles to people, a cross dressing nurse pushing her paralysed patient on the streets for a few laughs and a bear chilling with his human friends!
Hours later, once the beating of the drums began to resound in the streets, everyone knew it was time. Though I was in no position to identify each of the traditional music and dance forms on display, at that moment, I later read that the popular dances and plays at the Shigmotsav include the incredibly energetic Romta Mel, Ghode Modni, Tonya Mel, Fugdi, Goff, Dhangar, Tarang Mel, Musal and Talgadi among many others, apart from floats of mythological figures and legends, known as chitraraths.
Within no time, I was once again that wide-eyed little girl who always looked for stories to escape into. The stories that were now unfurling in front of our eyes. Painted mythological figures walking among Earth. Ceremonial flags, umbrellas, staffs and palkhis with deities spinning in the air to the beat of the dhol, the clash of the tasha and rhythmic singing, high over the sea of people. The frenzied chants of ‘Har Har Mahadev’and ‘Govinda Gopala’ filling the air with intensity. Traditional dancers synchronizing themselves to the sound of trumpets that invoke war cries. Warriors on horses piercing the skies with their fierce chants. A riot of colours exploding in front of our eyes as a metaphorical battle unfolds. Deities, divinity and devotion fight to dispel demons, death and darkness. The whole atmosphere reaches a frenzied crescendo and before you know it, the ancient stories of Gods and superheros seep into the world of the mortals.
Here is the Shigmotsav 2015 story in pictures.
The information/captions in this article are to the best of our knowledge. If you feel there are any errors, would like any changes, or if you have any suggestions, please leave us a comment and we shall take it forward from there. Thanks!