The Goans are so well known for their fun loving nature that one would think that Goan’s certainly didn’t need a special day to party. And yet the Goan Carnival does not take place on just one day but is instead spread out over 3 days of dancing, feasting and enjoyment.
Whilst relatively unknown in the rest of India, the Carnival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and energy in the state of Goa. Known throughout Goa as ‘Entruz’ (from the Portuguese word Entrudo which means Carnival), the largest celebration of the Goan Carnival takes place in the city of Panaji, a short walk from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel.
Introduced originally by the Portuguese who ruled over Goa for over four centuries, the Goan Carnival is celebrated for three days and indeed 3 whole nights, with the legendary King Momo coming alive in a riot of music and colour. During these 3 days, there are massive parades are organized throughout Goa with bands, dances and floats out all night on the streets, and grand balls held in the evenings.
Like most Goan festivals, the Goan Carnival has its origins in the Catholic Church. The period of Lent in the Liturgical calendar was marked by fasting and prayer. During Lent, no parties or other celebrations were allowed to be held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, especially meat. This period was meant as a time of recollection and inner reflection and any form of pleasure was abstained from. However, this posed a very practical problem for the townsfolk. Since food in the olden days wouldn’t keep for so long, all the food and drink had to be disposed of. Forced to consume large amounts of fatty food and drink before the beginning of Lent led to a large party involving the entire community, thus leading to the origin of the Carnival (which roughly translates into Carne or “meat away”)
During the Goan Carnival, the Goan capital Panjim has the best parades in the whole of Goa and is colourfully decorated with streamers and paper ribbons of bright colours. The festival officially begins with an order by the legendary King Momo (or King of Chaos) who orders his subjects to party! The person is chosen to be ‘King Momo’ leads the grand parade through Panaji, waving to the numerous ‘subjects’ who gather along the way of the parade.
In the morning, the streets of Panjim or Panaji are filled with Goans singing, eating, drinking, street plays and Carnival parades. Unfortunately, the olden days custom of throwing flour, fruit, water and eggs has been replaced by smearing colour. I can only imagine the kind of delicious mess throwing eggs and flour would have caused! As dusk settles, there is more music and dancing until the week hours of the night. Revellers are supposed to greet each other with a full-throated ‘Viva Carnaval’.
One of the most important traditions of the Goan Carnival is the ceremony where the best float is given an award, handed over by ‘King Momo’ personally.
When doing research for this article, I read on the net that the Carnival in Goa in the early days consisted of the white Portuguese masters and their black slaves mimicking each other while the local Goans watched in awe. The Portuguese masters masqueraded as black slaves while their African slaves used liberal amounts of flour on their faces to mimick their white masters. The slaves wore high battens and walked on stilts, just like the local Goans do today.
There are other traditions that are not part of the Goan Carnival any more. In the past, children used to wear masks and roam around the village. Young boys would serenade outside the girl’s house and then the mothers of the girls would throw ‘Kokoths’ or flour bombs on them!
The Goan Carnival in the villages is completely different from the revellery to be found in the capital Panaji. The poor, especially the servant maids, go back to their villages to celebrate, taking a special 3 day leave to be able to attend the celebrations in their villages. In the villages of Goa, groups of villagers dance around a small oil lamp to the beating of drums. The villagers sing songs prasing their ancestors and the tempo of the drums increases and the feni flows freely.
Meanwhile, back in Panjim, the Goan Carnival comes to a fitting conclusion with the famous Red-and-Black dance that is held at the Clube Nacional in Panaji. In the olden days, there used to be three main clubs – Clube Nacional, Clube Vasco a Gama and Clube Harmonium. But today, it is only the Clube Nacional that celebrates the Carnival.
It is also said that the couple that fell in love during the Carnival got married after Easter! Who knows, you might be the lucky one!
This year, the Goan Carnival will be celebrated from 18th to 21st February with the best parades only a short walk from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel.
Would you like to be stay right in the hub of all the pageants and celebration?