Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Bonderam - The Flag Festival of Divar Island, Goa

With the objective of seeing more of Goa than the usual sun, sand and surf, we set out one Saturday afternoon to the quaint island of Divar in the Mandovi River. Divar Island, which hosts the colourful festival of Bonderam, is situated roughly 12 Kms north-east of Panjim, the state capital. It is reached by ferry from Old Goa as well as Ribandar.

A little background on this ‘one of its kind’ festival. The "Bonderam" festival is celebrated on the Island of Divar on the fourth Saturday of August every year. The word "Bonderam" originated from the involvement of flags. "Bandeira" is the Portuguese word for flag. It is stated that during the Portuguese rule in Goa there were frequent disputes between two sections of the Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade over property issues. These often led to violence and fights in the village. Subsequently, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of boundaries with flags. The rival groups, however, knocked down the demarcation flags sometimes with stones. Till recently, in a parody of the past, this was commemorated with a "Fotash" fight (toy weapon of bamboo stem) and berries were used as missiles in a mock fight between rival groups to knock down an offending flag. However, today this practice has been stopped as it has resulted in eye injuries etc. although this bamboo ‘Fotash’ is still visible as part of the parade.

We are a little hesitant to wilfully put ourselves into a place which is bound to be very crowded but our determination to see this unique fiesta overrides all these concerns. And a fiesta it will be, for any event in Goa is inevitably colourful, joyous and an expansive festivity. We reach the ferry point at Old Goa and fall in the queue to board the next ferry. This is probably the first time in my acquaintance with Goa that there is such a long line waiting for the ferry. Not only that, there is a substantial police presence which is efficiently guiding the burgeoning traffic very smoothly without any traffic snarls or inconveniences to local commuters and tourists alike.

In the distance, we see a ferry coming in to dock... and what a pleasant surprise! Even the boat has been draped with multi-coloured flags! The short drive from the ferry point takes us to the fest site. Walking in from the parking area, we join the hordes all pouring into the streets trying to get vantage points to see the procession from. There are bamboo barricades along both sides of the road most of which are already packed with people all waiting for the parade and tableaux to start.

The Ferry
The festive spirit has already reached out to residents and sightseers alike creating a magical, sort of carnivally atmosphere where pageantry and celebration is the order of the day.

People crowding onto balconies and verandahs to catch a glimpse of the festival parade 
At long last, the flag parade starts accompanied by the brass band. The Bonderam festival is declared open! The first of the groups moves forward, little children dancing to a typical Goan-Portuguese number. They are followed by young (and the not so young!) adults performing to the same music. These troupes do their bit, move forward and do a little more of their jig before moving on followed by the floats. Divar has six wards and each ward in the island has its own float. This way, the parade moves forward with the cheering spectators falling over themselves to see and applaud the passing ensembles. Each section of the parade (six, one for each ward) has very distinct themes and music to go with it. I’ll let the pictures illustrate in greater detail.

The dancing starts!

The drummer in the lifesized brass band
From agriculture, fishing and rural markets to fitness and lifestyle, from nature and environment to the indigenous cuisine, the floats depict a very wide variety of ideas and force the onlooker to think and sometimes even introspect about the direction our anglicized, western-thinking-influenced lives are taking.

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Take for example the float titled ‘Revival of Old Traditional Games for Fit and Healthy Life’. Then, the games used to be physical and outdoors, and now they only exercise the digits! Not only the children, even the adults today go to gaming parlours or play at consoles home and elsewhere rather than get out and play a game in the field.

Revival of Old Traditional Games for Fit and Healthy Life

Float depicting the traditional games... Gilli Danda, Tennicoit, Pitthu


Seven tiles or Pitthu

Tennicoit or ring
Addicted to gaming!

Modern marvels...

Addicted to their consoles...


A few speeches between the tableaux have the crowd waiting impatiently for the parade to recommence but the organisers being conversant with this have kept the speeches to a minimum and as the parade resumes, the assortment of intriguing characters and vivid scenes file past.
Nature theme float

Another Nature themed float

Nature theme...
Some random scenes from the Float Parade...

There are scenes from a regular Goan kitchen, preparing the famous Goan Sausages, distilling the local brew FENI or harvesting crop and feeding the cattle as farmyard scenes. All these are interspersed with the exuberant participants young and old alike taking to the streets dancing and singing and their gaiety is so infectious that it is a spirited and participative audience joining in the revelry regardless of caste, creed, nationality or language. It is true that happiness is contagious!

Ploughing the fields...Farmyard scene

Fisherfolk dance

FENI distillation

The procession draws to a close and it is almost dark. The lights are shining brightly in all the homes and the stalls set up for today. The DJ has started revving up the volumes.... It is either westernisation, change in sensibilities or economic crunch that has a hand in it since it is probably the first time that a band is not performing after the parade, just a DJ. All the same, the people are enjoying themselves and sadly, some (domestic) tourists are making a nuisance of themselves by their drunk and disorderly conduct. In fact, the few foreign tourists have actually bothered to dress in Indian clothing and are some of the best behaved here! No more are the ‘scantily clad’, ‘rude’ and ‘obnoxious’ labels reserved for the foreigners (though some may warrant it sometime, not today though!).

A festival banner

Crowds milling around after the parade

The DJ revving up the volume and the energy!
We make our way back to the parking lot and are happy that we attended this quaint and unusual festival for the enthusiasm and passion has been contagious and enlivened our lives and our spirits. Viva Bonderam!

A beautifully lit house at Dusk

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