Thursday, 6 March 2014

Carnival Chronicles!

The word ‘Carnival’ evokes visions of a vibrant and glitzy musical and dance extravaganza. The most famous carnival celebrations are the Brazilian and Spanish ones replete with Samba dancers and the groovy Latino music characteristic of this occasion. Well, we are fortunate to have our own Carnival right here in Goa which is arguably as famous as its better known cousins from around the world. The difference being that the ‘Samba Babes’ are replaced with respectably dressed Goan ladies hot stepping it with the spirited local lads to some scintillating and funky music.

The origins of this pagan celebration seem to go back to the hedonistic feasts of ancient Rome and Greece. It travelled with the Spanish and Portuguese and is celebrated in all the erstwhile Portuguese colonies. Goa is the only place in India which follows this tradition due to the Portuguese influence here during the colonial rule.

Carnival is celebrated just before the period of lent during which the followers are supposed to abstain from any form of hedonistic activity. So prior to lent, the carnival bash starts with the appointment and arrival of King Momo to the capital city of Panjim on Fat Saturday, the eve of Carnival. It’s King Momo who starts the festivities by reading his decree permitting his subjects to have unlimited fun and frolic. King Momo symbolically rules Goa for the four days of carnival.

In the height of the Hippie culture of Goa in the 60’s, 70’s and the early 80’s, the exhibitionist Hippies would sprawl around the beaches and then get up and join the Carnival parade in their barely there costumes. Some would even dress up as the much sought after Samba dancers. Goa has certainly toned it down in recent years to a more wholesome, family kind of entertainment and celebration.

In fact, the Department of tourism has made great efforts this year to advertise and popularise this festival with many novel ideas. There is a Samba Square in the heart of Panjim which has attracted the local families and youth with the foot tapping Samba music and a variety of food stalls.

The Food and Cultural festival, inaugurated on the 28th of Feb to kick start the Carnival celebrations highlights the cuisine and rich cultural legacy of Goa. There is an all Goa cooking competition with sponsored prizes that are being judged by a celebrity chef. The cooking competition promotes local cuisine and showcases the same to visiting tourists. The winning recipe will be displayed on Goa Tourism’s website and other social media.

Agnee, an Indian rock band, and other artists like Kailash Kher, Rabbi Shergill, Raghu Dixit Project and Sona Mahapatra are performing at the festival. A grand fashion show and a fire display is also included.  This year’s edition also features street performances by musicians at various vantage points across Panjim city, a King Momo contest, and an increase in prize money from Rs 3.7 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for the best float.

The Carnival is being celebrated from 01 to 04 Mar 2014 this year and Joel D’Souza, a 37-year-old engineer, is the King Momo.

We cross the River Mandovi by the jam-packed Ferry after parking on the other side since parking is super difficult in Panjim today.  As we set foot on the Panjim side, we are swamped by innumerable hawkers selling the brightly coloured masks and head gear that seems to be the rig-of-choice for most tourists and many locals. The funny thing is that I have never seen so many street vendors ever in Goa. They seem to be coming out of the woodwork!! And they are not Goan. Biharis, Gujjus, Rajasthanis, UP ke bhaiiyas and a good mix of south Indians! Talk of national Integration.... it happens here without trying! 

The promenade along the River Mandovi is the place to be since the floats are scheduled to go along this route. There are people everywhere. Many have come hours in advance to get the best and most coveted – shaded - places. Tourists and locals alike are in a state of excitement and waiting for the parade to start is the most difficult part.
The guttural snarl of the Harley Davidsons heralds the beginning of the Gala. The superbikes roar out to thunderous applause as the spectators jostle each other to catch a glimpse of these deafening beasts. 

The Indian Navy Band marches past next – all elegance and charm mingled with the spit and polish so inherent in the Defence Forces - to resounding applause. The children of Sunshine Worldwide School precede the King Momo’s Float with a very strong message – Say No to Competition – and all its ills. All the while, the crowd is frantically trying to take in all that is happening around because it is not just these tableaux but a lot of other little things which are piquing the interest of the onlookers... a daredevil cyclist, a young boy on a battery operated ‘scooter’, a ‘Mother Teresa’, a ‘Lion’ and many such accents which keep pouring out to entertain. 

King Momo and his entourage arrive on a Unicorn powered Tableau complete with his very own live band in attendance and an effervescent group of revelers ready to tango to his every command. 

Float follows float with the popular themes being the fisher folk with giant mock-ups of fish and the rural theme with the farmer and his oxen. Another one is of Portuguese influence with the troupes dancing to western beats and the bright colours, frills, bandanas and pompoms reminiscent of European festivities. 

This year, the social message floats also catch the eye with a man sitting on a pot (destruction of environment), our girls our pride and the Save the Ocean’ float. Some even make political statements... J

The crowds are still pouring in..... As the multitude swells and the bamboo barricades lining the roadside scream with the crush of humanity bearing down on it, we step away and decide to wrap up our day here. Making our way back to the jetty, we board the next ferry and are back to the saner bank of this River Mandovi. 

Our way back is punctuated with stops to frame the beautiful Carnival decorations along the many circles and roads leading to Panjim. Not as famous as the Rio Carnival perhaps, but delightful and exuberant it is!!


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