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A More Traditional Goa Carnival This Year
By Fr. Desmond de Sousa CSsR,
PANAJI, Goa(SAR NEWS) --Carnival in Goa over the years has enjoyed a chequered history. This year, the tourism department has decided that the four-day (February 21-24), four-town (Panjim, Margao, Vasco and Mapuca, respectively) festivities would be more traditional, meaning encouraging more local participation.

Not a single troupe from outside the state will participate this year.

Chief co-ordinator Lyndon Monteiro says the government envisages “setting higher standards at the float parade”. It is investing over six million rupees.

The annual celebrations are a poignant tourist attraction. From the boisterous Viva (Long Live) Carnival to last year’s Rhythmic Carnival with a touch of the Brazilian flavour by just one sedate samba dancers’ float, to an earlier Fusion Carnival blending Christian Carnival with Hindu Shigmo festivities, the festivities have been reinventing themselves every year.

This year, the tourism department’s participation will go beyond decorating the King Momo float. Its participation in every item category of the float parade – traditional, club and institution, sponsored, family, fun junk car and clown/joker – is meant to raise the bar of the presentation of the floats to a certain standard. It felt that over the years the floats had deviated from tradition, while standards had also fallen.

Chequered history
Initially, Carnival or Intruz (as it was known in the villages) was introduced by the Portuguese. It began three days before Ash Wednesday, though it has no connection with Christianity or the Church. Its origin is believed to be the Roman festival of Saturnalia to commemorate the dedication of the temple of the God Saturn. The weeklong festivities were marked by disobedience and swapping of roles by masters and slaves. The slaves were allowed the luxury of leisure and permitted to gamble.

Tradition has related its celebration to the days before the forty days of fasting during the Christian penitential season of Lent. Carne valde or farewell to the flesh (enjoyments) or meat (traditional penance) is a later reinvention of the meaning of the Carnival in Christian countries.

King Momo is a Goan invention created in the 1970s to proclaim licentious freedom and frolic from all laws during Carnival, much to the chagrin of the Goa Church authorities. The creeping vulgarity and libidinous floats in the Panjim parade a la Rio Carnival, provoked the ire of the Church authorities who pronounced strictures on participation in the Carnival. Attendance and participation declined in the 1980s due to strident criticism that the Carnival was being commercialised to attract foreign tourists and sideline local participation.

Efforts were made to reinvent the Carnival of old as a village festival with maximum people’s participation. During Portuguese times, it was celebrated in villages with fun and gaiety, singing, dancing and fancy dress. Mock battles were fought using colour powder bombs called cocotes. Khells (street plays) and brass bands were in vogue as people spontaneously celebrated Carnival.

The annual Carnival celebrations have meandered between blatant commercialisation of a people’s festival to attract foreign tourists and an insipid advertising campaign for participating groups and companies. People’s participation, except as bystanders, was minimal. Will heavy government participation and funding in this year’s Carnival make it a genuine local people’s celebration?


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