The streets are packed with people on both the sides. Colourful flags are flying in the air. Floats with live band (or recorded music) are all set to participate in the parade. Dancers in vibrant dresses and pom-poms are closely following in its wake. The air is laden with blaring music and the shouts of the people. Many men can be seen dressed as ladies in fancy-dresses and costumes. Everyone waits for King Momo to declare his edict, heralding the beginning of a three day riot of colour, music, festivities and endless fun. Thus begins the celebration of Carnival in Goa.
Initially introduced by the Portuguese, Carnival or Intruz (as is know in the villages) began three days before Ash Wednesday. People started the celebrations by throwing flour, eggs, mud and dirty water at each other. Nowadays, balloons filled with water are also hurled at one another. Times Goa Guide, a travel guide on Goa by the Times of India states that this signified ‘getting rid of old and dirty things before Lent.’
The Carnival has no connection with Christianity or the Church. However, the fact that the end of Carnival marked the beginning of Lent, the forty day liturgical season of fasting and prayer, one always thought that the festival was an integral part of the Church tradition. At one point of time when Carnival became too commercialized and vulgar in Goa, the Church had no other option but to distance itself completely from it.
The celebrations of the Carnival culminated on Shrove Tuesday, a term used to refer the day before Ash Wednesday. Wikipedia search revealed that, “the word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of the English verb ‘shrive’, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by confession and doing penance. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the shriving (confession) that Anglo-Saxon Christians were expected to receive immediately before Lent.” In Portuguese- speaking countries, this day is known as “Terça-feira de Carnaval.”. In Konknni, it is known as the “Nimanno Carnival”.
Among the many theories that are propounded about the origin of Carnival, one states that it evolved from the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Saturnalia is the feast with which the Romans commemorate the dedication of the temple of the God Saturn and it goes on for a week. It was marked by disobedience and swapping of roles by the masters and slaves. During this time the slaves were allowed the luxury of leisure and permitted to gamble. The poet Catullus described Saturnalia, “…as the best of days. It was a time of celebration, visit to friends and gift-giving.”
Carnival float parades and dances are organized at different places in Goa during the course of the three days. Some floats depict the rich Goan culture and heritage. Social issues also make their ‘appearance.’
During the festival, Goa is literally on a ‘high’. You forget your worries. You unwind, for three full days. And then Christians all over Goa wake up in the morning on Ash Wednesday, only to be reminded by the priest that, “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shall return!”
(A Version of this article appeared on GOA PLUS, a weekly supplement of the Times of India and the Economic Times, dt: February 1-7, 2008)