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Floats and Processions

Fun and Merriment are the two main themes of Goa. Carnival is the festival that visitors associate most closely with Goa. Celebrated just before the mourning period of Lent, it’s a bright explosion of colour, pageants, street processions with floats and bands and dances which go on all through the night. And the music from Goa’s gifted musicians is compulsive.

For the Hindus of Goa it’s Shigmo. This, too, was originally a spring festival like Saturnalia in honour of the new year and also celebrating the burgeoning of life. Some folklorists believe that when the Portuguese colonised Goa, they gave a Christian patina to the existing Shigmo festival and merged it with the Latin Carnival. Villages still celebrated Shigmo though they called it Carnival. In course of time the two festivals evolved separate identities.

Shigmo, like the old Carnival, was once also a personal festival to ring out the old year and ring in the new. Falgun is the last month of the Hindu calender. These are lunar months which start on the first day of the waning moon and end thirty days later with the full moon.

Brightly dressed villagers with turbans and garlands and accompanied by musicians dance through the streets visiting every house, singing songs and reciting poems that recount their legends. There is an air of vivacious, democratic spontaneity that captures the real spirit of Shigmo. Custom decreed certain sacred rituals such as worship of the village deity and even the hypnotic throbbing of a drum which sent devotees into a trance. Increasingly, however, Shigmo is assuming the character of the modern Carnival: floats and street processions accompanied by musicians and columns of colourfully dressed dancers. There is the same spirit of effervescent joy that prevails in Goa during that great pre-Lenten celebration.

While Carnival and Shigmo are festivals of joy and abandon Shivaratri is one of austerity and penance. It is also, in all likelihood, the most ancient of the three major festivals of Goa because it is in honour of Lord Shiva, a god who had been worshipped in India for centuries before the Indo-Iranians migrated into this land.

Roads are jam-packed and there are three days of continuous music, dance and fun in the delightfully cool February season. Goa Carnival presents different shades of Goa and people start rehearsing for the plays to be presented at the carnival since late December or early January. The musical short plays are composed by the natives of Goa and often are historical in their themes. Performed by men only, the colorful costumes and headgears of the artists surpass those worn by any primitive tribe in Asia or Africa. Colorful processions and lavish floats fill the streets for three days and four nights while participants and spectators dance with the music alike.

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