Feb – March is carnival time in Goa. From the cool climes of Benghazi,Libya I landed home right at carnival time.Since I had been away from my toddler son for months there was no better opportunity for some father son bonding than the Goa carnival.So off I went with him perched on my shoulder for a dekko of the Panaji carnival.
The Goa carnival is a three day event.Largely a legacy of the Portuguese who ruled here for 400 odd years.A catholic festival it has undergone a secular transformation over the years.The origin of the word carnival is disputed but is thought to be from the Latin word ‘carne vale’ meaning ‘farewell to meat’.Perhaps it signifies the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent.Carnival is celebrated all over the world in various forms with the biggest celebrations in Rio,Brazil.
The Mandovi river made for a picturesque backdrop for the showpiece of the three day revelry – the carnival parade.People had lined up both side of Dayanand Bandodkar road and were also hanging out on rooftops.
The carnival parade in Goa has had a chequered history.It used to be a much bigger event during my school days.I remember those family outings from the small town where we stayed to the capital ,Panaji.Finding a vantage viewing point was crucial as the crowds were huge.The high point for us kids were all the fancy masks which arrived in the market during carnival time .The event was very much commercialized with corporates especially liquor companies putting in big money.The parades were full of glitz and glamour,loud music ,pretty women and plenty of liquor.As the event become more and more commercial the church increasingly disapproved of it as it supposedly painted a distorted picture of the catholic community in Goa.Opposition grew and for some years in the 90’s carnival parades were stopped.It made a comeback in the late 90’s albeit as a watered down,government controlled tourism event.
This year parade too lacked the spirit and spontaneity of yore.While the peoples enthusiasm has dwindled with numerous other entertainment options today the floats too left much to be desired.Many were based on tired social themes like no smoking,avoid pollution,nuclear free world which have already been done to death before.The flagship float was of” King Momo”- the king of chaos who presides over the three day festivities.My son squealed at the various huge floats of animals, birds and fish.With a mask on his face he was enjoying the parade from his loft seat on my shoulder.The dances by young boys and girls preceding the floats were very enjoyable.As always many of the foreign tourists enthusiastically participated in the revelry.Some outrageous costumes were on display.The drag queens ,and the Gandhi-Obama chums especially attracted many shutterbugs.
Soon dusk set in and the parade wound down.I went to the riverside to show my son the ferry now loaded with people going home.It was good to be home.The cliche runs true – there is no place like it.Viva Carnival !