is Carnival time in Goa. For three days (from February 13-16), the
streets will be awash with colour, noise, parades and floats. King Momo
will take over the state and there will be music, rejoicing and much
Called 'Carnaval' in Portuguese, this festival
occurs immediately before Lent, the 40 days of prayer and fasting
before Easter. While the starting day of Carnival varies across the
world, the festival in Goa starts three days before Lent and ends on
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday (February 17
this year) which marks the beginning of Lent.
of the name 'carnival' is disputed. One popular theory is that it comes
from the Italian 'carne levare' or similar, meaning "to remove meat",
since meat is generally disallowed during Lent. So the festival became
an opportunity to enjoy oneself before the austere period began.
Following the King's orders...
appearance of King Momo during the Carnival often marks the beginning
of the festivities. Surrounded by a bevy of beauties, King Momo reads
out a proclamation which declares him to be the monarch for the next
three days and allows his people to have fun and enjoyment during this
Traditionally, in the years gone, this would be the
signal for revellers to go around the main Carnival areas singing and
dancing, dressed in colourful costumes. Mock fights would take place
between local 'gangs', where rotten eggs and tomatoes were the weapons
of choice. 'Cocotes' or bombs made with paper and filled with clay were
used during mock-battles between various groups of local boys.
... In more modern ways
days, the boys on foot are replaced by groups of entertainers on
spectacularly decorated floats, most with larger-than-life images of
flora, fauna, issues of local interest and other newsworthy items. In
2009, floats depicted the Mumbai terror attacks and global warming.
floats carry massive speakers, the likes of which most of us will not
see (or hear, thankfully) normally. These echo live and recorded music
for the entertainment of the thousands who gather to watch the
spectacle. Keep your earplugs handy if you are close to the action.
While the quiet village fun and games may be long gone, the masked men selling colourful wares are still around.
'khells' or street plays that were performed in villages during the
Carnival have died out. The talcum and indigo powders used to 'colour'
the hair of women have been replaced with hair-braids, caps and of
course, more masks, all targeted towards the hordes of tourists, both
domestic and international, who'll come visiting.
While you're there
big carnival parades are held in four cities -- Panjim, Margao, Mapusa
and Vasco. Local papers will have the listings for start times and
other events that will be held.
Besides the carnival parades,
also look out for the various dances organised at local 'clubs' in most
cities and villages. The 'Red and Black' dance at Clube Nacional in
Panjim is one of the more famous ones.
For once, ignore
the masala-dosa-chole-bhature fare that has cropped up in every nook
and cranny in Goa and head, instead, head to one of the little Goan
restaurants for a bite of local 'chouriço-pão' (pronounced show-rees-pav), which is a spice-infused Goan sausage cooked with onions and stuffed in loaves of local bread.
If you are a vegetarian, try sukhi bhaji -- finely diced potatoes cooked in thick gravy, seasoned with mustard seeds and chillies and served with local bread.
A whole big world of fun
Goa Carnival, much like carnivals celebrated around the world, calls
into being a whole different universe. Much like the Rio carnival in
Brazil, you'll find revellers dressed to the nines dancing their way
into the wee hours of the morning. The tradition of wearing masks
probably comes from the Carnival of Venice in Italy that has been
around since the 13th century. The famous hand-painted leather or
papier-mâché masks of that carnival turn into the feathery half masks
on Goan lanes. So go make your resort or shack bookings immediately,
and don't miss it for the world.
is a freelance writer based in Goa whose interest in the city is
exceeded perhaps only by her desire for a freshly-prepared chouriço-pão
Mumbai, you can take a flight to Goa and then hire a pre-paid cab from
the airport counter to head into town. Else, if you're feeling
adventurous, you could drive down to Goa taking the NH 17 (also called
the Mumbai-Goa highway). A/C and non-A/C buses to Goa leave from Dadar
and Bandra every night.
cheaper alternative to taxis are bikes and scooties that can be rented
for as little as Rs 300 a day. (A litre of petrol costs Rs 60 and
you'll have to pay extra for that. You won't need more than 2 litres a
Were to eat
For authentic chouriço
try the new Ernesto's (0832 3256213) or George Bar near the Panjim
church. ato or Café Bhosle, both in Panjim, serve delicious sukhi bhaji