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Carnival for men

Goa’s ‘Hindu carnival’ charms with its folksy and village flavours. But this one is strictly a men’s-only affair.

art-and-culture Updated: Mar 06, 2010, 23:39 IST
Shalini Singh
Shalini Singh
Hindustan Times

Goa has vindicated my long-held practice of not wearing a watch.

Here, things don’t necessarily start on time. Buses don’t follow timetables. So after a 30-km ride from Panjim in a crowded state-run bus, I reached Ponda for the Shigmo festival. That the celebrations started well past the designated time, helped my case.

The fortnight-long Shigmotsav is the ‘Hindu carnival’, that coincides with Holi in north India. While it’s a village festival that’s been taking place for the last 30 years, now, the state government has sponsored floats and competitions for it to gain larger tourist tract in cities like Panjim and Vasco.

But it still hasn’t received as much patronage as the carnival. Locals say it’s because the carnival — with its distinctive ‘western’ flavour — has been largely promoted for foreign tourists.

Compared to the carnival, Shigmo’s parades and its components — costumes, agricultural tools, musical instruments and dances apart from the floats — have largely remained indigenous, without commercial sponsors. It has thus retained an identity strongly rooted in the village.

Also, it’s only the men who participate in Shigmo. Interestingly, at the Ponda Shigmo this year, the only ‘glam’ element was in the form of ‘Kareena Kapoor’ in the movie Tashan, complete with a short red dress and a blonde wig. It turned out to be a middle-aged man.

Ponda, the village in Goa known for its dozen temples and spice plantations, is markedly busy today.

A street corner down Almeida School sees a bright bustle of activity — village folk are busy getting dressed for the parade dances and fancy dress competition. The festival begins with a naman or invocation to folk deities at the sacred square or stage in the village called the maand.

This is followed by beating of indigenous instruments like dhol (drums), tashe (cymbals), ghumat (earthen pot covered with monitor lizard skin used as percussion).

The police instruct the front row onlookers to hold hands. A man dressed as an asval (Konkani for bear) dances his way through the crowd, followed by two adivasis in their leafy war-paint get-up. Historian Prajal Sakhardande says Shigmo is essentially folk people’s festival, in which “the higher castes don’t participate.”

Just before sunset, a faint roll of drum beats is heard from the other end of the street. The celebratory dances put up by different communities called romtamel begin. Besides costumes, every performing group is judged on the basis of how they hold their sticks and march to the beats.

There is the mushal (old wheat kneaders) group and the ghodemodini (horse warrior dance signifying war victory) in their cheery colours. All must perform one after the other, without missing a beat. Keeping pace with them are the volunteers who serve them weak Tang or toss water bottles.

The restaurants do brisk business as the onlookers troop in for crisp bhaaji-paos (Goan street-snack), and milky tea.

While traditionally Shigmo was about parade dances and music, floats along the lines of the carnival have been introduced by the state for “tourist consumption”, says Sakhardande.

Tomorrow the action will move to Bicholim in north Goa.

Spring is in the air. And it rides on the colourful celebrations of Shigmo to every pocket of this state.

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