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Campus Buzz: It's carnival time in Portugal

It's an opportunity for us to become pagans once more, writes Annie Datta from Portugal in our regular series From the Varsity.
By Annie Datta | PTI, Portugal
UPDATED ON FEB 12, 2005 07:08 PM IST

Come February and you feel the festivities in the air. It's carnival time in Brazil and Portugal. Brazil of course, has the greater reputation for giving the carnival a push to the extreme with women in fabulous costumes and feathers dancing their way to samba beats. Preparation for this annual festival that attracts millions from all over the world goes all year long for this one time commitment to Bacchus (also known as Dionysus). Life here is celebrated at its fleshly best. A carnival parade is a public celebration with a dash of the comic. It all goes back to the pre-Christian, pre-intellectual times. It precedes Apollo and the birth of intellectual theories that place this primitive aesthetic expression in perspective. 
 
The idea of Carnival takes us to the early Greeks when art was pure expression and not the least self-conscious. Nietzsche, the German philosopher, undertook an inquiry into the nature of the gods set up by the Greeks, particularly into the nature of the two gods who controlled the general scheme of Greek life. These gods were Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo was associated with intellect, refinement and repose by the Greeks. The Greeks, during Apollo's reign as god of art, thus turned art into a mere inert fossil or record.

To further the dialectical process of evolution, what the contemplative Greeks needed was some kind of a shock contact with the barbaric and the primitive. What C G Jung, the psychoanalyst, would have called a bridge across to the unconscious. This infusion of "red blood" came in good time, but instead of coming from without (as it did years afterward in Rome, when the Goths swooped down from the North), it came from within. Rome had always been a centre of such celebrations.

In other words, in case of Greece, there was no actual invasion of barbarian hordes, but merely an "auto-reversion" to simpler and more primitive ideas which liberated the dormant energy of the Greeks and enflamed them to new inspirational heights. This impulse came in the form of a sudden adoration for a new god - Bacchus or Dionysus. Bacchus was the very antithesis of the quiet, contemplative Apollo.

We remember him today merely as the god of wine, but in his time he stood not only for drinking and carousing, but also for a whole system of art. Apollo represented the life meditative. Bacchus-Dionysus, by contrast, represented the life strenuous. Domination by Dionysus meant indulging in riotous and gorgeous orgies, in which thousands of maidens danced and chanted songs of love and war in what became "a grand delirium of joy." The result was that the entire outlook of the Greeks, upon history, upon morality and upon human life, was changed. And since then the pendulum has swung from one god to the other.
 
In Portugal, the Carnival (Portuguese Carnaval) has its origin in a village situated in the North-east Trás-os-Montes, in the district of Bragança, called Podence. The "Caretos" are the most enigmatic and seductive figures in Portugal. It is the oldest and the most traditional form. According to the ritual, boys and men wear costumes (Caretos) which are fascinating and unique. The "caretos" represent images diabolical and mysterious. Elements of the magical and religious are attached to the festivities.

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