Feasts fairs and festivals

The reason why there is so much interfaith participation in festivals and festas and zatras, in Shigmo and Ganesh Chaturthi and the Carnival, in Christmas, Dussehra and Diwali is because the people of Goa follow the religion of being Goan first. Everything else springs from that fountainhead. Many Goan festivals are actually zatras (feasts) of the local or family deity celebrated at the temple of the god or goddess. It is a festive and colourful occasion in the temple complex with thousands of devotees taking part in the celebrations and thepalakhi (palanquin) procession.

Other festivals like Dussehra, Diwali and Holi are the same as those celebrated around India but with the characterstic Goan flavour. The Goan Hindu community mainly celebrates gGanesh Chathurti, Gudi Padwa, Diwali, Dussehra, Holi, Rakshabandhan, Ramnavmi and Krishnajanmashtami. Goa, a land of feasts, fairs and festivals. Festivals are an integral part of Goan life. Every little hamlet has a tiny temple or a church having a special annual Zatra or afesta. An outstanding aspect of life in Goa is its harmony and there is always a reason to celebrate. The confluence of cultures is reflected vividly in the music of the church and the hymns of the temple.

Revelry, music and dance, flow through the blood of the Goan community. As a result of 450 years of colonization by the Portuguese, Goan music has evolved to a form that is quite different from traditional Indian music. This historic amalgamation from the East and West has produced some of India’s best artistes such as Lata Mangueshkar and Remo Fernandes. While Lata Mangueskar has brought classical Indian music to the world, Remo has succeeded in bringing a unique blend of Indo-Western pop. The most popular forms of post Portuguese music were the mandoand the dulpod, whilst dekhni is one of the most well-known forms of dance.

Hindu Festivals

  • Shigmo – This is Goa’s answer to Holi, which is a festival of colour. Huge dance troupes perform intricate movements of folk dances on the road all through the length of the parade. Many troupes number more than 100 and they dance tirelessly, as they have been doing for centuries. The Shigmo float parade has become magnificent because artists from different villages come forward with their best ideas, engineers put in their mite to create pageants that are lifelike as to movement but gigantic as to size. People from far and near line the streets to watch the parade go by in all its glorious colour and sound, a process which can take more than three hours.
  • Dussehra – This is an auspicious day for starting new ventures and buying new vehicles. You see them draped in fresh marigold flowers driving slowly up and down the city roads. All is considered auspicious on this day “Vijayadashmi” which is marked with elaborate ceremonies at most major temples of Goa.
  • Ganesh Chaturthi or Chovoth – 
  • Ganesh Chaturthi, undoubtedly, is the most popular festival of Goa. Celebrated around August or September, it sees the return of most Goans to their native place of birth or their ancestral houses to join the entire family. Most towns and cities in Goa wear a deserted look as Goans return to their native places in the hinterland. Chaturthi spreads over several days in celebrations. Heavily decorated clay idols of Lord Ganesh get ready to receive offerings and prayers from the devotees. The end of Chaturthi is marked by a procession leading to the immersion of the idol, into a tank, in a landlocked area, the river or the sea. Before the idol is removed from its stand for immersion, the devotees beseech Lord Ganesh for the welfare of the household and its members.
  • Diwali – Diwali, the festival of lights is celebrated all over India. Its roots go back more than 7000 years to the time when Lord Ram killed the demon king Ravan. Ram was welcomed in his hometown Ayodhya by a celebration of crackers and lights. In northern India, the festival ends when an effigy of Ravan is burnt with an arrow of Ram. The original form of Diwali is Deepawali, which literally means a row of lights. During Diwali, the feast of lamps, every house is lit with little earthenware vessels containing oil and a lighted wick, and groups of men and women assemble along the river bank setting these little lanterns afloat on tiny rafts and watching with intense interest the frail craft, as they float down streams. The festivity is in honour of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, one of the trinity. The story behind the origin of Diwali is that Lord Vishnu in his eighth incarnation as Krishna, destroyed the demon Narakasura, who was causing great unhappiness amongst the people of the world. Diwali or Narakachaturthi celebrates the end of this evil. In Goa the effigies of Narkasur as the demon King Ravan are burned one day before Diwali. All around Goa, gigantic straw and paper effigies of Narkasur – dressed in colourful paper clothes and armed with swords and other armaments – are erected in the days preceding Diwali. They are then burnt just before sunrise. Deepawali (Diwali) festival is a four day festival, which includes Laxmi Pujan, Narak Chaturdashi, Deepawali and Bhau Beej. Laxmi Pujan is the day, when people buy new utensils. Narak Chaturdashi is known as Chhoti Diwali (minor Diwali) when in every household 5-7 panteo (lamps) are lit on the door and corners. Diwali falls on the day of Amavaseya, the next day of which is called Pratipad, when every kind of transaction, receipt or payment and business is postponed. On this day, many people try the their luck of gambling. Bhau beej falls on the next day, when the brothers visit their sisters, out of love and affection. During such time, the business men close their books of old accounts and start new ones. This denotes the giving up of bad habits and cultivating new attitudes.
  • Tripurari Poornima (Boat Festival) At Sanquelim – Tripurari Poornima (Boat Festival) is oraganised at Sanquelim every year jointly by Department of Art & Culture, Department of Information & Publicity, Goa Tourism Development Corporation Ltd and Deepavali Utsav Committee Sankhali. Government of Goa has declared this festival as State Festival.
  • About the festival: The festival of Tripurari Poornima itself is part of legend. It is said that Lord Shiva burnt down three fortresses (Puras) of demon Tripurasur, and set free the Gods and humans held captive. The Gods celebrated this event by lighting lamps. This festival is also called  ‘Dev Diwali’ At Vithalaput  in Sankhali, there is a tradition of celebrating ‘Deeparadhana’ (lamp of fire worship) on this day. The Vithal Temple is illuminated with lamps and a Palanquin procession of Lord Vithala winds its way to the river Valvanti. After Deeparadhana, lamps are set adrift in the currents, resulting in a sublimely beautiful sight. Earlier the festival was celebrated very humbly by floating earthen lamps placed in ‘Dronas’ cups fashioned out of thick dried leaves. As times changed, and even the tiniest of villages in Goa bore the fruits of electrification, the spirit of enterprise took over the festival. The old fashioned ‘Dronas’ as a floating device for the lamps were replaced by more modern and artistic devices. People started making boats of cardboard and thermacol and placing electric bulbs in them. Today this has culminated into a technically superior boat. It is a matted of pride for Goans, especially from Sankhali, to take part in this competition. Tradition makes way for modernity quite regularly in India, but the old ways are never abandoned. The tradition ‘Diya in a Drona’ is still given pride of place in the scheme of events. The diyas or deepas have the privilege of taking to the water first, before the boats set sail. This is followed by a series of cultural programmes and dance-drama, including an enactment of Lord Shiva’s victory over demon Tripurasur. A fantastic display of fireworks adds to the celebration as it goes well onto the moon night. And not just for winners of the boat competition, but for all humanity. We once again remind ourselves of the victory of good over evil.
  • Gokulashtami – Gokulashtami is a community celebration with people visiting local Krishna temples, which are specially decorated and lit for the occasion. A special ritual of the day is enacted by the local youth who form human pyramid to reach the pot full of curds (dahi-handi) tied to a rope high above the road and break it. A little before midnight, devotees pour into temples to participate in the special ‘Arati’ and to relive the birth of Krishna. Till midnight, devotional songs are sung in anticipation of the holy birth. Special cradles are installed at temples and a small statue of the “Balgopal” (child image of Krishna) is placed in them.
  • Holi Holi is the festival of colors. The importance of colour is that each colour stands for positive energy bringing about compassion, understanding, prosperity, optimism, Nature’s bounty, loyalty, trust, love and compassion. In some places in Goa, the night before the full moon, people gather to light bonfires to burn the dried leaves and twigs. The fire signifies the destruction of evil – the burning of the ‘Holika’ – a mythological character. On the next day, people of all ages come outside and playfully drench each other with coloured water. Brightly coloured powders are applied on faces, and there is plenty of music, dance and sweets. Young and the old smear colours on friends and family. Water balloons, dry colours, and washable dyes are used to douse just about anyone in sight on the roads on the day of Holi. The vibrant use of colours symbolises the advent of a colourful and prosperous spring season. Holi is celebrated by people from all castes and social strata in Goa. The celebrations start in the morning; recede around afternoon when the colour daubing stops. Noise and the clamour recedes, and silence reigns. In the evening, once again people visit the neighborhood with families and friends to greet them with good wishes.
  • Saptah In terms of size and the number of stalls and crowds in the port town of Vasco, Saptah has to be the biggest festival in Goa. It also goes on for seven days which makes it the longest festival in Goa. It is celebrated in the month of Shravan. The word Saptah means ‘seven days’ but the stalls continue selling their wares for double the time. The festival which is more than a hundred years old, is celebrated in the temple of Lord Damodar in the centre of the city Legend has it that in 1898 there was a cholera or plague epidemic in the city. The local residents turned to Lord Damodar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva for help. They went to Zambaulim temple (near Margao) of Lord Damodar and brought a coconut as prasad to be installed for worship in Vasco. The initial installation was at the Old Mata High School. As luck would have it, their prayers were successful and the epidemic died out once the worship began. A leading businessman of the time, donated a part of his residence premises to install the idol of Lord Damodar. This make-shift temple is the centre of the celebrations and remains attached to the original house even today. The Saptah starts with the main pooja being offered at the Old Mata High School, from where the anointed coconut is taken out in a procession to the Lord Damodar temple. The coconut used for the previous year is taken in a procession around the city and then released in the sea at Kharewada. A specially selected person carries the sacred coconut. Along with him, a troupe of dancers goes around the city visiting the residences of prominent citizens. The performance of the troupe is called Gopalkala by the locals and is a sight to behold in the pouring rain. The dancers are also drenched by water thrown by the people from the houses they visit. After the immersion of the old coconut, the people return to the temple and anoint a new coconut amidst singing of bhajans (devotional songs). The bhajans continue uninterrupted for 24 hours. A glittering ceremony takes place at night with specially decorated tableaux coming from various wards of the port town. These are known as ‘pars’. People come here from all over the state to watch the parade. There is also a cultural programme at night with devotional songs for which wellknown artistes perform. The temple is located on the main avenue of the city, the Swatantra Path, and the biggest crowds are seen here. Consequently, the entire main road is closed for traffic for the seven days of celebration.

Christian festivals

  • The Carnival – Carnival is the annual four-day celebration which begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. Saturday, Sunday Monday and Tuesday are the days when Christians of Latin extraction went into a celebration of wild living, eating, drinking and being merry before applying holy ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday heralding a 40-day period of penance and abstinence before Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The four-day Carnaval has become world famous in Rio, Brazil as is the Goa Carnival in India. Pulsating rhythms of guitars and folk songs, drumbeats that keep time with the pounding of your heart and a majestic colourful parade of floats and dancing troupes, complete with clowns and people in fancy dress. The lead float is impressively decorated, and no wonder – since it is the float of King Momo. This is a fat jolly individual who is carefully selected every year to ‘rule’ Goa for four fun-filled days.
  • Feast of St Francis Xavier – This is the big feast of Goa. The Feast of St Francis Xavier is held on the 3 rd of December. The venue for the feast is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. St Francis Xavier is the patron saint of Goa and attracts devotees from all over the world. His body has been preserved for centuries and lies in an exquisite silver casket at the Basilica and is displayed every ten years. However, the feast is celebrated every year and if you wish to pay your respects to the saint, you can be a part of this feast. St Xavier was a great Jesuit missionary, who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Asia.  Born in Spain on April 7, 1506, he came to India with the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa in 1543, and immediately undertook the task of influencing the Goan people. He went from street to street with a hired town crier, asking people to attend his meetings and listen to his sermons. He baptized the inhabitants of 30 villages. To spread the message of Christ, he sailed to the Spice Islands in 1545, and then went on to Japan in 1549 for a year. His greatest success is recorded in Japan, where he converted hundreds to Christianity. After returning to India for a brief 15 months, he proceeded to China, against the wishes of the Portuguese viceroy. It was on the Sancian Island, about 10-km from the mainland of China that he died of fever on December 2, 1552.
  • Legend According to legend, some Portuguese merchants found him just before he breathed his last. They performed his last rites on the following day, and buried him in a box partly filled with unslaked lime. A few months later, a Jesuit brother disinterred the body and discovered, to his surprise, that it had not decomposed at all. He cut a finger from the body and was astonished to see blood ooze out. When this was reported to the Vatican, the title of Saint was conferred upon Xavier. The body was interred in a cemetery in Malacca for about two years before it was brought to its final resting place in Goa. Until then, even though the body had not been anointed, it was found to be only slightly affected by death. Before the mortal remains of the saint were placed in a silver casket in the Church of Bom Jesus, one hand was cut off from the body.
  • The Healing Power – Pieces of the hand were distributed to various parts of the world, under orders of the Pope. Every ten years until 1994, on the anniversary of his death, St Xavier’s body would be brought out and kept in a glass case, with the feet exposed, for all to see and worship. For the exposition, people from all over India would flock to the church for a glimpse of the saint. There are many stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs in the fair that is held on the occasion. A wide variety of food and drinks are also available. The pilgrimage turns into a picnic for quite a few families, as they shop in the little lanes decorated with streamers. The ambience of the church site is happy and festive.
  • Christmas – The market places are all embellished with tinsel and buntings and Santas distributing sweets to children. Decorated and glittering Christmas trees are all over the place. For the devout, the celebrations begin on Christmas Eve. Carols are sung and various churches organize the midnight Mass. The service on Christmas Day is attended by Christians dressed in new clothes. After the morning service is over, people assemble in their homes for family get-togethers. In Goa, Christmas is celebrated in the European way with the celebrations revolving around the family. But it has strands woven in that go to make it a Goan one. A week or 10 days before Christmas, a family group or a village group with one among them dressed as Santa go carol singing with a box to raise funds. These funds are normally contributed towards a meal for the poor. This is in keeping with the spirit of the occasion that is to share with the less privileged. On Christmas Eve, a star made of a wooden frame and kite paper by the family members is hung outside the house.
  • Feast of the Three Kings – It is a tiny centuries-old stone chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios or Our Lady of Cures perched on a hill in Quelim, Salcete. The beautiful statue of Mother Mary holding the Child Jesus in one arm and a small vase in the other, which holds the cure for all ills. The Lady of the Mount is famous for her wondrous protection and miracles and is also reputed to make barren women fertile. On the day of the feast Mother Mary is covered with jewellery as tokens of gratitude by Catholics and Hindus alike for favors and blessings received. However, some historians state that the site now occupied by the Chapel of Remedios was once the site of a Hindu temple. Perhaps that’s the reason why a large number of Hindu devotees make the yearly pilgrimage to the Mount to worship the Madonna, bringing with them offerings of flowers, incense, and candles. It is on the Festa dos Reis or the Epiphany on January 6 that the isolated Hill of Remedios and chapel suddenly spring to life and activity. Come early dawn, kettledrums and the blare of trumpets, announce to the sleepy little neighboring villages that the day of rejoicing and festivity has arrived. The tolling bells call the faithful to prayer and devotees visit the shrine in a non-stop stream. There’s now an excellent road winding its way up the steep hill right to the door of the chapel, making the ascent possible by car. Still, most of the devotees prefer to climb up the hill. Even the very old and infirm make their way up for nine consecutive days to hear Mass and recite the Rosary before the Lady of the Blue Mantle. Many come to offer their thanks for fulfilling their wishes. The devotees are always led by a drummer-boy with his kettledrum who, by the loud beat of his drum, announces another favour having being granted by the Lady of Remedios. The dramatic climax is reached on January 6, the day of the Feast of the Magi, when three little boys ranging in years from 8 to 10 are selected as kings from the three neighbouring villages of Quelim, Cansaulim and Arrosim to bring their gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense to the Infant Jesus. Throughout the year expectations and excitement run high as to who will be the fortunate ones chosen as it must be either a son or grandson from these three villages; no outsider can claim this privilege or honour. The crowds from all parts of Goa gather on the hill to attend the Mass and get a glimpse of the three kings. An extensive fair also springs up covering the entire hilltop. One can buy anything from a meal to copper and brassware, furniture, clothes, toys, trinkets, sweetmeats, glass bangles and spices of all sorts. The surging crowds congregate on the hill’s edge to watch the three kings from three different routes make their appearance. Mounted on white horses, they make their way up, outfitted in their royal garments elaborately embroidered in gold and silver, a crown studded with glittering stones on their heads, and a whole procession of relatives, friends, retinues bringing up the rear. Each procession is preceded by a brass band played as loud music and bursting of crackers all the way up. The crowd in a frenzy of enthusiasm hails the Magi with a deafening ovation. The kings dismount from their white steeds, and are solemnly led to the special seats of honor reserved for them to assist at the High Mass. After the service, they are led down with the same traditional ceremony with which they were brought up the hill. The whole picturesque scene is a color-drenched dream of ancient pomp, pageantry and glory. After midday, one will not find a single soul anywhere near by. The huge crowds disappear as mysteriously as the huge giant fair, within a few hours, while the flags, buntings and other fanciful decorations are all removed. Since no priest consents to reside in the parochial house, the chapel is closed till the next annual feast. During the year should any devotee want a mass of thanksgiving to be said at the shrine, he goes up with the priest. The reason for this fear of the Mount is the belief that the place is haunted by Shivaji and his army who after dusk make their appearance with flares that light up the whole countryside around, which echoes to their marching feet.
  • Bonderam – The feast of Bonderam is celebrated on the island of Divar on the fourth Saturday of August every year. Bonderam revolves around flags. Frequent disputes which occurred between two wards (section of the village) – Piedade and Sao Mathias – over property matters which often led to bloody duels, and sometimes death. The Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of boundaries with flags of various nations. The rival groups, however, knocked down the demarcation flags sometimes with stones. Today, in a parody of the past, this is commemorated with a “Fotash” flight (toy weapon of bamboo stem) and berries are used as missiles in a mock fight between rival groups to knock down an offending flag. On the day, a carnival ambience is created. Each ward of the village has a float at the parade. Though sponsored by business houses, the floats have an unmistakable local favour. Music drifts plays even before the crack of dawn on the Saturday. By noon people begin trickling into the village. By evening the trickle is a flood of humanity. An expectant crowd assembles along either side of the main throughfare of the village. The tempo is set by lads and lasses wielding “fotashes” engaging in mock battles. The gaily coloured floats accompanied by colourfully dressed youngsters make a pretty picture.
  • Sao Joao – The feast of St John the Baptist on June 24 th is celebrated by young men all over Goa jumping into wells to retrieve gifts thrown in by villagers. This celebration is called Sao Joao, one of the more famous Christian feasts in the state. The Bible speaks of John the Baptist leaping for joy in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb when she was visited by Mary who had just conceived Jesus. San Joao or St John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. The jump into the well is to signify the joy felt by John when he sensed the presence of Jesus Christ even while he was in his mother’s womb. The festivals takes place at the beginning of monsoon season in Goa and people of all ages jumping into wells, streams and ponds. This generally after getting into the spirit of the thing by imbibing Goa’s famous liquor feni. San Joao, like any other Goan feast has that captivating spirit of merriment, colour and tradition. In Siolim, the village in north Goa’s Bardez taluka, colourful boat races are organised on this day. People dressed in colourful outfits from several villages meet near a stream in carnival-coloured boats and floats. It is akin to the Carnival in few ways. But San Joao is not celebrated with the same fervour throughout Goa. It is celebrated with less enthusiasm in South Goa. The display of Sangodd, a decorated floating platform, made by tying two boats or banana tree trunks together, which are then put into nearby streams to float is an important part of the celebrations. On the feast day, villagers begin the day by taking a plunge in the village wells singing ‘San Joao’. The highlight of the day is the Sangodd, on which people parade singing Mandos and religious hymns. The Sangodds are uniquely decorated and members of that Sangodd wear a uniform dress to distinguish themselves from other groups. This is also a time to celebrate one’s spirit of adventure. So, on this day there are a number of competitions where youths get to exhibit their talents. The celebration of San Joao in Bardez ( North Goa) goes back nearly 150 years, when San Joao revelers from Chapora and Zhor villages of Anjuna, Badem in Assagao and Siolim would come up year after year in boats to the chapel of Sao Joao in Pereira Vaddo, Siolim, to pay homage. The young and old alike sing and dance to the beat of the ghumot and kansallem, with lovely coronets of seasonal flowers on their heads and ‘drenched to the bone’ with feni. Many then proceed to jump time and time again into the streams, wells and ponds to keep away the cold from getting them. Sao Joao still retains its traditional flavour and this organisers say is as a result of their refusal to commercialize the event. So if you are looking for fun, frolic and a wet-carnival like atmosphere then San Joao is definitely the best place to be on the 24th June.
  • Goa Heritage Festival at Fontainhas – This festival is a combined effort of the Goa Heritage Action Group, the Corporation of the City of Panaji and the Department of Tourism, Government of Goa. The festival, now in its third year, aims to preserve and promote the Fontainhas area of Goa. Fontainhas is the Latin quarter of Panjim city with pretty Indo-Portuguese homes lovingly cared for the last hundred years or more. The roads are neatly laid out and the area is dominated by the St Sebastian Chapel. The festival is marked by performances by various artists on stages set up in open areas, as well as display of work of art by local artisans who use the pavements and heritage homes as their galleries. The festival in short is not only meant to celebrate the cultural heritage of the state, it inculcates awareness and appreciation of their unique culture in the hearts of Goans and impresses the need to conserve it for the benefit of future generations.
  • Monte Music Festival – This music festival, started just few years back, celebrates the coming together of western classical along with Indian classical form of music. The venue for the festival is the centuries old newly renovated chapel on the hill at Old Goa. It is organised by the combined efforts of Fundacao Oriente, Cidade de Goa and the Kala Academy at the Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte (Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount). This chapel perched at the very top of a hill in Old Goa is a must-see place during the festival, where one can enjoy a truly spectacular panoramic view of large areas of North Goa. Performances are usually held for four days and this festival provides a platform to a number of artists local, national and international to display their talents in front of an appreciative audience. There are buses that take you up the steep slope to the venue from the Mahatma Gandhi circle at Old Goa.