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Culture of Goa  >>  The Goan Carnival

The Carnival
Manha de Carnival! Remember the song? It is a Brazilian song, very popular the world over, which celebrates the return of joy: alegria voltou

The joy returns every year for less than a week-five days in Brazil, four nights in Goa-before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent which was once a dreary season of penance and abstinence-40 long week days preceding Easter Sunday.

It was a way to “put away flesh” carelevvare in Old Italian.Carn meant flesh,

and leavare to remove. But levare could also mean to raise, perhaps to raise the way the Brazilians seem to interpret it.

A playboy writer assigned the task of reporting on Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, was stunned at the way it was celebrated. Men, women, boys and girls went their own way, did their own thing, remorselessly, unaccountably-without compunctions. And at the end of it, no questions were asked and no lies told. The cavaliers returned to their hovels in the slums, the fazendiros to their gorgeous ranches, and at the samba clubs the preparations started afresh for the next year’s processions, balls and street dances.

History of Goan Carnival
Carnival in Goa was a great leveler. Early accounts-all of them hearsay-are indeed educative. The white masters masqueraded as black slaves and the latter-generally slaves brought in from Mozambique-plastered their faces with flour and wore high battens, or walked on stilts. For those three ephemeral days, they were happy to be larger than life. And while the whites and the blacks mimicked each other the brown locals watched this reversal of roles in awe from the sidelines.

In course of time, when the imperial regime mellowed and inhibitions dwindled, Carnival, no more an excuse to be what one was not—and often hoped to be—became a time for bonhomie. The old crude mimicry blossomed into social satire. In the villages, the playwrights pieced together in Khel (Konkani for play) anecdotes, events and criticism. The Portuguese Governor General, his family and retinue used the occasion for a show of diplomacy. They showered the crowds with poudre de riz and confetti, and were happy to be showered back. At the Carnival balls, the governor-general danced with whom he pleased-provided, of course the lady agreed to the request. And anyone was free to ask the governor-general’s wife for a dance. And if the tangoit was the tango they danced cheek-to-cheek, hip-to-hip.

Once, Carnival was a mood. It had no spectators and it was strictly for participants. From dawn to dusk and back to dawn again, they sang and danced, changed costumes and partners and serenaded their namorados, girlfriends, escorted by their guardians, the debutantes giggled and grouped their first masqued ball. Those who feel in love during Carnival married after Easter.


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