Carnaval: Fasting and Feasting

By Ashwin Tombat
27 February 2017 21:13 IST

It's Carnival time! The festival of floats is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It was in 1967 that the first Carnival parade was held, with Timoteo Fernandes as King Momo. But Goa Tourism seems to have chosen to mark this golden jubilee in a very low key; the Carnival pre-publicity nowhere highlighted this landmark.

Perhaps that is for the better. For all its 50-year history, the Carnival Parade, with a number of commercial sponsored corporate floats, has been eclipsed in recent years by the fabulous Shigmo float parade. But for all that, it still is an enormous draw for tourists from all over India.

The parade may be the official version of the festival, but it is not traditional. It has little or nothing to do with Goan culture. It is miles away from the centuries-old people's festival of 'Carnaval', that is still celebrated in Goa's coastal villages.

From its very origin in 1967, the parade was a rather unimaginative carbon copy of the Brazilian Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, complete with float parade, King Momo, forgiveness of sins, and all. Its one-and-only objective was, is, and will always be to attract tourists to Goa.

The parades last for four days, from 'Fat Saturday' to 'Fat Tuesday'. The traditional village celebration, however, is usually only on the Tuesday preceding 'Ash Wednesday', when Christians begin the period of Lent, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert.

Carnaval is the feasting before the fasting. In fact, the word Carnaval  means "to remove (or literally, 'raise') meat".

Since there is 40 days of abstinence ahead, people feast, eat lots of meat and drink alcohol to excess on the day before the fast begins. There is also general merriment, because no weddings or other celebrations take place during Lent.

On Tuesday, village boys apply colour to the faces of the men of the village, and put talcum powder in the hair of the women. They play practical jokes on each other and have fancy dress competitions. Decades ago, they pelted each other with paper bags filled with flour. Nowadays, they throw water balloons.

In parts of South Goa, comedy 'khell tiatrs' are performed by local youth, which are like street plays. In these skits, sometimes, the rich and powerful of the village become the subject of jokes and ridicule. In short, everybody gets together to have a jolly good time before a prolonged period of enforced deprivation.

This 'feasting before fasting' aspect of 'Carnaval' is not restricted to Christianity alone. Hindus observe the fifth month of the lunar calendar, 'Shravan', as a period of fasting, abstinence from meat, fish and alcohol, and even from shaving.

The night before the onset of the month of Shravan is 'Ashaad Amavasya', better known as 'Gatari Amavasya'. That is when, traditionally, meat is eaten and alcohol drunk, to fortify oneself for the month of vegetarianism ahead. The people in Konkan traditionally make 'Kombddi Vade' on the day. Nowadays, people drink all night for Gatari Amavasya.

The Holy Month of Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. The fast from sunrise to sunset is rigorous; one must refrain not only from food and water, but not even swallow one's own saliva. However, once the sun sets, the fasting ends and the feasting begins...  

Fasting and feasting.

Whether it's Christians, Hindus or Muslims, basic human nature is basic human nature. We're really not that different from each other.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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