Contemporary ‘festas’, traditional themes

Folk dance by Nirmala College students at the Abolianchem Fest

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Goa seems to have got a hardliner brand of being a destination of gaiety, pleasure and festivity. Many are the festivals that are being celebrated with pomp and a healthy inter-communal participation. This has become a boon and a bane for the local Goans.

Boon because such a positive branding has led to an annual exodus of visitors which definitely helps in boosting the local economy, especially in the hospitality sector. However, we seem to have killed the proverbial golden goose with an uncontrolled exploitation of these visitors, with a lackadaisical control by the administration, as well as the agencies and players in this industry. The period of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been plucking lives does not seem to be well understood by the authorities, nor stopped the frenzied night partying, for their own safety, as well of the locals, by egoistic spoiled brat visitors.

Goa, for these festive visitors, means only one agenda – partying with feasting, dancing, drinking and drugs. This festive mindset is actually an off-shoot of the many beautiful, scintillating and mesmerising festivals held in Goa, from times immemorial.

Indeed, each community, irrespective of faith, celebrates its local festivities especially at village levels, with a collective spirit, open-hearted participation of everybody in the village and those that visit it! However, these are either religious or a specific local festival based. Though every festival is celebrated in pomp and gaiety, we have to understand that the prime celebrants are the local villagers.

They say you can take a ‘Goan’ out of ‘Goa’, but you cannot take the ‘Goa’ out of a ‘Goan’! Born in Laare, Kenya on May 24, 1959, Mario Fernandes, known as ‘Marius’ due to the nuns recording his name in Italian; and who has earned the honorary title ‘Festakar of Goa’, was to return to Goa in 2000, and revolutionise the very concept of celebrating festivals in a very contemporary way, but keeping the original ethos without alteration. The flame of creating festivities with a difference came about when a chief guest, who had paid for the festivities, delayed the festivity of Bonderam putting hundreds of spectators to hardships!

The concept of dependency on any individual, such as a chief guest or organisational aspect, or liquor sponsors, which could hamper the joy and vivacity of a festival, was not acceptable to this young man! He believed that the elder generation had the skills and knowledge, while the younger generation knew the ropes of modern technology! During this period, the contemporary model of crowdfunding had arrived! He fused both these concepts, and using his public relations, what was born was a fascinating and workable module of celebrating a ‘traditional Goan issue’, without a chief guest! He believed that all present for the festival were chief guests!

The festivals organised had the basic concept – no prizes, no plastic, no sponsors, no alcohol, and there were no competitions. It was a concept to put in place a people’s festival with peoples’ participation. This novel concept caught on and the crowds, locals as well as tourists, started to surge to every part of Goa, where such a festival was organised.

What came into existence were many Goa theme-based people’s festivals, starting with the Ghumtanche Fest at Siridao. Up until then, the ‘ghumat’, the traditional Goan terracotta percussion musical instrument, having the age-old monitor lizard skin was banned across the globe as hunting of monitor lizard was banned. Thus, it could not be presented from an international stage, with these bans. However, an attempt was made, through this first ever peoples festival, held at the scenic Siridao Beach, to review the playing skin to that of a she-goat, and found a compromised approval by traditional players and the authorities. In fact, this festival has the credit of getting the Goan ‘ghumat’ declared as the Goa State Official Heritage Musical Instrument!

However, any such futuristic planning requires an arena to portray and project the concept, in the initial stage. This was taken care of by Fr Santana Carvalho, the dynamic parish priest of Socorro Church, by opening up the porch of the Church and logistic support given by the lively members of the Socorro Socio-Art & Cultural Association, Porvorim. At all venues, the villagers and local institutions came forth wholeheartedly to join hands and make every ‘festa’ a resounding success.

The Roll of Honour of the people’s festivals held all over Goa, reads as: Patollienche Fest, Socorro (‘patolli’ is the local steamed rice flour with grated coconut and jaggery sweet); Poderanche Fest, Socorro (feast of the Goan baker); Cajuche Fest, Pomburpa (process of plucking and making the traditional cashew feni); Ramponnkaranche Fest, Harmal (festival of the fishermen); Ekvottache Fest, at Pharmacy College, Panaji (inclusive festival of unity); Ponsache Fest (fest of the jackfruit); ambyache fest (celebrating the Goan mangoes); Zadancho Utsov (plant exhibition and interaction); Moll’anche fest, Socorro (coconut frond weaving and allied arts feast); Abolianchem Fest (festival of crossandra flower) at the Nirmala College, Altinho, Panaji; Dennyanche Fest, Baga (feast of the joy of giving); Maddache Fest (celebrating the coconut tree) at Sanjay School Porvorim; Muzzganche Fest (honoring the Goan musical instruments) held in association with Carmel Women’s College, Nuvem and also at St Cruz in association with the National Association for the Blind; and others.

These peoples’ festivals vis-à-vis the traditional festivals held in Goa are an example that the people of Goa celebrate the joy and vivacity by simply coming together as one, and that alcohol is not the prime factor to enjoy. This unity in diversity can be experienced in Goa, but cannot be explained. For this you must visit each festivity and explore the unexplored!