Sanjeev V Sardesai
If we observe carefully, in all our festivals in Goa and across faiths, a huge part of the festivities is celebrating Mother Nature and her yield. Right from the Touxanche (cucumber) Fest of Santana Talaulim in Tiswadi, Pezeche (kanji) Fest of Siridao, Sangodd (joined canoes) Festival of Orda Candolim as well as the fire walking (Homkhand) festivals of Sri Lairaie at Shirgao and Sri Mallinath Bhumika at Chorao, or the Jaiyanchi (jasmine buds) Puja of Mardol every aspect celebrates nature’s gifts to humanity. One such festivity that literally bonds Goans with Mother Earth is the famous Chikhal Kalo in the Marcel village of Ponda. ‘Chikhal’ means ‘soft wet mud’ in local parlance ‘Konkani’; and this festival witnesses people participating in local village games while frolicking in the wet mud in the presence of a huge group of spectators. Only males participate, while the ladies watch!
The monsoon rains become an ideal time for availability of this ‘chikhal’ or mud in a mucky state. This festival is widely believed to be held to celebrate the ‘mischievous attitude of Lord Krishna’ and his love to play games with his friends in the open fields as they tended to their cows. We find people of all communities and castes participating in the games. You will be astonished by the number of high profile individuals in the Goa administration as well as other professionals, who come here and participate in these mud games.
It is amazing to see devotees, of an age range of one year to 88 years, in shorts and a sleeveless vest or just an open chest literally rolling and playing aggressive games in the water soggy soil.
Chikhal Kalo is usually held on the 12th day (Dwadashi) of the bright half of the fourth Hindu calendar month of Ashada. This approximately falls in the month of July of the Gregorian calendar. The start of the festivities commences a day before on the 11th day or Ekadashi or Ashadi Ekadashi. On that day, at noon, the Akhand Bhajan or a continuous and unbroken 24-hours singing of religious hymns in the temple is initiated. The villagers take turns to carry on the singing, across the night till noon of the next day.
The actual Chikhal Kalo or mud play is held in the huge open ground in front of the Sri Devki Krishna Temple of Marcel, at about 10 a.m. in the morning and ends by 2 p.m. It is said that the original location of the Sri Devki Krishna Temple deity, dedicated to the mother of Lord Krishna, was at Chorao Island and was shifted to the safer Ponda Taluka during the religious persecution period. The deity idol portrayal here is unique.
The event starts with almost 200-300 or more half-clad devotees, gathering at a shop nearby to apply coconut oil on their bodies. The shop has a tradition of offering free coconut oil to as many devotees who wish to apply it on their bodies and considers this act of doling out the oil as an offering to their beloved deity, a tradition started by their predecessors. Applying the oil offers immunity from any cuts and scratches during the mud play. The devotees then gather near the Sri Daad Sakhalyo shrine on the ground and go to the Sri Devki Krishna Temple in a procession singing hymns, circumambulate and enter it.
Inside the temple, there is hectic dancing by devotees around a big brass oil lamp. Once this is done, there is a rush to apply the sacred oil from this lamp on their bodies, before proceeding to the open ground. At times, when the rain god lets the festivities down, and there is no rain, water tankers are brought to pour water on the ground to create the muck. On the open ground, there is a high masonry platform around a peepul tree which is used to shower the participants with fruits and local sweetmeats which are especially made for the festival. A special sweet called ‘balle’ was made earlier, but is not made today.
Once the soil is ideal for frolicking around, the first act of the participants is to pounce on unsuspecting clean clothed participants and unceremoniously dump them in a pool of muck, while others aggressively splash muddy waters (chikhal), on them with their feet. Once all are properly covered in muck the games start! Many old games such as blind man’s-bluff, leap frog, chakra, arm wrestling, chendu phalli, etc are held.
Another interesting part is the mock wedding where two young boys are dressed impromptu as a bride and groom, and then a mock wedding is held.
At about 1 p.m., in the true spirit of the liking of young Lord Krishna to eat curds, the ‘dahi handi’ or a ‘pot of curds’ is hung high from a tree branch and the participants create a human pyramid to reach it. The pot is then broken and the bodies of participants are covered with these curds.
Devotees then proceed to the house of the traditional village launder or “dhobi” for a bath before heading to a nearby house which serves hot tea, puris, and fruits. Following this, they visit the temple of Sri Devki Krishna and seek blessings for a great year ahead.
The Chikhal Kalo is a must visit for every Goan and can be a major attraction for the visiting guests to our state to understand the importance of a connection between humans and the earth.