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Feast, Festivals and Fairs
 

With the majority of the population being Hindu, Goa has scores of festivals celebrated all around the year. All these festivals do not occur on fixed dates of the calendar year, since they are based on the Hindu calendar.

Despite the long period of Portuguese colonization, the Hindu festivals have retained their unique Goan character and are celebrated with deep fervors.

Quite a lot of the Goan festivals are actually Jatras (feasts) of the local or family deity celebrated at the temple of the God or Goddess called Devasthan. It is a festive and colorful occasion in the temple complex with thousands of devotees taking part in the celebrations and the palakhi (palanquin) procession.

Other festivals like Dussehra, Diwali and Holi are the same as those celebrated around India but with the characterstic Goan flavor. The Goan Hindu community mainly celebrates Ganesh Chathurti, Gudi Padwa, Diwali, Dassra (Dussehra), Holi, Rakshabandhan, Ramnavmi and Krishnajanmashtami.

Ganesh Chaturthi, undoubtedly, is the ‘numero uno’ 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.

Diwali, the festival of lights is celebrated all over India. Its roots go back 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.

But the same occasion is celebrated a day before Diwali in Goa – and not on the last day of Dussehra – with the burning of the effigies of Narkasur as the demon King Ravan is called locally. All around Goa, huge 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.

GANESH CHATURTHI or CHOVOTH

The most important and almost the national festival for Goan's is the Ganesh Chaturthi known as 'Chovoth'.

The festivities run into several days, but minimum at least for two and half days, when puja of Gauri and Mahadev along with Ganapati, is performed.
On the Chovoth day, in the morning or evening, a clay idol of Ganapati is brought home. Before that a matov (a small pandal above the place where the idol is place) is prepared with bunches of beetle nut, coconut, bananas and branches of mango-trees being necessary ingredients of it.The puja is performed by Pujari, who is  welcomed on such occasions.

On the second day, in the evening or at night, after performing the uttar puja of the image of Ganapati, it is taken in procession and immersed into a water body be it the sea, creek, river, lake or well. Before the idol is removed from its stand for immersion, it is besought for the welfare of the household and its members.

Three days of Chovoth means, days of great rejoicing for children. Girls collect different types and shapes of leaves for Gauri, Mahadev and Ganapati. There is competition in flower-making also. At least five vegetables are cooked on that day. Aartis is a special performance on the occasion of the Ganapati festival.

On Panchami (fifth) day, in the evening, crowds of people move around the village to have a look at Ganapati. Women of the masses dance and sing the Fugdi before Ganapati. Some houses keep Ganapati for five, seven or nine days and rarely up to Anant Chaturdashi.

DIWALI – The Festival of Lights

Diwali has a special importance, which has come up through the last 5000-7000 years. It is the gayest of the festivals; an occasion of great excitement and rejoicing. According to the Hindu mythology the victory of truth over the evil. Victory of Rama over Ravana. It is a festival in reverence to Lord Rama
It is believed that Diwali is celebrated on the darkest night of the year and so the lamps signify enlightenment. The original form of Diwali is Deepawali, which literally means a row of lights. During Diwali every house is lighted with oil lamps (deeyas), every house has the fragrance of flowers, sweets, agarbathis and beautiful & colourful rangolis in their courtyards, all this to show their happiness. The festivity is in honour of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, one of the trinity. The myth 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.

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 deeyas (lamps) are lit on the door and corners of the house.

Bhau beej falls on the next day, when the brothers visit their sisters, out of love and affection. As the time of Diwali approaches, there are grand preparations by young, old, rich, poor, weak and strong. The buildings, trees, animals, mankinds and statues are all adorned with colorful lights and costumes.

During such time, the businessmen close their books of old accounts and start new ones. This denotes the giving up of bad habits and cultivating new attitudes. Exchanging cards and gifts means to share the most elevated teachings (Godly teachings/Knowledge) and have good wishes and pure feelings for all-love the neighbor as thyself.

In Goa, huge effigies of Narkasura the demon, are made and burnt at dawn. The night of Diwali is also be jeweled with millions of flickering candles and an explosion of fire works and fire crackers, so it is known as the Festival of Lights. Lighting of lamps is one of the most beautiful aspects of Diwali. It is the festival of Row of Lights.

GOKULSHTAMI

Gokul Ashtami is the birthday of Lord Krishna in Hindu mythology. One of the many avatars (incarnations) that Lord Vishnu appeared in the mortal world to destroy evil, was Lord Krishna. This festival is celebrated as per the Hindu calendar and falls on the 8th day of the dark half of the month of 'Bhadrapada' (August-September as per the Julain calendar).
Lord Krishna was born at midnight and hence most devotees observe a twenty-four hour fast, which is broken at midnight. The festival is also known as "Janma Ashtami".

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 throng into the 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 – The Festival of Colours
Perhaps the most visually spectacular of the Hindu festivals celebrated in Goa, Holi is the festival of fun and playing with colours which people throw on each other.
Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of March. Holi signifies the end of winter and the beginning of the spring. It is a joyous celebration of the rejuvenation of nature, and renewed hope of happiness and peaceful coexistence.
Holi is known as the festival of colors, and the colors overcome the barriers of language and convey true feelings. The colors also convey a message. Green: Compassion and understanding and a symbol of prosperity. Yellow: Optimism. It is also regarded as an auspicious color. The color Yellow is associated with Mother Earth. Red: The color of fire, the source of energy and security. Blue: Loyalty and trust. Pink: 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.

According to Hindu mythological legends, the festival is also a celebration of the death of Pootna - the demon who nearly killed Lord Krishna when he was a small child. Pootna signifies winter and darkness.

People from all castes and social strata in Goa celebrate Holi. The celebrations starts in the morning recede around afternoon when people get tired of the fun and frolic. Noise and the clamor recedes, there is a contented silence all around, occasionally disturbed by the laughter of the teenagers. In the evening, once again people visit the neighborhood with families and friends to greet them with good wishes.

RAKSHA BANDHAN – The Festival of Botherhood


Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the full-moon day in the month of Shravan (July-August). The festival of Raksha Bhandan symbolizes love affection and feeling of brotherhood.
“Raksha” means protection, and “Bandhan” means bond; therefore, when a sister ties a Rakhi around the wrist of her brother, she signifies her loving attachment to him. The brother extends his wrist forward signifying an extending hand of protection. Raksha Bandhan is also known as Rakhi.

According to the legend, when the demon King Bali’s devotion won over Lord Vishnu, he was compelled to leave his abode to stay in Bali’s Kingdom. When Lord Vishnu did not return, the distressed Goddess Lakshmi arrived in Sutal on Shravan Poornima. She accepted King Bali as her brother by tying a Rakhi on him. In return Bali asked her to request a wish. Goddess Lakshmi wished for Lord Vishnu’s return to Vaikunth. Bali granted her the wish. It is thus believed that the festival of Rakhi commenced from the day when Goddess Lakshmi tied the Rakhi to King Bali.

Raksha Bandhan holds special significance for the Hindus. Girls make it a point to bring the best possible rakhis for their brothers. They busy themselves with the preparation of traditional sweets and dishes. After an early bath and worshipping God, the sister offers “aarti” to her brother and ties the sacred thread on his wrist. The sister adorns her brother’s forehead with the traditional tilak(vermilion). The brother gives his sister a gift after she ties the rakhi. The gift is symbolic of the brother’s blessings to his sister.

 

GUDHI PADWA

Gudhi Padwa heralds the advent of a prosperous new year and is considered as one of the most auspicious days by Hindus. The Hindu year begins on the first day, "Shuddha Pratipada", of the month of Chaitra (March-April) according to the Hindu calendar.

It is one of the most auspicious 'Muhurats' (auspicious timing) amongst the three and a half Muhurats that occur in Hindu calendar year. The day is considered auspicious for building or entering a new house, putting a child to school, or starting a business. With this day begins the new season, the spring.

According to Bramhand Purana God Brahma created the world on this day. On this day people should vow to be bold and courageous to face their problems and fight against their enemy. On this day Shri Rama had freed the people from the tyranny of Vali. To celebrate this occasion people put up Gudhi (symbol for victory or victory flag) in their courtyards. It is a day of great festivity and rejoicing. People get up early and clean their houses, decorating them with intricate rangoli designs. New clothes are worn, and sweets made for the occasion include shrikhand, basundi, jalebis etc. Many homes also decorate the pots with coconuts, flowers and mango leaves, symbolizing nature's bounty to all.

On this day a pole called Gudhi is erected in front of the house. Padwa is another name for "Pratipada", the first day of the lunar month. A new cloth is tied on the Gudhi, a metal or silver vessel is put on to it and a garland of sweets is hung on it. People welcome the New Year with Gudhi worship and distribute Prasad comprising of tender Neem leaves, tamarind, Ajwain, gram-pulse and jaggery.

SAPTAH AT VASCO

The port town of Vasco is the scene of perhaps the biggest festival in Goa in terms of sheer number of vendor stalls, the crowds and the duration of its celebration. The Saptah is celebrated in the month of Shravan as per the Hindu calendar the only big festival in Vasco.
The word Saptah literally means seven days and the festival actually lasts for a week, although the stalls selling various items linger on for more than fifteen days. The festival, which is more than a hundred years old, is celebrated in the temple of Lord Damodar in the centre of the city. According to a legend in 1898 there was a cholera or plague epidemic in the city, with the health facilities at the time being quite poor, the local residents turned to Lord Damodar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva for help.

The residents of Vasco went to Zambaulim temple (near Margao) of Lord Damodar and brought a coconut as prasad to be installed for worship in Vasco. As luck would have it, their prayers were successful and the epidemic died out once the worship began.
A leading business of the time, donated a part of his residence premises to install the idol of Lord Damodar. This makeshift 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 as 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.

CHIKHALKALA  - The Mud Festival

This unusual festival is celebrated only in the small town of Marcel, about 17 km from Panaji, off the road to the temple town of Ponda. The festival is celebrated on the 11th day of the Hindu lunar month of Aashadh (June–July) and is actually nothing but a collection of various games that Lord Krishna is supposed to have played in his childhood.
The Chikhalkala (Mud Festival), is held in the courtyard of the temple of Lord Devki-Krishna, known for the unique idol of Lord Krishna sitting on his mother Devki’s lap, said to be the only one of its kind in India.  This festival is about getting close to Mother Earth, and is celebrated when Goa’s open spaces are full of slush due to heavy rains. During the rains, the ground is full puddle of water creating a slushy platform for the games. Flowing water is also diverted to the ground to create extra slush.

The festival is preceded by 24 hours of continuous Bhajan singing in the temple. On the day of the festival, male devotees wearing only shorts go around the town collecting oil from various shops. The devotees then smear the oil on their bodies and enter the temple to offer a collective prayer for the community’s welfare.

They chant “Jai Vithal, Hari Vithal” loudly, as percussion instruments like mridangum or pakhvaj and tal are played in the background. As they get immersed in the divine chanting, they again rub oil on to their bare bodies, from the nearby burning pedestal lamp and come out of the temple to enter the mud field. Music accompanies them as many more join the group. As the group comes to the field, the actual festival of Chikhalkala begins. The participants in the Chikhalkala are called Khelgadi. Locals believe that one can get cured of skin diseases and even cough and cold if they play in the mud.

No one in the vicinity of Marcel can tell with certainty, the genesis of this unique festival. No legend, or folk tale tells us anything about this festival. It is said that the idol of Lord Krishna earlier belonged to the temple in Chodan (now Chorao), an island near Panaji, where Chikhalkala used to be played. Since the idol was transferred to Marcel, the festival associated with the deity too shifted there. The elders of the town believe in this explanation which may or may not be true, but that does not tarnish the pleasure and fun associated with this festival. Chikhalkala is one festival of Goa, which celebrates nature with great abandonment.

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