India is a land of fairs and festivals.
The reason for widespread interfaith participation in festival, festas and zatras, in Shigmo and Ganesh Chaturthi and the Carnival, in Christmas, Dussehra and Diwali is because the people of Goa follow the religion of being Goan first. Everything else springs from that fountainhead.
Many Goan festivals are actually zatras (feasts) of the local or family deity celebrated at the temple of the god or goddess. Other festivals like Dussehra, Diwali and Holi are the same as those celebrated around India but with a characterstic Goan flavour. The Goan Hindu community mainly celebrates Ganesh Chathurti, Gudi Padwa, Diwali, Dussehra, Holi, Rakshabandhan, Ramnavmi and Krishna Janmashtami.
Festivals are an integral part of Goan life. Every little hamlet has a tiny temple or a church with a special annual zatra or a festa. An outstanding aspect of life in Goa is its harmony and there is always a reason to celebrate. The confluence of cultures is reflected vividly in the music of the church and the hymns of the temple.
Revelry, music and dance, flow through the blood of the Goan community. As a result of 450 years of colonization by the Portuguese, Goan music has evolved to a form that is quite different from traditional Indian music. This historic amalgamation from the East and West has produced some of India’s best artistes, both in Indian classical and Western music. The most popular forms of post Portuguese music were the mando and the dulpod, whilst dekhni is one of the most well-known forms of dance.
This is Goa’s answer to Holi, which is a festival of colour. Huge dance troupes perform intricate movements of folk dances on the road all through the length of the parade. Many troupes number more than 100 and they dance tirelessly, as they have been doing for centuries.
This is an auspicious day for starting new ventures and buying new vehicles. You can see new vehicles draped in fresh marigold flowers driving slowly up and down the city roads. All is considered auspicious on this day of “Vijayadashmi” which is marked with elaborate ceremonies at most major temples of Goa.
Ganesh Chaturthi, undoubtedly is the most popular 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 during this time. Heavily decorated clay idols of Lord Ganesh receive offerings and prayers from devotees. The end of Chaturthi is marked by a procession leading to the immersion of the idol into the river or the sea.
Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated all over India. Its roots go back more than 7000 years 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.
In Goa the effigies of Narkasur as the demon King Ravan are burned one day before Diwali. All around Goa, gigantic straw and paper 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.
Holi is the festival of colors when people of all ages playfully drench each other with coloured water. The vibrant use of colours symbolises the advent of a colourful and prosperous spring season.
Carnival is the annual four-day celebration which begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, heralding a 40-day Lent period of penance and abstinence before Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus. The four-day Carnival has become world famous in Rio, Brazil. The Goa Carnival, led by King Momo, has its own pulsating rhythms of guitars, folk songs and drumbeats accompanying a colourful parade of floats and dancing troupes in all the major towns.
Feast of St Francis Xavier
The major Feast of St Francis Xavier is held on the 3 rd of December at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. St Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary, is the patron saint of Goa and attracts devotees from all over the world. His body has been preserved for centuries and lies in an exquisite silver casket at the Basilica and is displayed every ten years during the Exposition.. However, the feast is celebrated every year, drawing thousands of devotees from across India in quest of the saint’s blessings and healing powers.
For the devout, the celebrations begin on Christmas Eve and before. Carols are sung and various churches organize Midnight Mas. The service on Christmas Day is widely attended and people assemble in their homes for family get-togethers. In Goa, Christmas is celebrated in the European way with the celebrations revolving around the family. But it has strands woven in that go to make it a Goan one. A week or 10 days before Christmas, a family or village group with one among them dressed as Santa go carol singing with a box to raise funds for the poor. Beautiful stars symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem decorate Christian homes all over the State.
The feast of St John the Baptist on June 24th is celebrated by young men all over Goa by jumping into wells to retrieve gifts thrown in by villagers.The festival takes place at the beginning of the monsoon season in Goa with people of all ages jumping into wells, streams and ponds. This generally after getting into the spirit of things by imbibing Goa’s famous liquor feni. San Joao, like any other Goan feast, has that captivating spirit of merriment, colour and tradition..
Goa Heritage Festival at Fontainhas
This festival is a combined effort of the Goa Heritage Action Group, the Corporation of the City of Panaji and the Department of Tourism, Government of Goa. The festival aims to preserve and promote the Fontainhas area of Goa. Fontainhas is the Latin quarter of Panjim city with pretty Indo-Portuguese homes lovingly cared for over the last hundred years or more. The roads are neatly laid out and the area is dominated by the St Sebastian Chapel. The festival is marked by performances by various artists on stages set up in open areas, as well as displays of work of art by local artisans who use the pavements and heritage homes as their galleries. The festival in short is not only meant to celebrate the cultural heritage of the state, it inculcates awareness and appreciation of their unique culture in the hearts of Goans and impresses the need to conserve it for the benefit of future generations.
Monte Music Festival
This music festival, started just few years ago, celebrates the coming together of western and Indian classical music. The venue for the festival is the centuries old newly renovated chapel on the hill at Old Goa, the Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte (Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount). This chapel perched at the very top of a hill in Old Goa is a must-see place during the festival, where one can enjoy a truly spectacular panoramic view of large areas of North Goa. Sread over four days, this festival provides a platform to a number of artists--local, national and international to display their talents before an appreciative audience. There are buses that take you up the steep slope to the venue from the Mahatma Gandhi circle at Old Goa.