Chat with any senior citizen from Goa, and they will tell you that Carnival has changed, has transformed even, from the way it was celebrated in the past. That is expected, for the celebrations associated with Carnival have evolved with the years.
For instance, the King Momo parade in Goa did not come about until the 1960s and was popularised only in the 1970s. Prior to that, Carnival was a people’s festival of merriment, with the only organised festivities being dances at the clubs in the major towns.
In the villages it was the khell tiatr that gave Carnival its flavour.
Much of the celebrations associated with Carnival changed when Goa dived into the deep end of the tourism pool, and Carnival went from being a people’s festival to being a tourist attraction, and the King Momo parade became the cynosure of the programmes.
Yet, Carnival did not really change, in the sense that it remained an occasion of merriment – fun times displaying a joie de vivre that, at other times of the year, may have been bottled up.
The fun continues in a different manner, with a King Momo who decrees that you have fun.
But, there are indications that Carnival could almost come to be redefined, at least in Goa, where commercial interests that have been seeping in are giving it a different context and even a meaning.
Take for instance an advertisement that appeared in the local media this week from the giant Maggi that promoted ‘magic cubes’ with the caption: ‘This Goa Carnival, add magical taste to your vegetable dishes’.
Now, for as long as Carnival has been celebrated anywhere in the world, and not just Goa, the one thing that has not been associated with it is vegetable dishes.
Carnival has its links with the period of Lent in the Catholic calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, during which Catholics abstain from certain practices.
In earlier times, this included not eating meat for the entire 40-day period. Many still do that as a sacrifice, but in earlier times, it was the norm and Carnival, therefore, was the time to clear up the larders of all meat.
In fact, Britannica, when defining Carnival states ‘the derivation of the word is uncertain, though it possibly can be traced to the medieval Latin carnem levare or carnelevarium, which means to take away or remove meat.’
In this context, connecting vegetable dishes with Carnival is a dichotomy. At least today, it is. Who knows, one day it could become the rule as commercial interests come into play more forcefully.
Carnival, of course, changed again when business interests or the ‘commercialisation’ of the festival crept in.
No, this is no reference to the sponsorship that came to the floats, but the direct marketing by companies using the Goa Carnival as a tag in their advertisements, branding and marketing initiatives.
Corporates do cash in on Carnival’s commercial possibilities and have been doing so in more recent years. Remember that a couple of years ago, Indigo Airlines had introduced special meals on board for the Carnival week, celebrating the Goa Carnival, offering Chicken Cafreal sandwiches and more during the Carnival days.
It is an accepted fact that the Goa Carnival is in a position to market a product. Goa’s tourism has depended on Carnival to increase footfalls, so why should others not want to grab a little of the shine that the Carnival can give?
But then, the danger lies in this changing the concept of Carnival as we know it.
It is a fun festival that the people of Goa are still attempting to retain as much as possible to what it was in the past. The khell tiatr still takes place in the villages, and there even is a two-day staging of these Carnival-related plays in Panjim.
But, how long will the traditions survive against the onslaught of commercial interests? Now that is something that has to be reflected upon.
Carnival comes once a year, for three days and an evening, but it has catapulted tourism in Goa, and as per certain tourism sites, it is listed as the 10th best Carnival to be at.
So Carnival, with its changes, has managed to take Goa up there among the best, and in climbing higher may just water down the festival that was once that of the people.