Far beyond India’s borders, Goa has gained a reputation as the country’s playground for adults. When the hippies first came to Goa in the 1960s, they soaked up the omnipresent spirituality and established the Indian state as a place of freedom and hedonism. Releasing themselves from the conservative constraints of old Europe. Legendary are those times that constituted Goa’s image of peace, joy and harmony far beyond India’s borders. The welcoming and merry atmosphere prevails until today and still attracts free spirits and party-hungry backpackers from all over the world. Much to the joy of all of them, one festivity follows another during peak season in Goa. What starts around the beginning of December, summits in the colorful and ecstatic Goa Carnival.

India might not necessarily be one of the places where you would expect the celebration to happen. And indeed, compared to the great carnivals of Rio de Janeiro, Cologne or Venice, the Goan event is less famos. But don’t let that create a wrong image. Carnaval is just as joyful and exhilarating as its more important siblings. And after all, it is the largest in India and one of the few happening across Asia. Thus, for a very good reason, Goa Carnival has turned into a real magnet for Indian visitors and international tourists alike. Within four fun-packed days, Goa celebrates its culture and cuisine, giving the spectators a colorful insight into its mentality and historic background.

The celebrations usually take place between February and the beginning of March each year. The exact dates depend on the timing of Easter. The next Goa Carnaval 2020 takes place from Saturday, 22nd February until Tuesday, 25th February.

What To Expect At Goa Carnival

Carnival in Goa kicks off every year on Fat Saturday. Without a break, the loud and colorful extravaganza stretches over four full days and finally comes to a halt on Shrove Tuesday. The day after, on Ash Wednesday, all the lavish partying is already forgotten as it marks the start of Christian Lent season. For you who haven’t heard of this before, it is the 40-day long abstinence from meat before Easter.

But before this “sad” time of the year starts, there is so much to celebrate and to discover. After all, we have to obey King Momo who rules Goa during Carnival with the words “Kha, piye aani majja kar”. Nothing sums up these four days better than his message of “Eat, drink and make merry”. To promote hedonism and spread the word, King Momo heads a huge procession down the streets of Panaji, the capital of Goa. The route and byroads are beautifully decorated with thousands of lightbulbs. Following the joy-bringing ruler are hordes of cheering musicians, dancers and acrobats in flamboyant costumes.

Float at Goa Carnival with King Momo who opens and rules during carnival season

It is a true potpourri of entertaining acts and merrymaking. Electrifying musics sounds from everywhere as the gigantic floats and horse-drawn carriages pass by. Preparations for the long-awaited event already start as early as December. Over several weeks and hundreds of hours of work, creative ideas get turned into colorful and extravagant floats. The moving structures seize the opportunity to celebrate Goan culture and Biblical tales but also depict social taboos. Of course the beauty doesn’t come without competition. The different groups try to outdo the others as consumer brands are giving out awards for the most impressive floats.

The processions are complemented by plays that portray Goa’s rich culture and traditions, live music performances and many other side events. During this time, partying simply goes on and on – all day and all night! Be sure to lose yourself to the madness of the surrounding crowds. You will feel all the energy and enthusiasm that you simply cannot escape from. But who would want to anyway?!

Line Your Stomach For A Long Night Out

Of course nobody can dance and celebrate for four days straight without a lasting source of energy. Gladly, this won’t be a problem at all. Along with all the offered activities, Goa Carnival spawns the most delicious treats that local cuisine has to offer. You will find street food delicacies on every turn and luscious beverages are readily available to quench your thirst. Restaurants and hawkers across the area proffer the most delicious traditional meat and fish dishes. And what’s best: the eateries are basically open all night long. So, even if you aren’t fasting afterwards and this isn’t your last great meal, dive in and indulge in this culinary experience as if there is no tomorrow! Because one thing is for sure: Carnival is the time for all you foodies out there to come to Goa!

How Carnival Made It To The South Of India

One could think that Goa Carnival is some event that was made up to attract more tourists to the Western Indian state. Or maybe hippies brought this hedonistic happening with them back in the 60s. Way off the mark! Carnival in Goa actually has an impressively long tradition which started more than 500 years ago. Back then, during the early 1500s, Portuguese imperialists brought the Christian celebration with them.

While the festivities were strongly based on their European roots in the beginning, Goa Carnival took on the spirit of the Indian state over time. Local culture became more and more prevalent and thereby made it a celebration of its own that is distinct from all the other carnivals around the globe.

After the Portuguese had finally granted Goa its independence in the 1960s, the festival experienced a real boost. While Carnival had been celebrated for centuries as a rather chaotic and rural happening scattered across the region, it then started to become more organized and commercial. Bigger towns started arranging the nowadays oh-so popular parades. Businesses and brands have found their way into the festivities, helping to grow their scope and popularity across India and the world. But of course, the traditional aspect hasn’t lost in importance. Cultural groups play a huge role in showcasing the heritage of Goa until today.

 

 

Tips For Making The Most Of Goa Carnival

Although Goa is rather small and it is pretty cheap to get around, staying close to where the main parties happen will make the festival way more relaxed for you. After all, nobody wants a two-hour-long trip back to their accommodation after all the celebrating. Thus, being somewhere around Panaji, Vasco Da Gama or Margao is advisable.

As Carnival happens in the Southern Indian state, high season is still in full swing and so millions of visitors from all parts of India and all around the world come to celebrate. Thus, make sure to book your accommodation ideally several months in advance since beds fill up quickly and become outrageously expensive. Although we generally love being spontaneous, we wouldn’t recommend it at this peak season of the year. But even if you have to swallow the pill and pay for an over-priced room, attending Goa Carnival is absolutely worth it. And good news is that it is completely free of charge.


Similar to:

Carnaval in Brazil
Rheinischer Karneval in Germany
Carnevale di Venezia in Italy
New Orleans Mardi Gras in the USA
Want to share your knowledge on any of these? Let us know!


Photos by Frederick Noronha, Kirill Zarubin

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