The word Carnival comes from the Latin 'Carnem levare' which literally means putting away the flesh. History traces back the carnival celebrations to the Saturnalia festival of the Romans. The most colourful and unforgettable festival of Goa is the Carnival celebrated by the Catholics with gay abandon once a year for three days preceding Lent- from Sunday to Tuesday. During these three days, Goa is gripped by the pulsating rhythm of guitars and the lilt of folk songs. The revelers in their colourful improvised fancy dresses, dance and sing in the streets, with King Momos, Lord of the Carnival, presiding over the scene.
Preparations for the Carnival starts in December and January. The festival comes around February/March. Boys and girls plan and design their fancy costumes for the occasion. They prepare packets and cartridges made of paper and stuffed with bran, husk or sawdust or plain powder.
Even a week before the Carnival, a handful of boys and girls, arrayed in masks and dominoes, would go round visiting their friends places and play at banter and have lots of fun. These used to be known as assaltos. They were then entertained with snacks and drinks in the form of a warming up for the exciting event.
The main function of the Carnival on the first day, i.e. Fat Saturday evening, starts with a mammoth procession of floats of a variegated pageant of colour and gaiety, headed by King Momo. The actual dance and other celebrations affect only a part of the population particularly the youth with some coloured water being thrown mirthfully at friends with the help of a chiknolli. Cocotes meaning stuffed cartridges, used to be thrown in a spirit of mirthful mock battles by rival groups in the old days, which left the roads littered with coloured powder. The young would provide themselves with card board shield to defend themselves from the chaff filled bombs thrown by opposite groups. Crackers exploded with gay abandon, with buntings and decorations galore, with coloured streamers being flown everywhere. A local troubadour or a group of masqueraders impersonate as hawkers, fortune tellers and women, children run wild, banging on drums in the form of tins, while the elder ones move out in funny costumes.
Those who did not dare to express their love for a girl of their choice or one drawing their affectionate attention, plucked up courage to approach her in this guise with the real self hidden behind a mask. If the girls of their affection ran away from them, then they improvised as women and made another attempt, with powder and scent till they giggled knowingly, as if struggling to free themselves from them. The most important item of the Carnival celebrations was the play-cum-dance-song of Mussoll.
The folk-plays or Khell or Fell are a special feature of the Carnival celebrations in Chandor, where distinctive songs known as Intruzachim Geetam or Fella-Gitam are sung by the walking-plays that go about the village, with accompaniment of musical instruments, like an improvised operetta. The Fell goes from village to village and creates great excitement during this period. It helps to bring the villages together in a spirit of understanding and amity. There is a lot of noise and music in the air, with violins, cymbals, drums, ghumats, whistles contributing to the extravaganza. The Fells, whose dramatic quality is not high, nevertheless acts as a necessary corrective to the follies and foibles of various sections of the Goan society. It spares no one in its biting criticism and caricature of prominent characters.
The dolkas is a sort of rustic drum which acts like the mainspring or director of the play, whereas the whistle of the mestri (producer like) serves as the curtain-puller to the play. The dialogue is attuned to the song, sometimes very ordinary and banal verging on banter, but is uplifted by the dances colouring it giving a lively lilt to the whole show. The Fell bristles with satire and makes the people laugh which goes to entertain the audience. The humour is spontaneous and rib-ticking. The dolkas sets the tone of the folk-play, while the cymbals, clarinet and the trumpet are the basic musical instruments to enliven it with the help of dialogue. The Fells are put up at Easter and Christmas also.
Some clubs and hotels of the five-star variety hold dances during the Carnival days beginning with Sabado Gordo in Goa where revelers appear in gaudy costumes and masks and let their hair down in gay abandon, with booze and carousing galore. There used to be in the old days, dances in the morning also called Matinees Japonesas. A queen is elected for King Momo. Mimicry and impersonations of local characters are enacted and it is all fun and frolic for every one. Carnival festivities go on in full swing and continue late into the night and morning of Wednesday, when the period of Lent, the spell of penance, begins with Ash Wednesday.