Goa Carnival is one of the few carnivals in Asia and the only carnival celebration in India. It is a colorful and vibrant celebration before the onset of lent. Here is everything you need to know about celebrating carnival in Goa! It happens In between February and March.
What is carnival in Goa?
You may be surprised to know that Goa Carnival is a pre-Lenten Carnival that marks four days of exhilaration, merrymaking and mayhem prior to Lent. Yes India also celebrates Carnival, but it is unique to Goa and not celebrated anywhere else in India. Goa Carnival has over 500 years of history! Its origins date back to when Goa was a Portuguese colony and it was a Catholic celebration.
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Goa Carnival is a riot of energy, colour, extravagant dances, positive vibes, music performances and unmatched exuberance. It is a unique carnival that shows off the wonderful Goan culture, which is mixed in with a few hints of its Portuguese heritage. Goa is a favourite national event and is a big tourist draw, attracting thousands from all over India and around the world.
When is Goa Carnival?
Goa Carnival is usually celebrated during the months of either February or March before the onset of Lent. Goa Carnival goes for four days and nights finishing on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. Lent characterises fasting or abstinence from meat for the 40 days prior to Easter and is a significant event for the Catholics.
When is Goa Carnival? Goa Carnival Dates for 2020 was on Saturday the 22nd February 2020 and finished on the night of Shrove Tuesday which was 25th February 2020.
Carnival is the most anticipated event in Goa and all the preparations for the carnival celebrations begin early on in December when the streets are beautifully decorated with attractive lighting and luxurious grand balls are held. You can feel the excitement building up for weeks before carnival.
Where is Goa?
Goa is a state in India which is located on the Konkan coastal belt which is on the western coast of the Indian peninsula. Goa is bordered with Karnataka on the East and South, Maharashtra on the North and with the Arabian Sea on the West. The capital city of Goa is Panaji also known as Panjim, which is around 600km from Mumbai and Bangalore.
Goa is split into two districts: the North and the South. North Goa is home to the capital city of Panaji, Fort Aguada and Candolim, Chapora, Vagator, and the beaches Baga, Anjuna and Calangute. South Goa is home to Margao, Colva, Benolem and Vasco da Gama Bogmalo.
How do they celebrate carnival in Goa?
Goa Carnival throws a lively and exhilarating carnival which is famous for its colourful processions and vibrant energy. Although it is technically a Catholic celebration, Goa Carnival has been mixed with local Goan culture and many Hindu traditions.
Goa Carnival began on a Fat Saturday evening with an incredibly grand procession which is headed up by the Carnival King Momo. Huge street celebrations occur all over the state with amazing parades full of colourful costumes and large incredible floats. Lots of extravagant dance and music performances are held everywhere.
You can watch a play performed by the locals which exhibits the Goan culture as well as their enthusiasm and love for fun. Khell or Fell is the famous Goan one-act folk play which uses exciting colours and Intruzachim Geetam or Fella-Gitam are performed by the singers that walk around singing accompanied by local musicians.
You can check out the many showcases of exquisite Goan art and culture. There are also sporting competitions taking place. Goan Carnival is about drinking, eating and having fun – ‘Kha, piye, and majja kar’ as the Carnival King Momo says. So of course you must indulge in the delicious Goan food and great drinks!
The night time is for non-stop partying and grand masquerade balls. Masked revellers in large crowds take to streets and give into the hedonistic pursuits of excessive drinking and consumption of foods.
The final day of the celebrations is considered the most spectacular as it is the final chance to celebrate before Lent begins. Carnival closes with the popular Red and Black dance.
History of Goa Carnival
The origins of Goa Carnival are based on the Catholic tradition of Mardi Gras. Having a celebration which includes partying and large consumptions of food and drink before the 40 days of sacrifice and fasting that occurs during Lent.
Goa Carnival was brought to India by the Portuguese settlers during the time they ruled over the area some 500 years ago. In the beginning of Goa Carnival, the carnival was more about Portuguese culture and traditions but as time went on the carnival evolved and became more about Goan culture.
Just like carnival in Rio de Janeiro a person from the state is chosen to play King Momo, who becomes the official King of Carnival. Goa Carnival starts with King Momo leading the parade on a magnificent float surrounded by an entourage of musicians, dancers, acrobats, clowns and other entertainers.
King Momo declares that the decree of carnival is “Kha, Piye, Aani Majja Kar”, which means in this order eat, drink and be merry. After this announcement, the celebration begins and the whole city erupts into joy.
Goa Carnival Parades
Goa Carnival hosts the parades in four cities which are Panaji, Margao, Vasco and Mapusa. The parades of Goa Carnival are big spectacles that feature dancers, musicians, fire-breathers, jesters, acrobats, clowns and brass bands who put on spectacular performances as they parade down main streets.
Ornamented floats are an important symbol of Goa Carnival and great efforts go into decorating them according to the themes. These themes relate to things like Goan traditions, Goan culture, politics and current affairs. Another parade highlight are the horse-drawn carriages which have been decorated beautifully.
Performers showcase traditional Goan dances wearing incredibly colourful costumes with intricate designs and many feature large headdresses as well. The costumes add so much colour to the celebrations and are truly beautiful works of art.
The Best Food of the Year!
If you love Indian food, then you will love Goa carnival. An important tradition during carnival is that all the hotels and restaurants must prepare their absolute best most mouth-watering fish and meat dishes of the year!
Extra effort goes into sourcing the highest quality ingredients. There are so many different delicious dishes to try. Whether you feel like something sweet or spicy, there are delicacies for all taste buds!
The Streets come alive
The streets of Goa come alive during carnival bustling with Goan cultures and tradition. There are numerous market vendors filling the streets selling not just food and drinks but a huge array of Goan arts, crafts and mouth-watering foods and drinks.
Multiple bands, musicians and street performers like fire breathers are out on the streets entertaining the crowds. And the streets are full of people, everyone is outside, socialising and having a great time.
Goa Carnival Traditions
Ridiculous folk plays are put on during carnival that are full of sarcasm and mockery. An interesting Goa Carnival tradition is that Assoltes which are the performers in these plays, will visit their friends’ houses in costumes and makeup and play pranks on them. Once the friend realises, they are being pranked they are required to entertain the performers with drinks and snacks.
Another old Goa Carnival tradition sees Goanese people throwing their old kitchen utensils out of their kitchen windows, which is done when the parade walks by. This is because of an old Christian tradition which required people to clean their houses before Easter.
Another Goa Carnival tradition is that people get into playful fights throwing bright colours at each other which is very similar to the Holi Festival. During carnival people used to throw eggs, flour and dyes at each other but this has since been replaced with bright colourful powders.
Red and Black Dance
Ash Wednesday is the last day of the Goa Carnival finishes with the famous red and black dance. This is a popular colour-coordinated dance sees women dressed in red tops and black skirts, while the men dress in red shirts and black pants. They dance in a procession along with large musical bands.
Goa Carnival Tickets
Goa Carnival tickets are not needed, there is no entry fee all you have to do is show up and join in the celebration! Everyone is welcome with open arms to join the celebrations. The procession is free to watch and most of the fun and excitement happens out on the streets. Although you’ll need to pay Rs.100 if you’re interested in taking part in the Red and Black Dance
How to get to Goa Carnival?
Goa is easily reachable by air or train as it is connected with all the major cities in the country.
Goa has Dabolim airport in Vasco da Gama which is about 25km away from the states capital city Panjim. The airport connects with multiple cities all over the country and a few international destinations including Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Dubai, Kuwait, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Jaipur, Pune, and Chandigarh. The majority of international flights around the world go directly to Mumbai.
You can reach Goa from any of the metropolitans by road. There is also an excellent bus network in India with intrastate and interstate bus services. It is well connected by road to important Indian cities like Mumbai (604 km), Bangalore (562 km), Pune (461 km), Hubli (155 km), Kolhapur (234 km), Mysore (617 km), Shirdi (630 km) and Mahabaleshwar (407 km).
Actually it is a very breathtaking car drive from Mumbai to Goa and an experience of its own. The Western Ghats will hypnotise you with its eternal charm for the whole 12 hours journey down NH4.
Goa has many railway stations namely Madgaon (37 km away from the capital Panjim), Vasco Da Gama (28 km away from Panjim), Thivim (24 km away), Karmali (13 km away) that all connect to different major cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Lucknow and Jaipur all with a huge network of trains.
There are many cruises which provide boat services from Mumbai to Panaji or you can opt for a ferry service which can also be an excellent experience.
Some travel advice for attending Goa Carnival is to plan and book your journey early because it is the busiest time of year! Planes, trains and buses are all booked and filled up in advance. For last minute travel the buses are usually your best bet.
The same goes for getting around during Goa Carnival, the city streets of major towns are filled with people and floats, so you may have getting around if you have specific destinations you are trying to reach. Just speak to your hotel who will be able to provide you with good advice to get around.
Where to stay for Goa Carnival?
There are numerous options in Goa from budget right through to luxury five-star hotels, it just depends on your budget and the level of comfort you are seeking. Also carnival occurs during peak season in Goa which means the prices are much higher. If you plan on staying in five-star accommodation then expect to pay around $500US per night.
Visitors from around the world descend on the tiny emerald of Goa in their millions, just to attend Goa Carnival. So if you plan to attend carnival we recommend booking as early as possible, you can always cancel later if your plans change. Many people can end up roaming the streets during carnival because of how booked up the accommodation gets. Check out some accommodation options here.
Is Goa Carnival safe?
Goa Carnival is generally safe. Tight security systems are in place every year including drones, metal detectors, CCTV’s and a huge police presence are all used to ensure the safety of both the tourists and the participants. Stay with the crowds and don’t go to areas you don’t know and if you are with a big group, just pick some meeting points in case you lose each other.
So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. If you have to take your phone out with you, don’t have it on show for long.
What to do and see Goa?
Goa is known as the “pearl of the east.” Goa is a vibrant and beautiful place full of colour and life, that is worth exploring! The name alone involves sun, sand and sea. If you want a vacation that is going to be a lively and exhilarating experience and you head to Goa during February, then carnival is just the icing on the cake.
Goa is known for its beautiful sandy palm-fringed beaches, warm sunsets, natural beauty, tropical climate, churches, crumbling forts, ancient temples, tropical splice plantations, coconut groves, yoga retreats, bubbly folk music, art galleries, excellent food, museums, excellent seafood, ferry rides and so much more. Beaches and churches are Goa’s key tourist attractions.
Goa boasts 131 km of gorgeous coastline and has numerous beaches that are what attract millions of visitors every year. Anjuna and Arambol attract lots of foreign tourists while Baga and Calangute are popular destinations for Indian families. South Goa’s beaches are relatively less explored but Agonda and Palolem are incredibly beautiful.
As Goa was a former Portuguese colony and had a strong Roman Catholic community, it is home to some beautiful colonial architecture with many well preserved 17th century Gothic churches, forts and old-style bungalows. Fort Aguada is worth visiting because you can savour the nostalgia of the Portuguese regime, particularly in the lighthouse and the Aguada jail.
Goa is a famous pilgrimage centre in the Roman Catholic World and draws a huge number of tourists who come for the Christian Pilgrimage tours. The largest churches in Goa are the Se Cathedral and the holy shrine of Basilica of Bom Jesus in old Goa, which is home to the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. You must also visit Lady of Immaculate Conception, and the Chapel of St. Sebastian located in Panaji.
Other famous churches are Francis of Assisi, Church of St. Cajetan, Church of Our Lady of Rosary, Chapel of St. Anthony, Church and Convent of St. Monica and Chapel of St. Catherine, the Convent and Church of St. Augustine Ruins. Also worth mentioning is the Saligao Seminary, Rachol Seminary and the Pilar Monastery.
Nature has also been very generous to Goa and besides the beaches the Arvalem waterfall and the Dudhsagar waterfall attract a huge number of tourists every year. So to do the rock-cut caves of Arvalem and Khandepar.
For those that love art you must visit the statue of Abbe Faria, the Goa State Museum and the Secretariat, in the capital!
Goa is known for its friendly and hospitable locals and is home to some of the best nightlife in India. It has an array of beach shacks, trendy bars, elegant cafes, and many clubs and discotheques.