10 Feb 2024 | 05:18am IST
Reminiscences of the Sabado Gordo celebrations in Goa
The introduction of the Carnival or ‘Carnaval’ in Goa is documented, but its exact origin remains somewhat obscure. References to Carnaval celebrations in Goa are commonly found in 19th-century government bulletins and some private periodicals. The festivities included parades, dances, colourful costumes and music, thereby lending an atmosphere of gaiety and amusement
The traditional Sabado Gordo or the
‘Fat Saturday’ is held today, marking the onset of the indulgent festive
Carnival celebrations preceding the solemn season of reflection, atonement and
fasting that is characteristic of the Christian Lent. Sabado Gordo is a phrase
that many among the senior generation in Goa are familiar with, alluding to the
spectacle of colour, indulgence and merrymaking galas. The fact that the term
‘Sabado Gordo’ was used not only in Goa, but also in Portugal and many other
countries indicated that Carnival traditions were widely celebrated.
Festivities usually began on a Saturday and culminated with the Fat Tuesday or
‘Mardi Gras’ before Ash Wednesday.
An annual visit to
Panjim for people from the neighbouring villages, on the day of the ‘Sabado
Gordo’ of the Carnival was a culturally enriching experience. The popular use
of the word Carnaval is in consistency with the phonetics of the Portuguese
language and its influence in Goa. A trip by bus to witness the elaborate
‘Carnaval’ parade during the late 1980s was a much-anticipated occasion. The
colourful parades, vibrant costumes of dancers and pot-abellied men on bicycles
navigating their way across the crowded streets of Panjim brought cheer and
laughter on people’s faces. Likewise, masked men with concealed identities
formed a quintessential feature of the parade. The experiences of the Sabado
Gordo remained ingrained in memory for a long time.
The spirit of the
Saturnalia Festival in ancient Rome, with its emphasis on revelry and casting
aside societal norms laid the groundwork for varied Carnival traditions across
the world. Merry-making and overindulgence accompanied this event. The Roman
tradition was practiced in many countries of Europe although it was not
recognised in any liturgical traditions of the Church.
The Latin phrase,
Latin carnem levare or carnelevarium, denotes the abstinence of meat after the
onset of the Lenten Season to observe penitence and suffering characteristic of
this period. The introduction of the Carnival or ‘Carnaval’ in Goa is
documented, but its exact origin remains somewhat obscure. References to
Carnaval celebrations in Goa are commonly found in 19th-century government
bulletins and some private periodicals. The festivities included parades,
dances, colourful costumes and music, thereby lending an atmosphere of gaiety
and amusement. The Portuguese Government issued regulations time and again
aimed at ensuring decorum and public safety during the Carnival celebrations.
reference to the Sabado Gordo (in 1866) found in the A India Portugueza, a
19th-century periodical provides a historical glimpse of the Carnival
celebrations in Goa during the Portuguese regime. The newspaper description indicates
that ‘the Carnaval was a long-standing tradition in Goa. Further, the
celebrations were expressed as ‘marvelous’ revealing that the festivities were
grand and amazing. The figurative expression ‘Carnaval Gordo’ used in the
feature vividly describes the spirited nature and abundance associated with Fat
Saturday. A India Portugueza added a poetic flair and human characteristics to
the Carnaval by stating that it would soon be fleeing in terror with the onset
of the Lent. It was an indication that the carefree spirit of the festivities
would rapidly make way for a more restrained and contemplative period of the
solemn Lenten season.
measures were issued by the government during the Carnival celebrations. It
pronounced the closure of certain libraries in Goa, including that of the
Rachol Seminary thereby indicating its impact on society. Stern guidelines were
issued time and again to regulate Carnival festivities in the territory. In
1873, the Administrator of the Ilhas (Tiswadi) pronounced the orders of the
Governor-General of India, Joaquim José de Macedo Couto for the smooth
celebration of the Carnaval. Interestingly, fanciful clothing was permitted
during the occasion, but masked costumes were prohibited in the Old and New
Conquests of Goa. Such prohibitory orders reflect the concern of the government
about the potential mischief and apprehensions to public safety in society.
Masks of different sizes and shapes were associated with the Carnaval. But the
anonymity associated with it probably allowed merrymakers to indulge in
mischief without being recognised. Village magistrates in Goa were also
involved in enforcing the regulations of the colonial government. The emphasis
on vigilance suggests the potential challenges that could arise during the
celebrations. And rightly enough, some uneventful incidents, brawls and drunken
episodes were also reported in different parts of Goa during the celebration.
The costume soiree was organised during the Carnaval by the Steering Committee
of Clube de Nova Goa in Panjim, and a well-equipped restaurant served as a
fitting end to the Carnaval celebration in the capital for a long time.
continued to be issued in the 20th century by the colonial government. After
1961, the tradition of the Sabado Gordo was sustained with equal funfair.
Carnival celebrations attracted hundreds of tourists from different parts of
the country to visit the Union Territory. Over time, some ‘hippies’ also began
to participate in the parade in the streets of Panjim, Margao and Mapusa and
these in turn, attracted many domestic voyeurs from across the country. The
Goan Carnaval has evolved over time to accommodate diverse perspectives of the
changing times. Carnival floats have also encouraged green practices by
encouraging eco-friendly practices, recycling initiatives and raising awareness
about environmental preservation. Yet, the nostalgic memories of the Sabado
Gordo hold a special place among many Goemkars.
(Sharmila Pais is an
Associate Professor in History at St Xavier’s College, Mapusa, and the
co-author of ‘The Quest for Goa’)