Carnival goes on in Goa despite Hindu opposition

BJP-led state government provides support and sponsorship for three-day pre-Lent festival
Carnival goes on in Goa despite Hindu opposition

A woman holds up a placard during a carnival parade on Feb. 10 in Goa, a former Portuguese colony. Social issues like pollution and drug abuse were the subjects of floats in the three days of parades this year. (Photo by Bosco de Souza Eremita/ucanews.com)

Despite hard-line Hindu groups' opposition to Western culture as anti-Indian, Goa's government has gone all out to celebrate the former Portuguese colony's annual carnival.

The government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) provided administrative support and sponsored the extravagant three-day carnival parades in major towns.

The festivities began on Feb. 10 with 48 floats, led by the triumphant entry of King Momo, or Momus, the Greek god of satire and laughter, and his entourage of dancing damsels atop a gaily decorated truck. It was witnessed by some 15,000 people, mostly tourists, in the state capital Panaji.

Similar parades were being held in major towns until Feb. 13 ahead of Ash Wednesday when Catholics begin a 40-day Lent period of prayer and abstentions leading to Easter that commemorates the Passion and resurrection of Christ.

The parade floats highlighted issues such as the environment, wildlife and pollution substance abuse. Even state police put up a float focusing on the adverse impact of smoking and alcohol consumption.

The carnival tradition, which 'allows' people to indulge in carnal pleasures ahead of the period of abstention, was introduced to Goa by the Portuguese who made it their colony for 451 years until 1961.

Local Catholic Joseph Carneiro said life in the state has blended with Portuguese language and culture to create a distinct Goan culture that includes the carnival tradition.

The BJP cannot afford to discard Goan culture in its push for Hindu hegemony because of "fear that any move in that direction may alienate their Goan vote bank," he said.

Carneiro said sensitivity toward Goan culture may continue for few more years until uncontrolled migration of outsiders to the state changes its demography completely.

About 25 percent of Goa's 1.4 million people are Christians, almost all of them Catholics.

But all local people are attuned to Goan culture and cuisine, which includes non-vegetarian food such as beef that orthodox Hindus in mainland India abhor as they consider the cow a sacred animal.

"Irrespective of the government in New Delhi, the carnival, beef eating and social habits will not change," Carneiro said.

Father Victor Ferrao, a professor at Rachol Seminary, said the way the BJP adapts itself in Goa shows that they "are hypocrites and power hungry."

Former parliamentarian John Fernandes said the BJP government in Goa has seven elected Catholics among its 13 legislators in the 40-seat-house. The BJP runs a coalition with the clear support of Catholics, so it cannot offend Catholic voters.

The Catholic hierarchy distanced itself from carnival celebrations some decades ago after declaring it "not a Christian festival" following abuse and immorality during celebrations.

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Officials have even prohibited the use of church premises to read out King Momo's edict to "disobey parents, have fun and be merry" during the three days.

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