Apart from being famous for it's vibrant beaches, food, music, architecture and alcohol Goa also has a bunch of unique and spectacular festivals to it's name. Festivals all over India are celebrated with great pomp and excitement, however, the festivals in Goa are so peculiar and intriguing that they deserve a category of their own. If you do happen to visit Goa during the celebration of any of the below mention festivals, you are definitely in for a treat.
1. Sao Joao Festival
This festival is celebrated on June 24th every year as a tribute to the birth of St. John the Baptist (who is Jesus' cousin). The unique and unusual aspect of the celebration of this feast in Goa is that people where colourful 'Kopels' (wreaths) made of flowers and jump into wells and ponds. According to the Catholic Bible, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Virgin Mary and told her that she would bear a Son (Jesus) and that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with a boy child. Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth to see if this prophecy was true. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb (who would eventually become St John the Baptist) 'leapt' in her womb. Jumping in wells and ponds during this festival is symbolic of the unborn John leaping in Elizabeth's womb. This feast coincides with the onset of monsoon where the surrounding scenery is beautified with greenery and flowers and the water bodies are filled with water, because of which the Sao João festival in Goa evolved to incorporate elements of the rainy season like the 'Kopel'.
Date: June 24th annually
Venue: All over Goa
2. Three Kings feast
The feast of the Epiphany commemorates the adoration by the Three Magi, at the feet of the Baby Jesus. This feast is celebrated by Catholics all over the world as it marks the end of the beautiful season of Christmas. It is celebrated on the 6th of January every year, as it is believed that on this date the three kings who followed the star. The reached baby Jesus with their gifts. In Goa, this beautiful journey of the kings is celebrate is a grand and pomp manner by all, however, in three places, i.e. the Reis Magos Church at Verem in the Bardez taluka in North Goa, the village of Chandor in South Goa, and at Our Lady of the Mount, or Nossa Senhora Dos Remedios, in Cansaulim in South Goa it is celebrated in a grand manner. This festival is marked with grand processions and the crowning of three kings who make their way to the church on horses bearing gifts to be placed at the crib
Date: January 6th annually
Venue: All over Goa, especially in Verem, Chandor and Cansaulim
This festival is also associated with plenty of prayers in the hope of a good monsoon and people traversing the streets singing traditional songs and playing traditional instruments. Celebrated by the agricultural communities including the Kunbis, Gawdas and Velips, Shigmo commemorates the rich, golden harvest of paddy along with marking the onset of spring. Shigmo celebrations last over a fortnight in the months of Phalgun-Chaitra months of the Hindu calendar that correspond with March-April every year. Namam marks the start of the festival which is the invocation of local folk deities. This takes place in the presence of loud music played on the dhol, ghumat and tashe by the local men. This is called the romta mell that moves from one village to another. The celebration is replete with traditional, colourful costumes, mythological installations, painted faces and colourful costumes. Folk dances are a common feature of this celebration along with men dancing with tall umbrellas called, ‘Sontreo’. This festival is celebrated with floats that take place in different parts of the state on different days. The float parades have, over the years, drawn tourists both domestic and international.
Date: March-April annually
Venue: All over Goa
4. St. Francis Xavier's Feast
Celebrated every year on the 3rd of December at Old Goa at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the feast of St. Francis Xavier takes place preceding the 9 days of novenas held and attended by pilgrims from all over the world. There is a grand fair where stalls selling sweetmeats, toys, and clothing line the streets. It is one of the biggest Christian festivals celebrated in Goa as the people of Goa exhibit great faith in the most holy St. Francis Xavier. St Francis Xavier came to Goa as a missionary in 1542, and began preaching to both the Goans and his fellow Europeans. He died of a fever on a Chinese island in 1552, at just 46 years old, and was brought back to Goa a few years later. Post his death his body was placed in a handcrafted casket which was then placed in the Basilica of Bom Jesus where it remains to this day. Once every ten years there is a public viewing of his body, the next being due in 2024.
Date: 3rd December annually
Venue: Old Goa and the rest of the state
5. Vasco Saptah
Following Nagapanchami, the 6th day of the Hindu month of Shravan marks the beginning of Saptah, a festival dedicated to Lord Damodar. Lasting for about a 7 day week, this festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Vasco, Goa. Stalls selling various items adorn the area, where people from all walks of life are seen shopping, even tourists visiting the state at that time of the year. It is celebrated in the Temple of Lord Damodar year in and year out. Legend has it that in 1898 the town was hit by an epidemic. It was said that the locals turned to Lord Damodar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva for help and hence marked the beginning of the age-old celebration of the saptah. The residents of Vasco go to the Lord Damodar temple at Zambaulim and bring a coconut as prasad to be installed for worship in Vasco. The chosen person, who carries the sacred coconut, is accompanied by a troupe of dancers, who go around the town, visiting the residences of prominent citizens. This festival is very sacred to the Hindus of Vasco and they celebrate it with great pomp and happiness every year.
Date: Sixth day of Shravan month (August)
Venue: Vasco, Goa
The victory of good over evil is the main gist behind the widely celebrated festival of Narkasurs in Goa on the eve of Diwali. In Goa it is a celebration applauding the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king, Narkasur. Life size figures representing the demon Narkasur are paraded on the streets before being burnt. This marks the commencement of the festival of light and end of evil and darkness. The festival is therefore known as Narkasur Chaturdashi. Preparations begin many days before the festivities and a lot of effort is put into the making of the demon. Another interesting aspect is the fact that the best and most creative Narkasur takes home a prize as it is also a competition celebrated all over the state. Prizes are awarded before the effigies are reduced to ash. Narkasur parades are undertaken with pomp and fervour and are a great attraction for those who choose to spend their Diwali-time holidays in Goa as this is something that you can witness only in this Southern small state of India.
Date: Eve of Diwali
Venue: All around Goa
7. Bonderam Festival
The Bonderam festival also known as the flag festival has its roots hailing back to the Portuguese era. History has it that during the Portuguese rule in Goa there were frequent property disputes between the two sections of Divar island: Mathias and Piedade. These disputes were so bad that they often lead to violence and fights in the village. To contain the problem, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of the boundaries of the two villages with flags. The rival groups occasionally knocked down the flags with stones to show their disapproval of the demarcation. the bonderam festival is a mock celebration of these past feuds. People of Divar start their celebration at the break of dawn. However, the main festival begins in the afternoon with the 'Bonderachi Pasoi' that begins from St. Mathias Church with a flag parade. During the festival, heritage homes are all decked up and the residents of the homes wear colour coordinated costumes and serve local delicacies. There are fancy dress contests, live bands, street theatres and lots of unexpected surprises during this marvelous festival.
Date: 4th Saturday of August
Venue: Divar Island