Courtesy Dept of Tourism, Goa
Shigmo in Konkan and particularly in Goa is essentially the festival of the masses. It is so all over India, though it is celebrated under different names and in different ways, in different parts of the country. In the North it is Holi, in Bengal and Assam it is known as Dolayatra; in the South it is named Kamadahan and in Maharastra it is called Shimga or Holi. Its origin has been traced by different Puranas to different puranic legends. Holika according to some is the aunt of Pralhad who instigated her royal brother Hiranyakashapu to inflict every kind of torture on his son Pralhad to dissuade him from repeating the name of the lord. It is said the people revolted against evil Holika, chased her with abuses and mud slinging and drove her almost mad, as a consequence of which she threw herself into the pyre they had prepared for her. Others attribute it to the commemoration of the cremation of Putana who was sucked to death by the infant Krishna when she came to poison him by suckling. There are still others who celebrate it in memory of the death of Indian Cupid Kamadev caused by the wrath of Lord Shiva, for the temerity of the former to tempt him while he was in penance.
These different puranic concoctions are enough evidence to believe that this festival is prepuranic and has its root in the elemental essence of human nature, which seeks an occasional outlet into licentious indulgence from checks and breaks that civilization imposes Probably it has many elements of primitive fertility orgies that have defied civilization and prudery and works as social catharsis on a mass scale
It is the festival of Farewell to Winter celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Falgun (February-March), the last month of the Hindu calendar year. Falgu in Sanskrit means red powder, indicative of gaiety, fun and frolic. So Falgun is the month of unbridled mirth.
Tagore has a beautiful song that begins with the line “Bau Bau Falgun lage re”. It is in Falgun that the vital fire in every tree bursts forth into colorful tender leaves and the masses who are in tune with nature also act likewise. This festival is indicative of the cultural stage of the masses that celebrate it.
Shigmo in Goa, generally shuns vulgarity, licentiousness and obscenity and wherever it is resorted to, it is observed as a brief ritual, or as innocuous fun. It is because our elders wisely linked it with the village temple and prescribed certain religious and artistic practices to sober it down.
In Goa, which was always a land of temples, Shigmo begins with Naman or collective obeisance of villagers from Ninth Moon day to Full Moon Day. During all these days they are to shun non-veg food and all intoxicants. From the eleventh Moon Day to the fifteenth Moon Day, various village groups clad in their most colorful dresses set out in festive mood with Abdagirs, multicolored cloth toranas, flags and columlike red spotted Dhwajas beating drums and blowing flutes gather to the houses of landlords and dance round the Tulsi Vrindavan singing various folk songs to the beat of “zanz”. When the dance and song program are over groups are given “Tulsi” an offering of coconuts, rice and a few coins. In my child-hood day’s troupes of dancing girls and boys used to display their talents in many ways.
In Goa, we have three kinds of deities: Satvik (sober), Rajas (pleasure loving) and Tamas (crude and angry). Naturally associated with them “Shigmo” expresses their moods through its programs and practices. They vary from place to place. At Mardol on the fifteenth Moon Day “Mells” or groups of twenty seven villages gather in the open place in front of Mhalsa temple where the whole night they sing and dance at the beat of hundreds of earthen drums or ghumats. In the late night on this day, a big log of mango tree is burnt at the outskirts of the temple in every village around which urchins pile up logs and all sorts of wooden things they can lay hands on and set fire to the whole heap. No one howsoever high can approach it with footwears on. The urchins will force you to take them off or strip you of them for Holi is holy.
After all the tom-toming is over people will go home and bathe. Then they can relax over a drink and rest.
The next day is the day of the dead. In my young days I have seen young and old men going into frenzy at the continuous beat of drums, gongs and temple bells and fainting for hours. When they returned to consciousness they ran to the village graveyards and bring bambo poles from where their elders had been buried. This practice was perhaps to worship and please the dead. But this old practice is fast dying, as education among the masses is spreading all over Goa. On the fifth day comes the real day of rejoicing. It is called Rang-pan-chami. It is practiced differently at different places. The main function of the day, however, is the profuse use of Gulal or red powder. It is symbolic of rejoicing, when people throw it on one another as a sign of full-hearted greeting and one can throw it even on strangers who take it in the spirit of friendly approval., In this, even classes participate. Ladies also gather in festive mood and present to one another Halad kunkum, fruits and sweets.
I have always felt that “Carnaval” among the Catholics of Goa is the Christian edition of the age old Shigmo.