It is twilight in Panjim and a little boy dressed in all finery stands in the middle of the street and brandishes a sword in the air. But in a moment he is engulfed by the thunderous beats of the dhol and the high pitch of the cymbals. In Goa you do not associate pole dancers with older women, but here is a group holding poles in their hands and dancing to a frenzied rhythm. A baby Krishna strolls past while a gloomy intimidating Yama Raj strikes a pose. A shy Devi looks a bit conscious as she wields her sword, a Ravana adjusts his headgear, and a rather restless Hanuman paces up and down, grabbing attention.
All of a sudden I am lost in a sea of faces as thousands of men, women and children throng the streets. A pulsating energy sweeps through the wave of poles and flags as they swirl and twirl to the rhythm of the Dhol. This is a Goa that is new to me. Vibrant and colourful, it treats me to a spectacle of Shigmo, a festival that is celebrated throughout the state to herald the season of spring.
Shigmo has its roots in the villages of Goa as the festival is usually celebrated in temples with the arrival of spring. Men and women dance in their fields, pray to the local deities, perform many a folk dance, sing traditional songs, bring mythology alive with theatrical performances laced with trance and celebrate colour. However, the larger-than-life celebration is in the towns, where fantasy and folk form a fusion in the floats that parade through the streets.
I am standing in a small enclosure watching the tableaux of villagers from around Panjim parade through the streets, showcasing local culture. Dressed in a riot of colours, the people are overcome by energy and passion as they perform the Romtamell, the Dindi or the Ghode Modani – traditional folk dances that are part of their local culture. They go into a trance and lose control as the beats take over their feet; their saffron turbans roll over as they move their bodies to the rhythm of music. Age does not matter – the older men and women whip up some excitement as the little children dance and sing with gusto. The pageant comes alive as dancers take over, while villagers dress as deities and demons to compete for the attention of the crowds.
I walk around watching some of the men get ready with their floats. The event, I hear, is competitive. Artists win awards in various categories, be it floats, fancy dress or folk dances. The planning starts almost a couple of months in advance as villages vie with each other to win awards. It is not just mythology that is the underlying theme of Shigmo. Girls and boys address social issues like mining or garbage as the men and women showcase agrarian themes in their floats.
But it is the raw energy and the pride that takes over the evening. As the drums roll and the feet twirl, the little boy next to me moves his head in a frenzy as he breaks into a jig. I am told it is the 25th anniversary of the Shigmo celebrations in Panjim this year and the government has promoted it as a state tourism event, bringing Goa’s rustic and cultural side to the fore. But Shigmo is not just restricted to the capital. The floats move from town to town as more participants enter the fray from the neighbouring villages.
As the sun goes down, the energy hits an all time high. There is no sign of it waning down in the audience. The dancers move on, leaving the streets for a larger-than-life spectacle where the epics come alive with garishly painted deities and demons. They are loud and kitschy, but vibrant and overwhelming. Loud laughter greets you in the dark as the evil demons make their appearance. The Gods look less daunting even as stories from the Ramayana take centre stage.
I watch Kumbhakarna in his sleeping avatar, a cruel Ravana dragging Sita, Hanuman entering the mouth of a demoness, and the Sugreeva Sena all set to fight the demons. Myths and legends take over as devas and asuras parade with loud sound effects while Shiva and Vishnu complete the picture.
In Goa, the nights are always loud and vibrant and so it is with Shigmo. The float goes on till late night amidst loud cheering, even as the participants show no sign of tiring. It is a Goa that I see for the first time – talented, spirited, mythical, animated and full of pride as the Goans showcase a side to them that has its roots in culture and tradition.
Photos by Lakshmi Sharath