Goa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India, among Indians as well as foreigners. And this is not only because of the lovely beaches that the state has to flaunt, but also coz of the number of festivals that are hosted here. Be it cultural celebrations or music festivals, Goa has it all, in abundance. The festivals celebrated in Goa are an amalgamation of several cultures. The fairs and festivals give you yet another reason to visit this stunning coastal state. Here’s a list of popular festivals held in Goa, which exhibit colourful and fascinating parades or EDM, and of course, Goa’s rich culture!
Feast of the three kings
When: Celebrated on January 6
Feast of the three kings or the Epiphany is one of the most popular festivals in Goa. It is celebrated on January 6 every year in the village of Cansaulim and Chandor in South Goa and the village in Verem in North Goa. Christians as well as non Christians celebrate this festival with great fervour. The feast is held at the Our Lady of Remedies chapel or chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios located at Cuelim.
To declare the start of the festivity, trumpets and the kettledrums are played early morning. The otherwise sleepy villages buzz with activity and come to life. The celebration continues for nine days with a lot of dancing and music. On these nine days of celebration, people visit the Our Lady of Remedies chapel located on top of a hill in Qualim, Salcete. Although an excellent road has been arranged, people still prefer walking up the steep hill to attend the Mass held in this chapel and to recite the Rosary. The beautiful statue of Mother Mary is decorated with jewellery by Hindus and Christians alike on the day of the feast. Many offerings are made to thank Mother Mary for fulfilling their wishes. During these nine days, the chapel resonates with songs by church choir.
On the last day, i.e. on the day of the Feast of the Magi on January 6, three boys from Arossim, Cansaulim and Cuelim are selected to dress up as Three Kings. These kids carry gifts—frankincense, myrrh and gold—for the infant Jesus, just like the Kings. The boys travel towards the chapel on horseback and with a band. Dressed as Kings, the boys reach the chapel to offer their gifts. The procession is led by little children playing kettledrum and trumpet. The three kids dressed as Kings and the whole procession celebrates the three Kings’ journey to see baby Jesus.
The feast is followed by a fair. An extensive fair is held near the chapel. Complete with fun rides and makeshift shops selling everything from clothes to toys to trinkets, the fair is a must visit. One of the most peculiar things about the Feast of the three kings is that as soon as the festivities are over the buntings and flags are removed and the crowd goes home immediately. By midday, you will not find anyone around the chapel. The remains closed until the next feast as no priest reside in it. The reason behind this is that the place is believed to be haunted by Maratha King Shivaji and his troops.
About the chapel: Perched on a hill in Qualim, Salcete, Our Lady of Remedies chapel is famous for its miracles. The chapel has a beautiful statue of Mother Mary carrying a vase in one hand and baby Jesus in the other. The Lady of Mount is known as the protector of the people. People worship her as the fertility goddess. She is famous for fulfilling wishes of the devotees. According to few historians, the site on which the chapel is situates was earlier the site of a Hindu temple.
Goa Carnival (Carnaval – Portuguese)
When: During late February or first two weeks of March
Celebrated in the month of February, Goa Carnival or Carnaval is the most colourful and fun filled event in the state. The carnival is celebrated for four days and this is the time when you see Goa at the peak of its festivities. It is like an extravaganza of colour, fun frolic and music. Each town hosts colourful parades of floats. Along with floats the masked revellers dressed in beautiful costumes, make their way through the streets of Goa singing and dancing in rhythm. The huge parades with lively dancers, bands and floats are a sight to behold. Grand dance balls are arranged throughout the night. The festival comes to an end with the popular Red and Black dance, which is organised on the last day of the festival in Panaji.
The festival offers you an opportunity to experience Goa’s unique culture. Some believe the festival to be a relic of ancient pagan rituals to pay respect to the gods of nature and fertility, but others see the festival as the beginning of spring season and the end of winter. The festival, which usually falls in late February or the starting two weeks of March, begins on the Saturday just before Ash Wednesday. The first parade is organised in Panaji. During the festival, people eat, drink and enjoy.
Goa Carnival is associated with the King Momo, the mock king who presides over the celebration and orders his subject to enjoy. Dressed in colourful attires, King Momo and his entourage also participate in the parade. As the king passes by the crowd shouts ‘Viva Carnaval!’ Over the years, the festival has evolved and now there are different types of floats like the funky float and the traditional one. Attractive prizes are given for the best float for each category.
Shigmotsav or Shigmo or Gulalotsav is a 14-day-long spring festival celebrated in Goa in March. It is the biggest spring festival celebrated by the Hindus and is a fusion of carnival and Holi. The festival is celebrated in the Hindu month of Phalguna on the full moon day. Shigmotsav is Goa’s answer to the festival of colours, Holi.
The celebration begins by offering prayers to the god and goddess of the village. During this festival, elaborate floats are prepared and parades with street dancers and traditional folk songs are organised. The floats usually display scenes from religious texts and regional mythology. These beautifully lit and artistically-designed floats are taken out in a parade in many places in the state like Panaji, Mapusa, Ponda and Madgao. Folk dances are performed by dance troupes on the road. The streets of Goa turn into cultural centre with music and dance.
When: April 11
Another interesting festival of Goa is the Lairai Zatra or Lairai Jatra. In Konkani, jatra or zatra means pilgrimage festival. Celebrated on April 11, the festival is celebrated in honour of Devi Lairai in a small village, Shirgao, which is located in the district of Bicholim. The temple of goddess Lairai is decorated with lights and several rituals and poojas are conducted. Devotees from all over the state visit the temple to pay their respect. The festival is also known for the ‘fire walking’. People throng to this place to witness this unusual ritual.
Lairai Jatra was once a six-day long celebration and now it has reduced to just a single day. The celebration begins early morning with performing rituals. Most of the devotees wear a different type of dhoti and flower garlands. They also carry a stick, which they make using twisted twigs. The stick is decorated with colored yarn. Devotees dance inside the temple of Lairai carrying the stick. The dance is performed in a circle and this continues until midnight. Around midnight, the dance ritual inside the temple concludes with a person lighting a bonfire close to the temple. The devotees form a circle around the bonfire and once again start dancing.
During the early morning, when the fire dies out and coal starts to form, some devotees run across the hot coal holding the stick and chanting the name of goddess Lairai. Tourists and devotees visit this temple during Lairai festival to witness this ritual. After completing the run, devotees throw their garland onto a banyan tree, and the festival ends with the sunrise.
All Saints Day
When: 5th Monday of Lent (in the month of March)
Where: Goa Velha
Celebrated on the fifth Monday of Lent period, All Saints Day is colorful festival of St. Andrews Church in Goa Velha, which is a small town in Goa. This religious festival will give you an opportunity to experience the beautiful culture of the state.
The procession of All Saints of the Franciscan Third Order includes floats with 31 life-sized statues of saints. These statues are carried by devotees and circulated around the village. Members of the order, school children and villagers join the procession. It attracts people from across the state. During this time, the roads of the village are lined up with shops selling everything from toys to food to sweets. The statues are kept in the church in clear view for two days.
When: June 24
Where: All over Goa (main celebration at Calangute, Candolim, Anjuna and Assagao)
Sao Joao or the birthday of St. John the Baptist is among the most popular monsoon festivals in Goa and is celebrated with great fervour and pomp. The festival is celebrated on June 24 to welcome the monsoon and venerate the saint. The festival is especially sacred to new parents, newlyweds and people who purchased a new home.
As the most common sign of monsoon is the increase in water level in well, this monsoon festival is celebrated by jumping into a well or any water body. The swimmer is then treated with local alcoholic drink, feni, by the owner of the well. The act of jumping into a well or a waterbody venerates the ritual of Baptism in Jordan River. Parties around well and pool parties are organized on this day. Usually the young people of the village wear headdresses made of leaves and fruits. People exchange fruits and also participate in folk dances called ‘Sangodds’. Delicious Goan dishes are prepared and feni is served. You must visit Siolim to see the beautifully decorated boats cruising down the river.
Sao Joao is celebrated all across the state but the best places to see the festival are Assagao, Calangute, Candolim and Anjuna. The celebration begins with a prayer for a good rainy season as the monsoons are very important for a good harvest. The rains also replenish different sources of water.
You can also go for a Sao Joao cruise organized by Goa Tourism Development Corporation. The cruise starts from the Santa Monica Jetty Panjim at 10 am and ends at 3 pm. The cruise includes feasting, music and dance.
When: July 2
Where: Marcel in the Ponda Taluka
Chikal Kalo or Chikhalkala is the most fun monsoon festival of Goa. It celebrates the games played by Krishna with his friends during the monsoon. This amusing festival lets you enjoy a good mud bath in the field. The festival is celebrated on the 11th day of the Hindu month Aashadh. It falls on July 2 every year. The temple grounds of Marcel village in the Ponda Taluka are the venue for the celebration of the festival. Marcel village is famous for its Devaki-Krishna temple. It is the only temple that has the idol of Devakikrishna. The idol has a particular pose with small Krishna sitting on Devaki’s lap.
The celebration starts with religious pooja and other rituals. Bhajans are sung and the grounds are made slushy for the sport. After the bhajans and distribution of Prasad, the festivity continues with the traditional games. These games are played on the muddy grounds and are believed to be played by Krishna and his friends. Some of the games played on this day include vitti dandu (Gilli danda) and chendu fali (similar to cricket). The games are played after the players smear oil of their body. The spectators cheer with each dunking. This unique festival is celebrated mainly by Hindus, but the entire village turns up to see and take part in the festivities.
When: Starts on the day after Naag Panchami and continues for seven days
Where: Vasco town
Vasco Saptah is the largest celebration of in Vasco, a town in Shout Goa. The festival is called Vasco Saptah as saptah means seven and the celebration continues for a week. It is celebrated a day after Naag Panchami every year to worship Damodar, a manifestation of Shiva. During the festival, many stalls and fair are put up along the Swatantra Path. The makeshift shops sell everything from accessories to clothes to food to household items. Some of the shops stay put for up to fifteen days.
Legend: According to legends, Vasco was saved from a cholera outbreak in the late 19 th century by worshipping Damodar.
There was a cholera outbreak in Vasco in 1896 and many people were dying due to the disease. Some action has to be taken to stop the spread of the disease and being very religious, the people of the town turned to god for help. People started worshipping Damodar to stop the outbreak. The elders of the village travelled to Damodar temple located around 22 km from Margao at Zambaulim. A sacred coconut was brought back from there and it was installed for worship.
Initially, the coconut was kept at old Mata High school and worshipped by the people of the town. The outbreak of cholera came to halt soon after. Everybody rejoiced at the outcome and Anant Subrai Joshi, a known philanthropist, offered his home to keep the sacred coconut and convert it to a temple. To this day, the part of Joshi’s house is the centre of celebrations.
Festival: In Vasco, the Damodar temple is situated on Swatantra Path and during the seven days of celebration the road remains closed for vehicles.
The celebration begins with one of the members of Joshi family offering of a new coconut to Damodar. Pujas are performed and the devotees chant ‘Bola Pundalik Varde Hari Vathal’ to mark the beginning of the festival. Bhajans or devotional songs are sung for 24 hours uninterrupted. The new coconut installed at the temple is worshipped till the next year. The previous year’s coconut is taken around the village in a procession accompanied by dancers and band. This coconut is held only by a specially appointed individual. As the procession moves through the town, the people sprinkle water on them. Eventually, the old coconut is released into the sea.
During the week-long festival various religious and cultural programs are arranged. Artists from across the country visit are invited to take part in the events. During the festival, Vasco has a carnival atmosphere and is decorated with flags and streamers. This festival is a combination of religious activity and fun events.
When: Fourth Saturday of August every year
Where: Divar Island
The tiny river island of Divar is the venue for this interesting festival. The otherwise sleepy countryside comes alive during Bonderam. The name Bonderam is derived from the word ‘bandeira’, which means flag in the Portuguese language. The festival is celebrated on the fourth Saturday of the month August. Bonderam festival is also known as Bondram Flag Carnival.
History: The festival has an interesting history. Initially, the village in Divar Island had three communities, namely Piedade, Sao Matias and Goathias. The people of Piedade and Matias were involved in frequent fights over property. Often, these disputes ended in violence or bloody duels. In order to solve this matter, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of the boundaries with the use of flags. However, the flags were knocked down with a stone by the rival groups. In the memory of this practice, the people of the island used to take part in mock fights during Bonderam festival. Fotash, a toy weapon made of a bamboo stem, was used by the people to knock down the rival group’s flag. Peppercorn or berries were used as missiles. This practice is no longer followed due to eye injuries caused during a mock fight. Fotash, the toy weapon, is displayed during the parade.
Festival: The preparation for the festival starts at the crack of the dawn with music floating through the streets of the village. The celebration starts at noon with a Flag parade from Divar Island’s main junction. After the opening ceremony, the celebration continues with traditional float parade and fancy dress competition.
Floats are prepared by each ward and are sent to the parade. The floats are now sponsored by business houses, but each float retains their unique local flavour. The parade is accompanied by Live band and music. Popular music bands of Goa perform live during this festival. This colourful monsoon festival is a major crowd puller. The festivities come to an end in the evening.
When: August or September
Where: All over Goa
Ganesh Chaturthi, which is also called ‘Chovoth’ in Goa, is one of the biggest Hindu festivals in Goa. The intricately painted clay idol of Ganesha is worshipped during the celebration. The celebration can extend up to 21 days in Goa. Traditional puja and aarti are performed twice a day. Fruits, Mango leaves, beetle nuts and other ingredients are offered to the god. During this period, women observe fast. On the last day of the celebration, the idol of Ganesha is immersed in the sea or any other water body.
When: Between mid-October and mid-November
Where: All over Goa
The festival of lights, Diwali is another important Hindu festival celebrated all over the country. The festival marks Rama’s return after an exile of fourteen years. People decorate their home using lamps and lanterns. Beautiful rangolis are drawn outside their door or courtyard. The entire state lights up with fireworks. Sweets and gifts are exchanged during the celebration.
St. Francis Xavier’s Feast
When: December 3
Where: Old Goa
The feast of St Francis Xavier is held on December 3, the day St Francis Xavier was buried. St Francis Xavier, who was also called Goencho Saib (Lord of Goa), was Goa’s Patron Saint. During the Portuguese era, he was a prominent Catholic missionary. The feast is organized after nine days of prayer known as Novena. Devotees from around the globe visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus church in Old Goa to see the relics of St. Francis Xavier kept there. The holy remnant of the Saint is kept in a silver chest at the church. Exposition of the relic is arranged at the church for veneration before the feast. During the festival, many stalls crop up near the church selling souvenirs and trinkets. The atmosphere near the church is like a fair.
When: December 25
Where: All over Goa
Goa is the best place in India to celebrate Christmas. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and it is the most important festival for Catholics of the state. The celebration begins with Christmas carols, exchanging gifts and offering prayers. The streets, churches and homes are decorated with bunting and tinsel. People install Christmas tree at the homes and make cribs depicting Jesus Christ’s birth. You will feel the festive mood by the sweet aroma of baking cakes in the air and the melodious Christmas carols. Masses, dance, music, prayers and parties add up to this celebration. The period between Christmas and New Year is the busiest time in Goa and probably the best time to visit he state to see it in full glory.