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Holi & Shigmo

A Burst of Colour – And The Fun Begins! 

Far away from prying touristy eyes, cost the central Goan town of Ponda, the heartland of Hindu Goa, will come alive this Sunday in a riotous eruption of colour and rituals, pomp and pageantry as it celebrates the traditional Shigmo festival, Goa’s very own version of Holi, India’s popular spring harvest festival.

There are many, like Santosh Shetty, a Panjim resident, who say that the Shigmo float parades are far better than the commercialized carnival float parades. Says Santosh, “The floats depict various incidents from Hindu mythology and our ancient traditions … After Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi, it’s the biggest Hindu festival in Goa.”

Make sure you go out in old clothes on Holi because you could be drenched in coloured water and have gulal (coloured powder) thrown at you. This is the day when you’re allowed to go up to perfect strangers and douse them with the colours. Some men take advantage of the free-for-all and grope women – a blight on the festivities that we can only hope will be reduced this year.


With the Goa government linking most of the festivals in Goa to the tourism calendar, the Shigmo, too, is now publicized all over the country and the world, and tourists will be there in strength to watch the parade in Panjim.

This year Shigmo comes before the Lok Sabha election, which has become a major prestige issue for the ruling BJP and other politicians. Though the election code of conduct now in force means that no politician in power can be on any of the Shigmo organizing committees, they will be discretely supporting the different groups of float makers and parades. The election code of conduct may also have a slight sobering effect on the floats as people will be cautious in making ostentatious displays as that might attract the attention of the election commissioners who may want to know the source of funds.


But with Shigmo and Holi celebrations coming during a long weekend, the party hotspots in Goa are going to be full of revelers, and the hip places will be rocking like there’s no tomorrow. It would be a good idea to party in Anjuna-Vagator at one of the raves on Holi as it’s also a full moon day and those colours, masks and wild clothing will all be in total sync. One of the lesser known aspects of the Shigmo celebrations is the use of ‘bhaang’ during the festivities. Bhaang of course is the intoxicating drink made of ganja and milk and consumed all over during Holi. God knows you don’t have to be Hindu to partake of this kind of fun.


Subhash K, who participated in the Shigmo festivities last year, says, “The one thing I can never forget is the loud music! I’d never thought such huge drums exist in Goa. They were mounted on trucks and there were musicians who were constantly pounding them with their drum sticks. There were huge cymbals, bells and gongs and all kinds of other instruments producing the loudest music I have ever heard in my life, all amplified through loudspeakers. The people in the floats were also chanting songs, bhajans, mantras, salutes and whatnot. It was an unforgettable experience, a side of Goa which very few are aware of.”


Like with all Hindu festivals, Shigmo is connected to the heavens. So it’s always held on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun, and Ponda always gets to celebrate the first day of Shigmo. This year the first day is on Sunday, March 16, even though Holi is to be celebrated on Monday, March 17, and the Shigmo festivities will go on till the end of the month, until amavasya on March 30. On each of the 14 days there will be a Shigmo parade in 14 different cities and towns of Goa, with the best ones said to be the Ponda parade, closely followed by Margao, Mapusa, Pernem and Bicholim. You can also watch the action in Panjim on March 22.


Other towns where it will also be held are Quepem, Curchorem, Canacona, Vasco, Sanguem, Valpoi, Cuncolim and Sanquelim. Each of the towns have their Shigmotsav organizing committees which are normally formed with eminent locals, and each of the float parades and celebrations have their own unique touches with some local flavours. It’s also a chance for the different groups of traditional musicians, performing artistes, dramatists, and others to showcase what they’re made of. Bicholim, for example, is famous for its ghode modni performers, who dress as horses and enact incidents from past wars.


Each of the Shigmo festivals in the different towns will be preceded by certain rituals performed in the main temple in the area. In Ponda, the rituals will start with the offering of ‘Naman’ to Goddess Mahalsa at the temple in Mardol, which is considered the presiding deity of the Goan Hindu community. There are many stories about the origin of the festival, but essentially Shigmo marks the end of winter and the advent of spring and summer. The big temples all have their yatras during Shigmo with colorful parades in which the gods and goddess are carried in a procession under ceremonial umbrellas and people throw gulal (coloured powders) and liquids on each other.

The float parades, though, are the highlight of Shigmo. Just like with carnival, the floats have long rows of dancers, men and women, doing one or the other traditional Goan dances like fugdi, romtamel, ghode modni, etc or enacting a mythological incident. There will be huge effigies of demons like Narkasur, various gods and goddesses, besides mythological characters, animals and even modern film characters.

It’s all quite endearing as you watch young girls and boys from deep within rural Goa all primed up in their finery on the big day of their life. Young girls dress up as devis, Radhas, while young boys in indigo will be dressed as Krishna or as Hanuman, the half-human-half-monkey, with the tail following awkwardly. Other popular mythological characters who are regulars in the Shigmo parades are Kumbhakarna, Ravana and Sita, Shiva and Vishnu.

As for me, I’ll be partying in Vagator. Maybe I’ll see you there!