Explained: Goa’s harvest festival, hit by Covid this year

On Friday, Goa reached 1,914 active cases, a steady increase from 1,089 on March 23.

With Covid-19 cases rising, Goa is set to see Shigmo celebrations toned down with the government having announced cancellation of the parades that it had earlier allowed in three places. This year’s festival began on Thursday.

On Friday, Goa reached 1,914 active cases, a steady increase from 1,089 on March 23. Like the Goa Carnival that was held with all the pomp in February, Shigmo as it is called in Konkani, is another vibrant celebration full of colour, song and dance rooted in Goan culture and traditions.

How it’s celebrated

Shigmo, or Shigmotsav, is the celebration of a ‘rich, golden harvest of paddy’ by the tribal communities of Goa, said Prajal Sakhardande, Professor of History at Panaji’s Dhempe College of Arts and Science. Agricultural communities including the Kunbis, Gawdas and Velips celebrate the festival that also marks 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.

The festival begins with Naman, the invocation of local folk deities on the village maand, or the village stage, to the beats of percussion instruments like the ghumat, dhol, mhadle and tashe by men, Sakhardande said. 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 like Ghodemodini (a dance of equestrian warriors), Gopha and Phugadi are among the many performed by the participating communities.

Although the Goa Tourism Department started parades with floats like those during the carnival in February, this, Sakhardande said, is a departure from tradition for celebration in the urban areas of what is essentially a rural festival. The float parades have, over the years, drawn tourists both domestic and international. The float parades during Shigmo, however, are not as grand as those during the carnival, said Sakhardande.

The Covid impact

With a steady rise in Covid-19 cases in Goa, Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was invoked on March 27 prohibiting public gatherings ahead of celebrations of festivals including Holi, Sabh-3-Barat, Easter and Eid-Ul-Fitr. On March 30, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told the Assembly that while public gatherings had been disallowed, traditional Shigmo celebrations in villages would not be interrupted and Section 144 would not apply to these celebrations. Earlier, the government had allowed parades to be held in three locations – Panaji, Ponda and Mapusa — on April 3 and April 4; these are now cancelled for this year’s festival.

Shigmo this year began on Thursday, and poojas, plays and other events are expected in a number of villages for a week and up to a fortnight.

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