We are a nation of many religions, numerous customs and traditions and hundreds of languages and dialects. United in our diversity. Sometimes I wonder if we should call our country “The United States of India”.
Goa, my tiny home state located on the west coast, is no different when it comes to a culture rich in tradition. Though Goa is popular for its beaches and tourism, our customs and traditions though multivarious are relatively confined to the local population. Which is a good thing – can you imagine the tourist explosion if word got out about how much fun our local traditions are?
Let me introduce you to Marcel, a little village about 20 kilometres outside Panaji, the capital city. Here you will find the grand Devki Krishna temple, probably the only temple anywhere to have an idol of Lord Krishna as a baby seated in his mother’s (Devki) lap. Marcel is home to a fascinating local festival called Chikal Kalo, literally mud bath, which celebrates the special bond the Goan farming community has with Mother Earth.
The Devki Krishna temple has a large campus, with the grounds in front of the temple serving as the venue for this annual spectacle. It takes place every year on the 11th day of the Hindu month of Ashadh which translates to June or July according to the Gregorian calendar.
This period coincides with the monsoons – and Goa is blessed with an abundance of these. The rains ensure that the temple grounds are slushy with mud – a vital ingredient for the frenzy that follows. All water streams in the vicinity are also diverted to the temple grounds to make doubly sure that there is enough wet, slushy, sticky mud to go around.
The festivities begin a day before. The temple is decorated to wear a delightfully buoyant look. The temple priests begin the festivities by invoking the village deities with bhajans and prayers.
The menfolk irrespective of religion gather at the temple grounds. They are anointed with holy oil and given prasad. And the boisterous dancing to the rhythm of the traditional percussion instruments begins. The rhythm fills your soul – it’s quite like being at a rave – participants and gawkers alike are one in the shared trance.
In addition to the dancing, traditional games like chendu fali (quite like cricket) and gilli danda are played. The slippery slush surface causes the participants to fall and get covered with mud repeatedly – which they all want more of. After all, falling and rolling in mud is the essence of the ritual, hence the name Chikal Kalo. The games are a riot and have people of all ages participating.
As you can see, I had a LOT of fun shooting this festival. If not for my cameras, I’d be rolling in it deep.