Panaji: The famed Goa carnival is opening up to neighbours and others. In a major break from tradition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has opened the carnival to participation by neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Karnataka as also Gujarat.
According to Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar, the opening up of the carnival, being held in February 2013, to other states would help expose Goa's unique culture to the rest of India.
"The intention is to make sure that people understand and not misunderstand our culture. The more we reach out with the carnival the better it is," Parulekar said.
According to Parulekar, the three states would be officially asked to send across floats for the carnival parades during the next festivities.
The Goa carnival is similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro and not unlike the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. Citizens pour out into the streets to watch the colourful marchers prancing around in abandon led by 'King Momo', a gregarious personality chosen annually, who is given the key to the celebrations in town.
Goa's colourful carnival processions, which are normally held in February before the holy season of Lent, are symbolic of Goa's unique colonial Portuguese legacy. The three invitee states, of course, were governed by the British.
When asked if bringing in other states, which do not share the same cultural moorings, would end up diluting the ethos of carnival, Parulekar said: "There is no question of dilution. The floats from the other states will only add to the colour of the carnival. Goa's culture will get better promotion this way."
For nearly a week, Goa revels in carnival activity as one city after another hosts the festive parades. The event is so popular that it is a major 'to do' gig listed on the Goa Tourism calendar. During the carnival period, the hotel rooms are full, restaurants busy and alcohol flows like water. Not something of an everyday scene in Gujarat, where prohibition rules the roost.
But Gujarat is already preparing for a carnival spin. For the 2013 carnival, a special train has already been scheduled to arrive in Goa.
"The special package will include a to-and-fro ticket, air-conditioned hotel accommodation, vegetarian meals, tourist escorts and sightseeing. The Ahmedabad-Vadodara-Surat-Mumbai-Goa and back-to-Ahmedabad package begins from February 20," according to Pravin Parmar, chief regional manager of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
So will this coming together of popular cultures, vegetarians and teetotallers blending with sorpotel lovers and feni lovers bode well for the carnival? The Goa tourism minister thinks so.
"What's wrong with calling our own countrymen for the carnival? We have had foreigners participating in carnival for years now. It is a fun festival," Parulekar said.
The move has, however, begun to create a stir, even within the Christian legislator set-up in the BJP camp.
"What is being showcased during the carnival was Goan culture as has been practised for centuries and anything else imported from other states would be unacceptable," BJP MLA Michael Lobo told a local newspaper recently.
A sign of the brewing uneasiness over the Goa tourism ministry's move can be gauged from posts on Ami Niz Geonkar, an active Facebook group, which owes its origin to "love and dedication of our motherland Goa".
".. Bringing troupes from other states will not only dilute our spirit but also tax the state exchequer a heavy amount - which can be used for more developmental works. Hope better sense prevails and the idea of troupes from other states is finally dropped," said Ponda-based Vrushali Kelekar.