Shigmotsav of Goa – Celebrating Life and Land

As the winter gets ready to make an exit from the land of Govapuri, when the fields are ready with the season’s harvest, the hard working peasant community gears up for the indigenous Shigmo festival. The festival that can be called as an exclusive legacy of Goa and its neighboring areas is the festival that celebrates the joy of harvest in various ways. 

Every village in Goa has its own way of celebrating the onset of spring. While in some parts of Goa, Shigmo begins on ninth day of Falgun month, in some parts it begins after the Holi or Gulalutsav. 

Some of the common customs associated with Shigmo are Maand davrap (literally means keeping/ initiating the Maand). Maand is the traditional space where the villagers gather and initiate the festival. It begins with invocation to the local deities. A group of men invoke the village deity and beating of dhol and taso, the indigenous musical instruments is initiated at the same time. The group then goes around the houses of the village as they sing and dance. This group and its processional marching dance is known as Romata Mell. Various households offer them coconuts, rice and other locally grown products. Their songs contain the social, political and satirical nuances of Goan rural life.

Shigmo Maand
Invoking the village deity at the Maand. Picture credit – Vinayak Khedekar
Maand at Barcem village of Canacona taluka. Picture credit – Soiru Velip

This ceremonial dance-cum-procession is known as Romat in the north Goa and Mell in the central Goa. Devotees dance and march with huge banners, flags, ceremonial umbrellas, festooned sticks and batons towards the temple of the presiding deity or to the house of the landlord to the reverberating beats of Dhol, Taso and Cymbals.

Below are a few glimpses of festooned sticks and batons carried during the Romata Mell and a video of the dance as seen during the Shigmo parade in Ponda


Pictures and video credit – Zehra Chhapiwala

As mentioned earlier, every village has its own custom associated with this festival. Many places have the tradition of Gade. It literally means players. There are men assigned in every household who are supposed to be Gade during Shigmo. They get into some kind of trance and go to the crematorium to bring the remnants of corpses. This is supposed to be a prayer to the Goddess of crematorium, locally called as Masundi Devata. This custom takes places during the day time in some villages like Bokadbag from Ponda taluka, while Cudnem and Sal villages from Bicholim taluka have this custom at night. The custom has its own rules which are strictly followed. Nobody is supposed to click these events, neither anyone is allowed to switch on the lights. In some places the Gade gets annoyed if anyone wears or has on his / her person leather products.

Other than this mysterious experience, Shigmo is the time to witness most of the folk dances of Goa. Goff, Morulo, Toniya Mell, Ghodemodni etc are some of the dances performed by males in various places of Goa during Shigmo. Goff is a very difficult yet a very colourful and beautiful dance form. It involves tying and untying of knots of clothes tied on wood as the dancers dance. Morulo is performed in Sarvan village of Bicholim taluka. It is a dance form that reflects the movements of peacock. Toniya Mell is similar to dandiya but is performed by only males. 

Villagers doing Toniya Mell. Picture credit – Vinayak Khedekar

A glimpse of the Ghodemodini dance as seen in Shigmo Parade in Ponda.

Video credit – Zehra Chhapiwala

Ghodemodni is performed in Bicholim and Sattari taluka. It is a warrior dance form where males dress up as war going soldiers and dance by wearing the wooden horses. The dance form is extremely vigorous and energetic in its nature.  

ghodemodni original (1)
Ghodemodini dance performers. Picture credit – Vinayak Khedekar

Females have minimum involvement in the festival. Their role is restricted to honoring and offering the gifts to the romata mells. Below is a traditional dance performed by village women as seen in the Shigmo Parade in Ponda. 

Video credit – Zehra Chhapiwala

Folk theatre is also a significant part of Shigmo celebrations in Goa. In various places, people dress up like mythical characters and join the romata mells. In some villages modern plays are also performed in recent times. Sattari taluka has a unique tradition of performing Ranmaalem during Shigmo. It is a folk theatre form which begins at night and ends with the breaking of dawn. Human curtain is a special feature of this form. The human curtain acts like chorus. The actors perform two kinds of characters called Songa and Dhonga. Songa portray the mythological characters and Dhonga reflect the characters from regular life.

Other rituals practiced in Sattari during Shigmo include Chorotsav, Mhaasti and Karvalyo. Chorotsav represents the legend of villagers who were killed while returning from cities because people thought they were thieves. The villagers believe that it was the mistake of their ancestors and thus to remember them they perform the ritual which includes burying of a few villagers in the ground after ritual worship mostly close to the temple ground. A few are buried while a few lie around acting dead. The people who play this part are carefully selected and trained prior to the ritual. Though this is not a traditional part of Shigmo, its occurrence co-inciding the Shigmo has made it an integral part of Shigmo festivities.

getting buried during Chorotsav. Picture credit – Soniya Sabnis

Ritual of Mhaasti involves worship of Mahasati. Two young boys dress up like women and portray the wives of the people who were killed mistakenly as thieves. The chorus sings the sad story of how they were killed during the Mhaasti ritual. This ritual too goes on till the dawn. At the end of the ritual, meal is served to villagers which is called as Baravya jevan, which means the food served on the twelfth day rituals of dead.

Mhasti ritual. Picture credit – author Tanvi Bambolka

Karvalyo, traditionally was celebrated to honour Sati and though the practice no more exists the ritual does. It has metamorphosed into a celebration of womanhood. It is celebrated mostly on the third or fourth day of Holi Pournima. During the 16th century, Afonso de Albuquerque Constantino de Braganza was against the evil practice of sati, even though unofficially sati continued to be prevalent in Goa.

In the villages of Sattari and Bicholim, people welcome the karvalyo by first washing their feet. The term karvalyo refers to two boys aged between 10 and 12 years, dressed in sarees and ornaments with heir heads decorated with garlands made from crossandra flowers. The two youngsters are dressed in the temple, made to sit on the shoulders of two persons and are then taken to various places as part of a procession. The procession is accompanied by a group of folk artists that continuously beat the dhol, taso and kasale and sings folksongs called sakarat’. The two karvalyo represent the Sateri and Kelbai goddesses. People believe that their visit brings good fortune.

 Thus, Shigmo consists of various rituals, customs and performances which reflect the beliefs, legends and lifestyle of agrarian communities of Goa. It is a festival of simple people believing in natural and supernatural elements. It also reflects how rural Goans revere their past and find ways of celebrating it. The fact that these rituals and customs are still practiced in today’s globalized and modernized world, show the affinity that villagers share with their traditions.

 In the main cities and town of Goa, the Shigmo parade is held in which village committees participate and showcase their regional dances. It is a showpiece event like Carnival. The urban population and tourists are often under the wrong impression that Shigmo is what is this parade with floats and various competitions. But it is only a hybridized form of the authentic festival. The actual Shigmo and various customs related to it can be witnessed only in the villages of Goa where the real Goa lives.

Author – Tanvi Kamat Bambolkar

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