Bonderam – The flag festival of Divar Island, Goa

With the objective of seeing more of Goa than the usual sun, sand and surf, we set out one Saturday afternoon to the quaint island of Divar in the Mandovi River. Divar Island, which hosts the colourful festival of Bonderam, is situated roughly 12 Kms north-east of Panjim, the state capital. It is reached by ferry from Old Goa as well as Ribandar.

A little background on this ‘one of its kind’ festival. The “Bonderam” festival is celebrated on the Island of Divar on the fourth Saturday of August every year. The word “Bonderam” originated from the involvement of flags. “Bandeira” is the Portuguese word for flag. It is stated that during the Portuguese rule in Goa there were frequent disputes between two sections of the Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade over property issues. These often led to violence and fights in the village. Subsequently, the Portuguese introduced a system of demarcation of boundaries with flags.

The rival groups, however, knocked down the demarcation flags sometimes with stones. Till recently, in a parody of the past, this was commemorated with a “Fotash” fight (toy weapon of bamboo stem) and berries were used as missiles in a mock fight between rival groups to knock down an offending flag. However, today this practice has been stopped as it has resulted in eye injuries etc. although this bamboo ‘Fotash’ is still visible as part of the parade.

We are a little hesitant to wilfully put ourselves into a place which is bound to be very crowded but our determination to see this unique fiesta overrides all these concerns. And a fiesta it will be, for any event in Goa is inevitably colourful, joyous and an expansive festivity. We reach the ferry point at Old Goa and fall in the queue to board the next ferry. This is probably the first time in my acquaintance with Goa that there is such a long line waiting for the ferry. Not only that, there is a substantial police presence which is efficiently guiding the burgeoning traffic very smoothly without any traffic snarls or inconveniences to local commuters and tourists alike.

In the distance, we see a ferry coming in to dock… and what a pleasant surprise! Even the boat has been draped with multi-coloured flags! The short drive from the ferry point takes us to the fest site. Walking in from the parking area, we join the hordes all pouring into the streets trying to get vantage points to see the procession from. There are bamboo barricades along both sides of the road most of which are already packed with people all waiting for the parade and tableaux to start.

Ferry decorated with Flags

Ferry decorated with Flags


The festive spirit has already reached out to residents and sightseers alike creating a magical, sort of carnivally atmosphere where pageantry and celebration is the order of the day.

People crowding onto Balconies and Verandahs to catch the parade

People crowding onto Balconies and Verandahs to catch the parade

At long last, the flag parade starts accompanied by the brass band. The Bonderam festival is declared open! The first of the groups moves forward, little children dancing to a typical Goan-Portuguese number. They are followed by young (and the not so young!) adults performing to the same music. These troupes do their bit, move forward and do a little more of their jig before moving on followed by the floats. Divar has six wards and each ward in the island has its own float. This way, the parade moves forward with the cheering spectators falling over themselves to see and applaud the passing ensembles. Each section of the parade (six, one for each ward) has very distinct themes and music to go with it. I’ll let the pictures illustrate in greater detail.
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The drummer at the larger-than-life brass band

The drummer at the larger-than-life brass band

From agriculture, fishing and rural markets to fitness and lifestyle, from nature and environment to the indigenous cuisine, the floats depict a very wide variety of ideas and force the onlooker to think and sometimes even introspect about the direction our anglicized, western-thinking-influenced lives are taking.
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A float depicting a Goan house complete with the Goan sausages strung outside and the spices and fish drying on top

A float depicting a Goan house complete with the Goan sausages strung outside and the spices and fish drying on top

Take for example the float titled ‘Revival of Old Traditional Games for Fit and Healthy Life’. Then, the games used to be physical and outdoors, and now they only exercise the digits! Not only the children, even the adults today go to gaming parlours or play at consoles home and elsewhere rather than get out and play a game in the field.

Addicted to gaming!

Addicted to gaming!

Float depicting the traditional games... Gilli Danda, Tennicoit, Pitthu

Float depicting the traditional games… Gilli Danda, Tennicoit, Pitthu

Marbles

Marbles

Modern Marvels ... Computers

Modern Marvels … Computers

A few speeches between the tableaux have the crowd waiting impatiently for the parade to recommence but the organisers being conversant with this have kept the speeches to a minimum and as the parade resumes, the assortment of intriguing characters and vivid scenes file past.

Another Nature themed float

Another Nature themed float

Nature theme float

Nature theme float

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There are scenes from a regular Goan kitchen, preparing the famous Goan Sausages, distilling the local brew FENI or harvesting crop and feeding the cattle as farmyard scenes. All these are interspersed with the exuberant participants young and old alike taking to the streets dancing and singing and their gaiety is so infectious that it is a spirited and participative audience joining in the revelry regardless of caste, creed, nationality or language. It is true that happiness is contagious!
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The procession draws to a close and it is almost dark. The lights are shining brightly in all the homes and the stalls set up for today. The DJ has started revving up the volumes…. It is either westernisation, change in sensibilities or economic crunch that has a hand in it since it is probably the first time that a band is not performing after the parade, just a DJ. All the same, the people are enjoying themselves and sadly, some (domestic) tourists are making a nuisance of themselves by their drunk and disorderly conduct. In fact, the few foreign tourists have actually bothered to dress in Indian clothing and are some of the best behaved here! No more are the ‘scantily clad’, ‘rude’ and ‘obnoxious’ labels reserved for the foreigners (though some may warrant it sometime, not today though!).

A festival banner

Crowds after the parade....

The DJ revving up the volumes and energy!

A beautifully lit house at dusk

We make our way back to the parking lot and are happy that we attended this quaint and unusual festival for the enthusiasm and passion has been contagious and enlivened our lives and our spirits. Viva Bonderam!

15 Comments

  • Sharmistha Dan says:

    Thanks Naturebuff for introducing us to this unique Goan festival ‘Bonderam’. Seeing the photographs of the various posts I can well visualize how colourful and high-spirited festival it must be. The floats so nicely showcases the typical Goan life and their livelihood. I was not able to view the last photograph of the post ‘A beautifully lit house’, I do not know why.
    P.S. One line of your post has really touched me…’Happiness is contagious’…so true. It is only the various cultural festivals which brings us together and spread the words of happiness.

  • venkatt says:

    Naturebuff, thanks for providing us a ringside view of Goan Culture by taking us to the Bonderam festival. The pictures showed the Goan spirit and traditions in all its glory. A really unique Goan post.

  • Avtar Singh says:

    Hi Nature buff
    Marvelous and colorful photographs of the parade, and we thought, such kinds of parades are happened only in European countries. Excellent post
    I do agree with the line echoed by Sharmistha Dan…… Happiness is contagious

  • Rumjhum says:

    For me, Goa has always been about the beaches and food. This is a unique and different view of Goa that you have provided. I’d heard that there is a Goa Carnival which takes place around February, but had never heard about the Bonderam festival.

    Loved the colorful pictures showcasing the vibrance of the festival.
    Thanks for taking us there!

  • Naturebuff says:

    Hi all,

    I’m glad you all enjoyed the read and I loved bringing this out-of-the-ordinary festival to you all. Thank you for spending the time to read it.

    @ Sharmistha . For all pics (many more than here) you could follow this link… http://www.goabirder.blogspot.com

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    ??????? ?????? ??,
    ??????? ??????? ??? ?????? ????? ?? ??? ??? ?? ????????? ?????? ??????????? ???? ???? ??? ?? ????????? ????? ?? ???? ??? ??? ?? ???? ???? ??? ???? ???? ?? ??? ?????????

  • Nandan Jha says:

    The pics have been restored. Apologies.

    NB, this is a FOG (First on Ghumakkar). As Rumjhum noted, the carnival is pretty popular but I have never heard of this little gem. Guess, this would also mean that the crowds are manageable. Thank you.

    A lot of message between the floats from the festival guys as well as the Author. Interestingly I was there in Goa for 3 days, end of Aug. May be I should have advanced my dates to include this interesting do. But at least now I know.

  • Naturebuff says:

    Thank you Mukesh and Nandan for your encouragement. It is certainly worth seeing…. Bonderam is not well enough known otherwise, a veritable treat to the eyes!!

  • Hello Naturebuff,

    I must tell you one thing.. This is one unique post which talks about the Goan festival rather than the usual beeches of Goa! Well done for bringing in a variant post here!

    Goa really has a culture that we can talk endlessly about. Your post is a colorful depiction of the richness of culture and the people in Goa. I really liked it.

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

    Cheers.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Kranti,

    Thanks for taking us to the colourful paegent called Bonderam. Of course like everyone else, never heard of it before.

    The colours and the pomp does make it very Goan.

    Nice photos too. But you could have put at least one photo of our avian friends!

  • Naturebuff says:

    Thank you Archana and Nirdesh. Goa has festivals round the year. In fact I have heard it said that there is a fest in Goa on every day of the year… Church fests or temple fests or social ones… it goes on..

    This one did not give any opportunity for any of my avian beauties to showcase themselves with the chaos and boisterous crowds but there will be some in the next post certainly!

  • Michael says:

    Hey, i like the information provided above. Am a foreign National studying in Goa and would like to attend boderam festival.

    Can u please help me know the organizers of this festival? Thank You

  • Sunil Chawla says:

    Hi….Neturebuff
    Thanks for the lovely information about Bonderam Festival.
    I am planning Goa trip this Monsoon and will surely visit this place on 4th Saturday of August 2016.

    Sunil Chawla
    Gujarat

  • Naturebuff says:

    Sorry Michael… Missed your post. Thanks Sunil for your time..

    If relevant… 27th August is the Bonderam this year. Do attend at Divar Island in the River Mandovi… Cheers!

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