Bonderam – the ‘Festival of Flags’ at Divar Island



It’s the fourth Saturday of August and, as the annual tradition goes, the Island of Divar in Goa comes alive as ‘Bonderam’ is celebrated to usher in ‘Novidade’, which villagers observe as a harvest festival on the next day (Sunday). The first paddy crop’s sheaves are ceremoniously cut and presented to the church as a gratitude offering to God during the harvest festival. This peaceful, small island is located at a distance of 12 kilometers from Panaji and is accessible only via ferry from Old Goa, Ribandar and Naroa.

Bonderam, also known as the “Festival of Flags,” derives its name from the Portuguese word ‘bandeiras’ (flags). The Gaunkars of the three communities of Divar island – Goltim, Navelim, and Malar, used to celebrate Bonderam, but over time, Goltim and Navelim began to celebrate the event together, while Malar celebrated it on a different date. In the 1970s, the Piedade Youth Association took over the festival’s administration due to the financial difficulties the comunidades’ faced.

The history of this festival’s commemoration is fascinating. Property conflicts between the residents of the two portions of Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade, frequently result in deadly duels and even death. As a result, the Portuguese instituted a system of erecting flags to demarcate borders. The locals demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the system by tearing down the flags. The Bonderam festival is now celebrated in remembrance of those protests.

Until a few years back, this protest was commemorated with a “Fotash” fight (a toy weapon made of bamboo stems, with seeds of ‘teofollam’ and ‘anselle’ as pellets). The ‘fotash’ was used by villagers in mock fights to depict frequent boundary disputes that the villages on Divar island had experienced in the past, but it is now forbidden due to its misuse by revellers. While in the past, flags would be carried around the village in a procession and villagers dressed in colourful clothes would dance to the strains of a brass band, unfortunately, the event has since grown increasingly commercialised.

The festival begins in the afternoon with a Flag Parade led by a brass band from the main Divar intersection. The event is then officially declared open. A fancy dress competition is held later in the day, followed by the traditional float procession and a live musical performance.

Each of Divar’s six wards brings a colourful float to the parade, and no effort is spent on outdoing each other. Each tableaux has very distinct theme and music to go with it.

This is a very popular monsoon festival in Goa and it attracts large numbers of people from all across the state to see the festivities unfold.

* Photos are of the Bonderam held on the third Saturday, 22nd August 2015 at Divar.

Photos by Lynn Barreto Miranda /


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