Bonderam Festival: A Kaleidoscope of Culture on Divar Island
Amid the kaleidoscope of cultural events that adorn Goa’s calendar, the fourth Saturday of August heralds the spirited resurgence of the Island of Divar, as the cherished tradition of ‘Bonderam’ casts its enchanting spell. As the island springs to life with fervor, it embraces the annual ritual that heralds the much-awaited ‘Novidade’, inviting all to partake in its magic. But the island’s celebrations don’t end there; the ‘Bonderam’ festivities gracefully transition into the traditional harvest festival on the following Sunday, creating a double delight that captivates all who venture to this quaint island.
The heartbeat of this celebration resonates in the solemn shearing of the first golden sheaves of the paddy crop, which are then reverently offered to the divine at the local church. Nestled 12 kilometers away from the bustling hub of Panaji, the tranquil Island of Divar exudes an elusive charm, reachable only by ferry, beckoning travelers from Old Goa, Ribandar, and Naroa to experience its unique allure.
‘Bonderam,’ colloquially known as the “Festival of Flags,” draws its etymology from the Portuguese term ‘bandeiras,’ which translates to flags. This vivacious event stands as a testimony to the unity among the island’s inhabitants, specifically the Gaunkars hailing from Divar’s triumvirate of communities – Goltim, Navelim, and Malar. While the festival’s origins witnessed all three communities participating, the passage of time saw Goltim and Navelim merging their celebrations, diverging from Malar’s chosen date. In the 1970s, the Piedade Youth Association took up the mantle of organizing the festival, driven by a sense of camaraderie amidst financial challenges faced by the local ‘comunidades.’
The festival’s roots are intricately woven into history, with its genesis tracing back to a captivating tale set against the backdrop of territorial disputes plaguing the residents of Sao Mathias and Piedade – two divisions of the Divar village. The village bore witness to clashes fueled by property disagreements, thrusting its residents into perilous duels and, at times, even fatal confrontations. To restore order, the Portuguese colonial authorities introduced a system of boundary demarcation through flag installations, aiming to quell the storm of conflicts. However, the locals, resistant to these markers, expressed their defiance by toppling the very symbols meant to define their boundaries. Thus, the Bonderam Festival now stands as a poignant commemoration of those determined protests, etching them indelibly into the collective memory.
In years gone by, the spirit of protest found its echo in a playful “Fotash” skirmish. Villagers wielded bamboo-stem toy weapons armed with “teofollam” and “anselle” seeds as pellets, engaging in mock battles that symbolized the historical boundary conflicts on the island. Unfortunately, the misuse of this tradition led to its ban. The once-vibrant parade, featuring fluttering flags and exuberant villagers adorned in splendid hues, now grapples with commercialization.
The festivities kick off in the afternoon with a majestic Flag Parade, led by a jubilant brass band as it winds its way through the heart of Divar. This ceremonial beginning sets the stage for a day brimming with diverse attractions. A whimsical costume competition adds a touch of playfulness, paving the way for the traditional float procession accompanied by a symphony of live melodies.
Divar’s six vibrant wards compete for glory, each presenting a dazzling tableau that weaves a tapestry of themes and melodies, all harmonizing into a kaleidoscope of colors. This spectacle isn’t limited to Divar’s boundaries; it beckons the entire state of Goa. Like moths drawn to a flame, revelers and culture enthusiasts from across the state converge to partake in this rain-soaked extravaganza.
As the sun gracefully dips beneath the horizon, the island is cast in a magical glow, with strains of celebration wafting through the air. The Bonderam Festival, a testament to unity, heritage, and resilience, emerges as a guiding light in Goa’s vibrant cultural mosaic, inviting all to be captivated by its timeless charm and contemporary enthusiasm.
* Photos are of the Bonderam held on the third Saturday, 22nd August 2015 at Divar.
Photos by Lynn Barreto Miranda / lynn.barretomiranda.com
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