Folk culture


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GOA, a small region on India’s west coast sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, has rich cultural traditions. Maritime trade contacts and Portuguese colonial rule helped fuse and blend cosmopolitan cultural elements in Goan society giving rise to unique ethnographic and musical traditions creating an unusual amalgam of East and West, a simple folk and modern Indian cultural ethos.

Goa has been ruled for 1500 years directly or through local feudatories by different dynasties like the Bhojas, Mauryas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Shilaharas, Kadambas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, the Vijayanagara and Adilshahi dynasties before the advent of Portuguese colonial rule in 1510 AD. These rulers left behind their cultural imprints on society which have fused and united Goa. An expression of this unity is symbolically best captured in folk music, dance and drama.

The Portuguese ruled four provinces (Old Conquests) out of eleven for 418 to 451 years and the remaining seven provinces (New Conquests) for a period ranging from 173 to 215 years. So the colonial influence in Goa is not uniformly spread. Even as religious persecution by the Portuguese partly or wholly destroyed the core of the folklore ethos in the Old Conquests, it remained more or less intact in the New Conquests.

As in other part of the country, Goan history also records periods of ups and downs – the rise and fall of many dynasties. These events kept Goan life in flux and, to a large extent, hampered the growth of art and culture. It is notable that Portuguese rule, although long-stretched, could not deeply influence indigenous art and culture. However, some new styles evolved in conformity with their policy which essentially impacted a section of elites and not the entire population. Thus, folk art largely remained beyond such influences.

The simple folk residing in rural areas still worship nature, expressed on numerous occasions round the year. Along with the settled communities, the nomadic people and aboriginals also continued performing various rites, maintaining the primacy of the female principle. Simultaneously the women performed fertility rites, guarding their secrets as magic. A myth spread by ill-informed Indo-Portuguese and western scholars holds that before the advent of the Portuguese, Goa had no culture worth speaking about. We could cite Perni Zagor as a classical example of the antiquity of Goa’s folklore. Studies undertaken by this author show the complex evolution of the rare mask dance-drama.




Many folk dance-dramas in India use masks. Goa’s Perni Zagor is unique among these because it has its roots in fertility rites related to Neolithic shamanism. It also absorbed Vedic and Puranic mythological themes, continually evolving through a complex process of assimilation and blending. Perni Zagor provides a unique insight into the sequence of this evolution from the Neolithic period of South Indian history till the advent of Portuguese rule.



This folk dance-drama is performed by traditional families of the Perni community in only five villages in Goa – Molcornem in Quepem taluka, Vaghurme in Ponda taluka, Poinguinim in Canacona taluka, Colomba in Sanguem taluka of South Goa district, as well at Mayem in Bicholim taluka in the North Goa district. It is a masked dance-play representing different characteristics of nature, animals, birds and so on, performed on festive occasion as ritualistic activity associated with village deities. Perni Zagor is a folk form based on magico-religious fertility practice which existed in the fertile valley of the Zuari river basin.

The cultural influences absorbed by the Perni Zagor dance-drama have been presented in a schematic diagram, showing that this form evolved continuously over the last 3000 years from 2000 BC. >From the Neolithic original form, the dance drama assimilated characters and narrative elements showing Vedic, Puranic, Shaivite, Tantric and foreign influences. Clearly it also influenced Goa’s cultural history from the Maurayan phase to the Vijayanagara empire period. The characters like Saraswati, Ganesh, Mahadev, Krishna, Putana and so on demonstrate the popularity of these mythological themes that were assimilated by the performers.

When we refer to original Sanskrit works such as Abhilasitartha-Chintamani or Manasolhasa, Sangita Ratnakara, Nrattaratnavali and Sangita Samaya Sara, we find that these works had consulted various aspects related to the folk and traditional performances like that of Perni.

The various rituals observed at the different festivals establish a direct link with the age-old traditions that emerged after the fusion of races and agricultural communities. One can cite the example of the Shigmo, an exclusive spring festival of men or Dhalo solely performed by women. Shigmo, a typical, all male performer spring festival is a tribute to the flowering of nature. It blends heroic and comic elements in almost equal measure. The varied cultural expressions of indigenous nature are depicted through folk music, dance and drama during these celebrations all over Goa. The song and dance of Goan natives, to seek Mother Nature’s blessings and those of village deities, has since become a long-cherished authentic tradition of Goan society.



Womenfolk all over Goa celebrate an important eco-feminist tradition of the West coast of India, the ritualistic Dhalo festival during the month of Pausha and Magha of the Hindu calendar. Dhalo performances take place in an auspicious open courtyard, a sacred place locally known as mand. The series of songs begins with an invocation to Mother Earth, dharitri mata or dhartari mai and then in the recalling and invitation to all the village gods and goddesses, the sylvan and family deities. The entire dhalo performance reveals a direct linkage to the rhythm of nature and cosmic cycle, mainly mother earth worship and fertility rituals.

Gudulyam Parab celebrated by the Hindu Kunbi community of Goa is not only a narration of the story of Bali-Bhima from the Mahabharata, but equally establishes the link between Goa and the Malabar region up to Kerala. The songs and rituals depict Dravidian influence. The Kunbis consider themselves as descendants of the Hindu Puranic King Bali. The feast of Gudulo celebrated by this community on the 11th night and 12th day of Bhadrapada month clearly indicates this belief.



Ancestor worship is prominent among Goan folk, the ancestors worshipped as the house or village god. The simple belief is that all have the power to harm and as such are to be feared and kept satisfied through rituals, sacrifice and other offerings. Even among the converts of Old Conquests, this belief holds sway resulting in the existence of a multiplicity of village gods in the rural areas. In some areas it is believed that the mortal spirits of the dead can cause sickness or bring misfortune to the family. Consequently the family looks for ways or objects to drive away such spirits. Since ancient times, ancestor worship involved trees and animals since it was believed that the spirits of ancestors resided in them. This could be further cited as the origin of primitive beliefs and practices, in turn giving rise to the beliefs in good and bad omens.

Several ancient traditions have thus merged to create diverse folk art forms often visible during festive occasions or religious rituals. These art forms depict the diversity and beauty of nature with a splash of colours, images, symbols and music. A detailed list of the many folklore forms (52) is given at the end of the article. Even a cursory glance at the table shows of the tremendous diversity in creative folk expression in a small state like Goa. Figure I shows the origin and evolution of Perni Zagor. The heroic elements are depicted through various sacrificial rituals and performances like Veeramel, Ghodemodni and Gade and the humorous elements are presented through folk dramas namely Zagor, Ranmalyem and Kalo as well as dances like Radha-Krishna Naach, Lawani, Romot and Khele. Besides other dances like Talgadi, Goff, Chowrang, Talo and Tonayam Mel are performed by the menfolk.

It would be interesting to see how South Indian culture has influenced Goan musical forms. The powerful dynasties like the Chalukyas of Badami, the imperial Rashtrakutas, Gangas of Talkad, Sindas of Yelburga, Rattas of Saundatti, Hoyasalas of Dwarsamudra, Alupas of Tulunadu, Chelas of Kerala, Cholas and Pandyas of Tamil Nadu, Yadavas of Devgiri, among others encouraged the development of Goan music. Goa had intimate trade contact with the marketing centres in South India, facilitating the import of musical ideas. The pre-Portuguese architecture in Goa also shows similar Dravidian cultural influences. The iconography of Goan gods and goddesses is of typical Dravidian characteristics.



Folk performances like Veerbhadra and Khel performed traditionally in Dashawtari Kalo style in southern Goa, clearly indicate the influence of South Indian culture. In Veerbhadra performances the invocation starts in Kannada. Similarly the Dashawtari Khel presented in Canacona, Sanguem and Quepem regions depicts the great influence of Yakshagana – the popular dance drama of Karnataka – on the dance patterns. The dialogue delivery, songs, dance and action carry a marked Carnatic influence. Goa was inundated with musical ideas during the rule of the Vijayanagara emperors (1380-1472 AD). The musical instruments used during the temple rituals capture the Dravidian influence.

The Goan society consists mainly of Hindus and Christians. The various rituals and rites performed by both communities show many similarities. These similarities are seen in the folk performing art forms such as music, dance and theatre, as also in feasts, fairs and festivals. A remarkable feature of the bond between the two communities is the absence of bitterness from the past.



Goan Catholics are mostly local converts from various Hindu castes. Since they were generally converted en masse, they virtually transported the entire Hindu caste structure into their adopted religion. They preferred to preserve their core culture and maintained the tradition of the varna system. Over time, both Hindus and Christians lived their lives, following their respective religions peaceably. However, Portuguese influence radically changed the dress, with Christian males in particular adopting the European dress – trousers, shirts, western cap and at times, knickers and shoes. Also, the working class women started wearing the sari, locally known as lugat or nugat.

Applying turmeric powder mixed with coconut oil on the body of the bride is a common ritual at weddings among Hindus. This is also a Christian tradition, though the oil is substituted by coconut milk. Married Hindu women wear mangalsutra around their neck. Similarly the rural Christians wear betin (scapular) and a cross with mani (black beads with golden pendant). The feast of Navyam Parab is common among all Goans. Tulas or Tulasi vrindavan in the main courtyard of the Hindus is a common feature in Goa. However, among the Christians the cross substitutes the Tulas. An altar of similar shape and size among the Goan Christians substitutes the wooden mandap in the Hindu houses, where idols or symbols of deities are worshipped. Angvonn (vows) are made by both communities for fulfilling specific wishes to the village deities. The main deities are Shantadurga of Kavlem and Fatorpa, St. Francis Xavier at Old Goa, Our Lady of Milagres at Mapusa, St. Anne’s Church at Santan and Fama of Meneno Jesus at Colva.

The lighting and carrying of oil lamps (diuzam) around the temple on auspicious occasions is transformed into lighting candles and carrying them in procession that is associated with the Christian church. Akashdivo (lantern made with coloured papers) is hung aloft during Diwali celebration while similar stars are lit during Christmas. Both worship totems like trees and animals. The famous feast of Sanjaon celebrated on 24 June is a transformation of the original rain-charm and water-rites associated with the temple celebration of Sangodd.



Many other rites and rituals performed by both communities also show surprising similarities. Burning of incense at the time of dusk as a religious rite, observing a certain period of pollution after birth and death in the family, taboos related to marriage, wearing of a particular type of sari during and after weddings, use of mango twig and coconut at the time of weddings, offering of sacrificial food to the crow or cow, offering of sacrificial food and drink to the sprit called devchar, offerings to the soul of the deceased and feeding of fellow members at the time of auspicious occasions is a common tradition among both the communities.

Zagor performances staged annually in Siolim village in Bardez region could be cited as a good example of communal harmony and understanding. The Hindus and Christians join hands to celebrate the Zagor in a traditionally theatric form. Mainly Christians play the music. The Hindu performers impersonate various characters of village society. Similarly, we find common folk musical instruments like Ghumat, Kansalem and Shamel in the Hindu community, and the Mhadalem among Christians. Singing of hovio during the zagor performance is a distinct element of shared music, as are the marriage songs of the rural community. These songs are known as hovio among the Hindus, and verses or yers among the Christians. The musical form of Sunwari as well as dance festival dhalo and zagor is common in both the communities.



Folk dances like Talgadi and Tonya mel are identical in both communities, though the performances are called Targodi and Dandlam Khel among Christians. Intruz, a major performing art of the rural Christians wherein kokati (paper sachets full of colour) is thrown on rivals, resembles smearing the gulal at the Shigmo festival of the Hindus.

There is an interesting similarity in the food and drink in general and the sweet dishes in particular of both communities. Sanna, pole, hit, neuros, patolio, vode, ladu, kapam, shankarpali are the common sweet dishes of the Hindus and Christians, though the names are different. These include dos, batak, bolinya, pinagre, dodol, ghons, kalkal or kormola. Goans prepare sweet dishes to celebrate the feast and at other festive occasions. Like the Hindus, the Christians too do not cook meat on certain holy days like Good Friday and Ash Wednesday and also observe fasts. Both communities maintain the tradition of preparation of specific seasonal vegetables.

New musical forms evolved during the 19th and 20th century among Goan Catholics. Mando, the famous love lyric is the most important musical form which represents the meeting point of Indian and western traditions. The music is set to Latin American rhythm but the melody remains Indian. The style of singing, its staff notations, the use of musical instruments like violin and guitar, and the costumes of both men and women dancers clearly depict the synthesis of Indian culture, Lusitanian cultures and the cultures of Lusitanian Asia. The male dancers wear black coat-tails, whereas the women’s costumes (Baju-Tallop) are modelled upon the costumes of women in South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. The dulpods, the concluding part of Mando, too reflects the same synthesis. On the other hand, the popular music form of dekhni is a blend of devdasi dance set to the western rhythm with Indian folk melody presented in entirely Hindu costumes by elite Catholics.



The use of the violin in Goan music tradition in the 16th century made a great impact. It should be treated as a landmark in Goan ethnomusicology. Interestingly, the violin was introduced to Carnatic classical music just over a century ago, and has since become an integral part of all Carnatic musical concerts, whether as accompaniment or solo.

Over time even the hymns and litanies in original Latin sung by the young pupils of the Parochial schools were changed to Konkani renderings, not only during the daily church service but also on Novenas, on great feast days and in the processions of their local pilgrimages. Thus evolved a tradition of mass instruction in music firmly rooted in the social structure of Goan Catholics. Though this instruction in music had its origin in the zeal of the church to make it a means of religious upliftment of the people, it gained popularity only after acquiring local characteristics, showing the assimilative character of the Goan experience.

Almost all the folk arts have been sustained only on account of the tradition followed by the people, a reflection of their continuing affinity in a cultural context. They capture the transmission of human values, a cultural manifestation and interpretation of the rural societies in changing contexts. They are also a process of identity assertion. The folklore of Goa is an assertive expression of Goan identity.



Thus in the event of cultural change in any society, the roots remain the same even as newer concepts and ideas evolve and newer forms of creative expression are regenerated. Sometimes a fine blend and fusion may evolve that is promptly accepted by society. In other cases the fusion may face resistance. The survival of such blends depends upon the process of interaction within society. In such cases, unless there is a strong element like religion which could work as a binding agent, the process of continuity of culture can become chaotic.

These activities help maintain trust and goodwill among different groups in society. They are also necessary for the stability and survival of the community. In order to ensure a smooth and harmonious social adjustment, the conjunctive communication consisting of blending and coordinating the social, economic, intellectual, artistic and religious aspects of life is adopted by any community. The purpose of such communication is also to secure harmonious social adjustment. The beauty of Goa as folklore lies in such a secular cultural process. Dhalo and Shigmo coexist with Mando, Dulpod and Dekhni. The folklore of Goa thus represents peace, harmony and universal brotherhood – universal values cherished by mankind.


Cultural Mapping of Goa

Brief Information on Folk Performing Art Forms of Goa


Art Form

Brief Description



Festival cum dance presented by women annually during the month of Paushya-Magh (Jan-March). The dance is related to the fertility cult which is an example of eco-feminine art form.



Women dance presented before the idol of Ganesh or image of village deity during the Ganesh Chaturthi or Chavath festival.


Kalashi Fugdi

A variation of Fugdi (women dance) presented while blowing into the water-pitcher. The copper vessel used during the dance is considered a symbol of the womb and blowing into the vessel is a ritual of offering life into the symbolic womb.



Variation of Fugdi performed on festive occasions by a few communities such as the Dhangars, Kunbis. The gestures of the participants depict various actions of bovines.



A spring festival cum dance celebrated all over Goa by the menfolk that includes a variety of folk dances. The celebration is held during the festival of Holi.



A vibrant form of martial art cum ritual dance presented during Shigmo festival. The dancers wave swords around their body on accompaniment of loud music displaying martial skill as well as a kind of self infliction.



A popular rhythmic dance presented by menfolk during Shigmo festival.



Stick dance presented by male dancers with the accompaniment of traditional orchestra on the occasion of Shigmo.



A dance depicting the peacock-dance presented by peasants’ menfolk on the occasion of annual festival of Shigmo.



A dance presented by menfolk of peasants while holding colour strings in their hands. They sing and dance the glories of Lord Krishna and weave and untie the braid in different patterns.



A lamp dance by menfolk presented during Shigmo festival by balancing the vertical brass lamps on the head of the dancers with burning wicks. The dance depicts various mythological deities of the Hindu pantheon.



A horse dance that creates martial mood during the annual Shigmo festival. The dancers tie wooden effigies at the waist and wear bright costumes and colourful headgear. They march towards the temple of village deity as a part of annual celebrations.



A dance presented by the male members of Dhangar (shepherd) community on the festive occasion such as Dussehra and Shigmo.


Dandalam Khel

A dance presented by menfolk of the Christian Gauda community during the days of Carnival, striking long wooden sticks on the rhythm of folk songs describing Lord Krishna. This dance is mainly performed in the Salcete area.


Gauda Khel

A Kunbi dance cum theatrical form presented by Christian Kunbi or Gaudas on the occasion of village festivities. The theme of the Khell remains social.


Muslam Khel

It is a pestle dance presented by the Christians of Chandor village (Salcete taluka) representing the heritage of Bhoja and Kadamba dynasty. The villagers perform the dance in a colourful attire while singing songs in praise of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga.



Dance-narration of a mythological story of Virbhadra, depicting the influence of South Indian dynasties. This ritual dance is mainly presented in Sanquelim, Ponda and Sanguem.



Music cum dance presented by menfolk during the Shigmo festival. The dancers march in groups towards the main temple of village deity.


Intruz -(Car naval)

Music cum dance presented by Goan Christians at Carnival celebration (Feb-March) mainly in Salcete. The music provided by the village church orchestra becomes the main feature of the celebration in addition to the throwing of paper-sachets full of colour on the rivals.


Sankasur Kalo

It is a folk play depicting Hindu mythology in which different reincarnations of Lord Vishnu are enacted in traditional style. The first part of the play is an invocation of Lord Ganesh and the Matsya Avatara (fish-incarnation), followed by other mythological as well as social or cultural characters.


Khel/Dashavtari Natak

A musical play/dance drama presented in the premises of the village temple to depict the reincarnations of Lord Vishnu in a more dramatized manner.


Gavalan Kalo

Improvised folk play depicting the child pranks and adventures of Lord Krishna. Children from the temple servant community generally present the play in the afternoon, in the premises of village temple, as the concluding ritual of the festivity.


Perni Zagor

A dance drama of Neolithic origin presented by the Perni community in which painted wooden masks are used. This dance is an endangered form, known only among five families.


Gauda Zagor

A dance drama presented by Hindu and Christian Gauda community mainly based on their social themes and family life.



Ramayana story is presented by the peasants, in the form of folk play to the accompaniment of traditional music and dance. The play includes sideshows (dhongam) based on socio-cultural and family life of the local communities.



A series of presentation of various characters based on social and religious themes during festive occasions in the temple premises.



A popular form of folk music presented in almost all Hindu temples to mark festivities. This orchestral music produced with the help of ghumat, shamel and kansalem becomes an inevitable part of the procession of the village deity with palanquin or rath.


Mando - Dhulpod

Music cum dance presented by elite Christians on different occasions such as birthdays, weddings and other social events. Basically love songs set to slow and sad note end with faster and gay rhythm supported by the musical accompaniment of ghumat, violin and also guitar.


Ghumat Arati

Religious music, which includes singing traditional compositions in praise of the deity on accompaniment of instrumental music before the idol of a deity. The instruments such as ghumat, shamel and kansalem are used for the performance.



Musical composition related to ancestor worship, performed by the potter community to invite the departed soul. The ritual singing is supported with the beats of ghumat.


Gudulya- Gitam

Singing of story songs throughout the night to keep everyone awake as a part of the celebration of the feast of Gudulo among the Hindu Kunbis of South Goa. Bhima, the second Pandava from Mahabharata is the theme of the songs.


Lagan- Gitam

Marriage songs of Hindu communities associated with different rituals.



Marriage songs of the Christians in rural areas indicating the rituals to be performed in the ceremony.



Folk songs of Christian community mainly based on social themes sung on various occasions and even during manual work.



Musical composition presented by Mahar community during Dussehra festival in the temple premises.



Religious singing and playing of music by Muslims on festive occasions. It is sometimes accompanied by acts of self-infliction.



Song cum dance of village communities such as the shepherds, and peasants on festive occasions such as Dussehra, Shigmo and also at weddings.



Religious/devotional music of the Gosany community while collecting alms from house to house.



Ritual song cum dance presented by menfolk during Shigmo festival.


Gadyam Ramayan

Religious songs from the Ramayana. While singing the dancers (male) go into a trance as a part of rituals of village festivities.


Bhajan-Dindi /Dholki Bhajan

Devotional music popular among Goan Hindus performed in almost all temples on different occasions. The compositions of great saints depicting the Bhakti cult are sung on accompaniment of musical instruments such as tamburi or ektari, tal, zanj, pakhawaj.



Traditional one-man-show associated with Hindu temples. The enactment is based on mythological stories and socio-religious themes as well.


Carol singing

A form of mainly religious music of Christians presented during Christmas. The melody and the instruments used in the performance show a blend of western tradition.



Religious music presented before a wayside cross as a part of offering and fulfilment of vows.



Gregorian hymns, Congregational and Choral singing of Christians presented mostly during mass and processions (pursão) of the idols of various saints, Jesus and Mother Mary.



Temple music of Hindus that signals the commencement of temple rituals.



Religious music cum dance presented at the halts of the procession (palanquin or chariot) of Hindu deity within temple premises.



Folk songs presented by women at the ritualistic courtyard during the period from Dussehra to Diwali.



Singing of folk songs by women for three consecutive nights during the festive occasion of Tulashi Lagn (Nov-Dec).


Cultural Mapping of Goa


1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 19, 22, 30, 33, 34, 35, 36, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49.


1, 2, 5, 19, 22, 29, 30, 33, 35, 37, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48.


1, 4, 5, 10, 13, 18, 22, 27, 30, 33, 37, 42, 44, 45.


1, 3, 4, 5 , 7, 10, 13, 14, 19, 22, 26, 30, 31, 33, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 51.


1, 2, 5, 20, 25, 28, 29,30, 35, 44, 45,46, 47, 48.


1, 2, 3,4 ,5, 7, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 28, 30, 31, 33, 42, 43, 44, 45, 49, 50.


1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14,18, 21, 26, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 38, 40, 43, 44, 45, 52.


1, 2, 5, 20, 25, 29, 34, 35, 44, 45, 47, 48.


15, 16, 17,20, 29, 35, 44, 46, 47, 48.


1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,12, 16,18, 20, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 42, 46, 47,48.


1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 65, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50.