Chikal Kalo is a local Goan festival – one of the many that you see only in Goa. It is celebrated on the 12th day of the month of Ashadh that roughly falls in 2nd or 3rd week of July. Yes, right in the middle of legendary monsoons of Goa. For 2 years, I read about the festival in the newspapers, the day after it happened. This year I was determined to attend this festival and on the given day I was standing in front of Devaki Krishna temple.
Chikal Kalo & Devaki Krishna Temple
I had earlier written about the Devaki Krishna temple in my post on Saraswat temples of Goa. You can read about the history and legends of Devaki Krishna temple in that post. In this post, I will talk only about the rituals associated with Chikal Kalo festival and the temple.
On the 11th day i.e. Ekadashi of Ashaad month of Hindu calendar, a 24 hour Akhand Satsang is started at Devaki Krishna temple. This starts around 11 AM and goes on non-stop till the next day at 11 AM. An oil lamp is kept burning through these 24 hours in front of the idol of Devaki holding baby Krishna in her arms. I reached around 10:00 AM and spent an hour listening to the bhajans being sung by local residents of Marcela. See video of one of the bhajans here.
The temple was originally located at Chorao island. Chikal Kalo festival moved to Marcela along with the temple, during the Portuguese rule. How old is this festival, no one knows, and frankly, no one cares.
Festival Chikal Kalo
The festival celebrates the naughty nature of Bal Krishna or the Baby Krishna. Those of us who follow Hindu scriptures and stories know that Krishna is known for his childhood antics with his mother and other people of Braj Bhumi. At Marcel, this very nature of Krishna is celebrated. On this day, every male – from a toddler to a senior citizen becomes a little Krishna. How they take the Swaroop of a Bal Krishna is something you have to see to believe.
In the ground opposite the temple, with a large Peepul tree overlooking the activities, all the villagers gather to celebrate Chikal Kalo. The soil of the ground is muddy with incessant rains that grace this coastal state of Goa. The boys will play in this mud. The games they play are the same games that Krishna played with his friends in Braj Bhumi.
To me, this was the second re-creation of Braj Bhumi that I witnessed after Nathdwara.
Rituals of Chikal Kalo
Bare-bodied men wearing just the shorts start appearing in the street outside the Devaki Krishna temple around 10:30 AM. Small children start playing in the mud much to the amusement of photographers gathered to click the festival. The festival starts with these men applying oil on their bodies. I saw some elderly men coming to the ground with oil bottles going to kids on the muddy ground. Most men – young and old lined up at Mr. Laxmikant Govenkar’s grocery store to get oil on their bodies.
I spoke to Mr. Govenkar and asked about him giving the oil to the participants of Chikal Kalo. He believes it is a blessing that he gives oil to these Krishnas. Oil protects them against any possible infection from the mud. He has cans of oil lined up for the day, though he had no idea how many people will actually land up. He was willing to give oil to whoever lands up to get oil. His family has been practicing it for generations. When and why did they start doing this – no one knows, and more importantly, no one cares.
Once oiled all the men line up to the small temple dedicated to Daad Sakhal bang opposite the Devaki Krishna temple. The drums are played and the priest applies tilak on the foreheads of these men, who then start singing ‘Hari Vithal, Jai Vithal’. The air reverberates with the rhythm of their chanting. They sit together for a photo op as all the photographers point their cameras towards them. Singing the chant they move towards the temple.
Pray at Devaki Krishna Temple
At the temples, these oil-soaked bodies do a circumambulation or the parikrama of the temple before entering the temple. Inside the temple, the decibel levels shoot up as the same sound is now restricted within the walls of the temple. The men go around the lamp like they are possessed. The sheer energy of so many of them dancing and singing to the tune of beating drum has to be felt. I stood in a corner, trying to shoot them. The energy inside the temple walls was exhilarating. After a while, everyone took a bit of oil from the lamp and proceeded to the grounds on the other side of the road. Other devotees also apply a bit of oil on their foreheads. It kind of declares the festival open.
Food at Chikal Kalo
The scene now moves to the Peepul tree opposite the temple. Many villagers with tempting food items stand on the pedestal. They throw the food towards the crowd of oiled men who try their best to catch it. The one who grabs it – gets it. This is the first game.
After this, many elderly people are seen distributing food, especially sweets like Laddus, Jalebis, Biscuits, Pooran Polis or simple Puris. They go around distributing and even insisting that everyone have something before the real action begins on the muddy ground. This was amazing. There was no stall, no food was being sold, no commercial activity. Everyone was fed affectionately by the village elders. I could feel their love when I took a laddu from one hand and a jalebi from another.
Muddy Games at Chikal Kalo
Music from cymbals and drums starting reaching my ears and I saw people doing the warm-up exercises to its rhythm. With soft movements they stretched their limbs, getting ready for the sports to follow. Suddenly we saw some commotion in the back, only to realize that few young men were lifting one of them to a puddle, where they would not only throw him but also splash the mud on him. The mud, of course, was impartial and spared no one including yours truly. Since I had mud on me in the first 10 minutes of the festival, I did not care for anything but my camera lens for the rest of the festival.
Other games played at Chikal Kalo
- Mendrani – the sheep and wolf game.
- Blind Man game – where a blindfolded man has to catch the man playing cymbals. Rest of the crowd leads him, misleads him and cheers him. It is such fun to watch this game.
- Chakra – this is where young men put together their feet to make a formation of Chakra – the wheel. Remember, the wheel is one of the symbols associated with Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu.
- Dharchyani or Dog & Bone – I am sure it brought a smile to your face and reminded you of your childhood days. Now just add a lot of mud to the scene to get a feel of Chikal Kalo.
- Tug of War – Imagine playing it when you are already soaked in mud
- Kabbadi – this is more like wet kabaddi
- Tunnel – this is interesting as people hold hands and make a tunnel and some people have to run through this tunnel without being caught. In North India, we used to call this Poshampa – no idea what that means. At Chikal Kalo though the tunnel is much longer owing to the fact that whole village is playing.
- Frog game – Some men bend down in the form of frog and others jump over them. It is a test of those who are bent, how long can they remain bent. It is so much fun to see mud-laden bodies jumping over each other.
Duel of words
Now, this is my favorite of all the games at Chikal Kalo. The whole crowd divides itself into two groups and they sit opposite each other. This is a fake marriage party with one side representing the bride and another side the groom. They make sarcastic remarks on each other with a loud noise. After a fair war of words, they agree to go ahead with a mock wedding. This is the penultimate game of Chikal Kalo – a literal mud-slinging.
Dahi Handi is a game we associate with Janmashtami or Krishna’s birthday. In Goa, it is the climax of Chikal Kalo festival. All the muddied men finally aim for a Handi tied to the peepul tree – the same tree that flagged off the event. Boys make a pyramid, to claim the Handi. Once broken, the curd inside the Handi splashed over everyone beneath it. More curd is thrown on the boys. Just imagine – Oil, mud and then curd.
Seems like a free spa treatment.
After the games, all the participants go to Dhobi Talao for a bath. They are then fed by some families.
The culture of Chikal Kalo
I was there at the festival from the beginning until the end. While all the men messed around in mud, all the women stood around and watched. Children played in their own groups. There was so much ‘Masti’ but not an iota of misbehavior. With women like me jumping around to click, not for a minute, we felt we are not safe. Everyone enjoyed in their own way – some in the mud and while others watching them. There was such an endearing sense of community and an aura of fun-filled happiness.
Video of Chikal Kalo Festival, Goa
Watch this video of Chikal Kalo, we managed to capture during the event in 2016.
I wondered if small is beautiful is at play or this is how our cultures are till they are spoilt by brutal commercialization. In fact, I heard someone say sponsors and I could imagine brand banners all around taking away the beauty of the festival. Let me say, I feel blessed that I could enjoy this festival before it got bitten by commercialized.
If you happen to be in Goa around the time of Chikal Kalo, you must watch Chikal Kalo. It is a unique Goa experience – quite unlike what you expect in Goa.
Recommend you to read following travel blog posts on Goa.