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). At the harvest festival, the sheaves of the first paddy crop are ceremoniously cut and brought to the church as a thanksgiving offering to God. This quiet little island is located at a distance of 12 kilometers from Panaji, you can reach Divar by ferry from Old Goa or Ribandar.

Also known as the 'Festival of Flags', Bonderam derives its name from the Portuguese word 'bandeiras' (flags). Bonderam used to be celebrated by the three comunidades of Divar island: Goltim, Navelim and Malar. They used to auction the organization of the festival to the Gaunkars. Over the passage of time, Goltim and Navelim started to celebrate the festival jointly, while Malar celebrates it on another date. In the early 70's, the comunidades suffered a financial crisis, and the Piedade Youth Association took over the organization of the festival.

The celebration of this festival has a unique history behind it. Frequent disputes and fights between villagers of the two sections of the Divar village, namely Sao Mathias and Piedade over property matters often led to bloody duels, and sometimes death. Subsequently, the Portuguese introduced a system wherein they put up flags to demarcate boundaries. The villagers protested against this system by knocking 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 stem, with seeds of 'teofollam' and 'anselle' as pellets) The 'fotash' was used in mock fights by villagers to describe frequent boundary disputes which the villages on Divar island had in the past, but is now banned as it has been misused by revelers. While in the past, flags would be carried around the village in a procession and villagers dressed in colourful clothes danced to the tunes of a brass band, of late the festival has become more commercialised.

The festival begins close to noon with a Flag Parade from the main Divar junction, which is accompanied by a Brass Band. After this the festival is officially declared open. Later in the day there is a fancy dress competition followed by the traditional float parade and a live musical performance.

Divar has six wards and each ward in the island sends a colorful float to the parade and no efforts are spared to outdo each other. Each tableaux has very distinct themes and music to go with it.

This is a very popular monsoon festival in Goa and it draws huge crowds from all parts of Goa for a peek into the unfolding festivities.

* Photos are of this year's Bonderam held on the third Saturday, 22nd August 2015 at Divar. The one in Malar will be held on 29th August.

Photos by Lynn Barreto Miranda / lynn.barretomiranda.com

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