CHIKHALKALA an unusual festival is celebrated only in the small town of Marcel, about 17 km from Panaji, off the road to the temple town of Ponda. The festival is celebrated on the 11th day of the Hindu lunar month of Aashadh (June-July) and is actually nothing but a collection of various games that Lord Krishna is supposed to have played in his childhood.
This festival is about getting close to Mother Earth, and is celebrated when Goa’s open spaces are full of slush due to heavy rains. The festival is celebrated on a huge village ground which is surrounded by a number of temples. During the rains, the ground is full puddles of water creating a slushy platform for the games. Flowing water is also diverted to the ground to create extra slush.
The township of Marcel has people belonging to all castes and religions, and many of them take part in this mud festival wholeheartedly. Marcel also has lots of Hindu temples. In the olden times, many Hindus migrated to this township with their Gods to escape the religious persecution unleashed by the then Portuguese regime. Naturally, this township has a deep religious ambience with many devotees living here. The Chikhalkala (Mud Festival), is held in the courtyard of the temple of Lord Devki-Krishna, known for the unique idol of Lord Krishna sitting on his mother Devkis lap, said to be the only one of its kind in India.
The festival is preceded by 24 hours of continuous Bhajan singing in the temple. On the day of the festival, male devotees wearing only shorts go around the town collecting oil from various shops. The devotees then smear the oil on their bodies and enter the temple to offer a collective prayer for the communitys welfare.
They chant “Jai Vithal, Hari Vithal” loudly, as percussion instruments like mridangum or pakhvaj and tal are played in the background. As they get immersed in the divine chanting, they again rub oil on to their bare bodies, from the nearby burning pedestal lamp and come out of the temple to enter the mud field. Music accompanies them as many more join the group. As the group comes to the field, the actual festival of Chikhalkala begins.
Before the actual festivities start, the ritual of distributing prasad (sacred offering) takes place. Townsfolk and visitors bring sweets and fruits for the players. They stand on the platform below the main Peepul tree on the ground and start throwing the sweets in the direction of the players. The players jump to grab the prized pieces making it an exciting spectacle for the viewers.
Then the players, young and old begin throwing mud on each other and virtually push each other into it. As each new player joins in, he is carried away to the slushiest part of the ground and dumped there. The chanting crowd then smears him with the slush until he is completely drenched. A large number of children can also be seen thoroughly enjoying themselves. The participants in the Chikhalkala are called Khelgadi. Locals believe that one can get cured of skin diseases and even cough and cold if they play in the mud.
These players are divided into two groups and play games like Viti Dandu, Chendu Phali etc. Players sing traditional songs while playing. The actions of players are rhythmic as they play to the background music. All the games are supposed to be enactments of the games played by Lord Krishna when he was a child. By afternoon, the games are over with the traditional breaking of the earthern pot of curds tied to the Peepul tree. The players then disperse to take a bath. They return to temple to sing devotional songs and once the prasad is distributed, the festival of Chikhalkala is over.
No one in the vicinity of Marcel can tell with certainty, the genesis of this unique festival. No legend, or folk tale tells us anything about this festival. It is said that the idol of Lord Krishna earlier belonged to the temple in Chodan (now Chorao), an island near Panaji, where Chikhalkala used to be played. Since the idol was transferred to Marcel, the festival associated with the deity too shifted there. The elders of the town believe in this explanation which may or may not be true, but that does not mar the pleasure and fun associated with this festival. Verily, Chikhalkala is one festival of Goa, which celebrates nature with great abandonment.