Every year before lent, Brazil erupts in extravagant colour and sound as the Rio Carnival is celebrated.
But is there more to the festival than the much circulated image of the gorgeous Brazilian woman, in barely there clothing, dancing to tribal beats? The Sherp dissects.
Five days before Ash Wednesday, the Christian day of fasting marking the beginning of the 40-month self-acceptance period of Lent, Brazil reconvenes to become the hottest destination on the planet. Not so much for its weather, but for the revelry that ensues during the five days of the Brazilian Carnival, with the celebrations at Rio being the most infamous. From a Pagan’s decadent food-and-drink spillover to a global party paradise, we look at the madness that is the Rio Carnival.
There is a very simple methodology to the five-day access of the Brazilian Carnival. The period of Lent, maintained for 40 days, is remembered serenely in gratitude of Jesus, who spent 40 days fasting in the desert resisting temptation by the devil. Following this, several Roman catholics spend Lent by giving up luxuries, fasting and generally spending the time in mild to severe penance as a mark of respect.
The Brazilian Carnival is simply a time of pure indulgence, so the 40-day period of abstinence is more possible. An excess of food, drink and revelry is enjoyed, so resisting the temptation becomes that much easier.
These parties were a common occurrence among Romans and Greeks to celebrate the incoming of Spring. But sometime around 1850, the Portuguese who settled in Brazil initiated the carnival there according to their festival of Entrudo, so as to celebrate the five days leading up to Lent. The elitists mingled with the common folk, as parties, parades and crossdressing dominated the processions that saw the fusion of European and Brazilian aesthetics. Overtime, the festival evolved as an expression of Brazilian culture and ingenuity, and has grown to be a truly one of a kind event.
Four days of wild partying
While the Brazilian Carnival is historically four days long, it spirals to more days because of the endless street parties. Mind you, these aren’t just club events – but every important or unimportant spot in Brazil witnesses revelry of just another level. Blocos or Bandas (what street parties are colloquially called) are celebrated with free-for-all dance offs, as almost everybody joins in, in choicest costumes. While some stick to sensual get ups, most cross-dress in debauched fashion. In addition to the famous Samba Parade, the Carnival is marked by several famous balls, including the much sophisticated Marvelous City Balls, and even Gay Costume Balls that celebrate drag queens and cross-dressing.
In fact, one of more infamous traditions of the Carnival is the kissing crown, where men and women hit up raucous street parties to compete for the most number of kisses.
Crowning of King Momo
One of the most amusing celebratory traditions of the Carnival is the crowning of the King Momo, the Greek God of excess who was kicked out of Mount Olympus and exiled to Rio, where he is graciously accepted. Every year, a very large man is chosen to play King Momo, and it is his job to open balls, parades and celebrations. The Carnival Queen is selected through beauty and dance pageants.
The great Samba parade
Swung to the tunes of indigenous African beats, Samba is considered one of the most sensual dance forms in the world, and can be experienced in all its notoriety at the Brazilian Carnival. And the biggest event of the Rio Carnival is the Samba Parade where hundreds of Samba schools hold processions and dance their hearts out, so they can be judged on their floats, dance and music. The ones leading the score board perform to an elite list of ticketed attendees, and one amongst them is adjudged winner, and thus, the best Samba School in Brazil for that year.
What is of most prominence is the dexterity that goes behind making the Carnival a visual success – right from the intricate costumes of the Samba dances to the elaborate detailing of the gigantic floats that throng the Parade, many of which are ingeniously built to represent the yearly themes. Such is the sensation, that the Carnival is thronged by people from around the world, yes, including Rihanna, to be witnessed in its most glorious fashion.