“The mask that burns like a violin, the mask that sings only dead languages, that loves the destruction of being put on. The mask that sighs like a woman even though a woman wears it.”

Fort Cochin Carnival 2015 - Picture of the first Carnival taken by Abul Kalam Azad
Picture of the first Carnival taken by Abul Kalam Azad. Courtesy Ekalokam Trust for Photography, Tiruvannamalai (EtP).

The Cochin Carnival completed 30 years on January 1, 2015! Now one of the biggest attractions in the city it had humble beginnings.

Fort Cochin Carnival 2015
Photo: Zuzana Zwiebel

“The mask beaded with freshwater pearls, with seeds. The plumed mask, the mask with a sutured mouth, a moonface, with a healed gash that means harvest.”

In 1984, three youngsters from Cochin – George Augustine Thundiparambil (Roy), Ananda Felix Scaria (Ananda Surya) and Antony Anup Scaria (Anoop) decided to organise a month-long grand public event to celebrate the signing of a UN proclamation declaring 1985 as the International Youth Year. They announced the Beach Festival with a grand programme at the Mahatma Gandhi beach.

Fort Cochin Carnival 2015
Photo: Zuzana Zwiebel

More than 150 youth groups representing different clubs and organisations pooled in their resources and ideas for the event. Although the Carnival, as in its current avatar , was not in the original programme, it was added at a later stage. This spectacular event started during the second week of December 1984 with a cycle race followed by other local ethnic games like tug of war, kuttiyum kolum , kabaddi , chakku (jute bag) race, swimming in the sea etc. Music concerts, dance performances and plays were conducted on the beach.

Fort Cochin Carnival 2015
Photo: Zuzana Zwiebel

“A glower that hides wanting. A grotesque pucker. Here’s a beaked mask, a braided mask, here’s a mask without eyes, a mask that looks like a mask but isn’t—please don’t try to unribbon it.”

The event ended on January 1, 1985 (International Youth Year) with a procession of various cultural representations from all over India called ‘Carnivale Cochin’.

Fort Cochin Carnival 2015
Photo: Zuzana Zwiebel

Some of the other names associated with the first Carnival are Nirmal John Augustine, Radha Gomathi and Abul Kalam Azad (photographer), who later became an active member of the team. From its inception, the then Deputy Mayor K.J. Sohan was a part of the event.

Fort Cochin Carnival 2015
Photo: Zuzana Zwiebel

Thirty years later, the Carnival continues to fire the imagination of the young and the old alike. With each passing year it has grown bigger, more creative and festive, the tableaux showcasing the artistry of their makers.

“The mask that snows coins, the mask full of wasps. Lace mask to net escaping thoughts. Pass me the rouged mask, the one made of sheet music. Or the jackal mask, the hide-bound mask that renders lovers identical with night.”


Poem: Rebecca Lindenberg, “Carnival” from Love, an Index.

Text: The Hindu, January 3, 2015


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