It's carnival time. From February 18 to 22, Goa will open its hearts to people from India and the world for this much-awaited event on the calendar. Join in the festivities as you discover the many sides to this tiny Indian state. The Guide gives you a ringside view

Think  Carnival and images of Rio's risque extravaganza come to mind. Be forewarned. Don't step on Goa's shores expecting a similar sight.

A man representing King Momo (the mythical King of Carnival) rides a float depicting the coastal Indian city of Goa during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2012. Pic/AFP

Instead, Goa's version of this Portuguese tradition is a celebration of the state's culture, music and lively spirit.

Celebrated across Panaji, Vasco, Ponda, Margao and Mapusa, it remains one of the most eagerly awaited events on the calendar of this former Portuguese colony.

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The Portuguese who ruled Goa for over 500 years started the carnival in Goa in 1961. It is derived from the Latin word 'Carne', meaning meat, and 'Vale', which translates to 'good-bye'.

The Goa Carnival shows off the state's Portuguese heritage ahead of the austere 40-day period of Lent, a time of prayer and penance that precedes Easter, both of which are widely observed by Goa's Roman Catholics.

A float  carrying King Momo makes its way, against the backdrop of the Mandovi River

Throughout this 3-4 day-long festival, you will spot parades of colourful floats, dance, music, feasting and above all, a glimpse into Goa's culture and tradition. Till date, Goa's carnival attempts to retain the core of the original. A King of Chaos is elected, called King Momo who presides over the three-day festivities.

In the 1930s, the Carnival in Goa was different, according to old timers. The sounds of drums, processions of masked men on streets of the main towns, decorated bullock carts, cars and trucks and colourfully-attired men were common sights. Later, a float parade was introduced with King Momo as the presiding monarch.
Today, the carnival has grown into becoming one of the biggest draws for tourists to this 3,702 sq-km state. Live band competitions, fashion shows, DJ-infused musical nights and fancy dress contests are common sights at the annual parade.

Tableaux with colourful, eye-catching masks are a common sight

But it's not just about fun and frolic often floats carry serious, relevant messages to drive home social and local issues, to reach out to a wider audience.

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Beach bumming: While you're at it, you might want to check out Goa's much-worshipped shoreline. Adventurous or otherwise, you'll be spoilt for choice from Agonda Beach, Anjuna Beach, Arambol Beach, Benaulim Beach to Candolim, Palolem and Cavelossim.

Casino calling: This is your chance to strike it rich. There are several casinos around Goa, including a floating version, which is anchored on the Mandovi River.

Night crawl central: If outdoors is your calling, head to the numerous beach-o-theques that go on till the wee hours of the morning.