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The History of Brazilian Carnival

Loveleena Rajeev Oct 8, 2018
The word "carnival" brings to mind a riot of colors and the most uninhibited dance of Samba. Read on to know about the history of Brazilian carnival, the country's biggest festival.
"We play, not for money, but to celebrate happiness. Our carnival is a street carnival. It is for everyone, not just for those with money." ― Carlinhos Brown
The carnival is one of the most celebrated festivities of Brazil. It has spilled out of its boundaries and has taken the world by storm.
The carnival has taken its roots from the ancient Greek spring festival honoring Dionysus, the god of wine. The Romans adopted the festival, which the Roman Catholic Church changed to suit its own religious needs. The Brazilian Carnival is an annual festival, celebrated for four days preceding the Ash Wednesday.
It has a religious flavor, as it marks the beginning of the fasting days of Lent. Carnival literally means to remove meat, one of the important observances to be followed during Lent, while practicing repentance to honor the death and resurrection of Christ.
The Carnival is celebrated on different scales all over Brazil. A lot of time and effort is involved in its preparation. Each place has its own distinct style. Among the many interesting aspects of the it, King Momos deserves a mention. He is considered as the King of Carnivals and signifies the beginning of the festivity.

Rio de Janeiro Carnival

Rio de Janeiro, the cultural capital of Brazil, has parades since the 1930s. Presently, it holds the parade in a large permanent structure called Sambadrome. The Carnival parade is full of participants from various Samba schools.
This parade serves as means to compete with other schools, resulting in a visual treat. The group, or blocos as they are known, parade through the city telling short stories through their music, dances, and costumes. The winners are announced at the closing of the carnival.

Bahia Carnival

The music and dance of the Bahia parade are heavily influenced by the African heritage. It's held in the city of Salvador, also known as the Capital of Happiness. Their parades combine the samba and reggae rhythm, using giant speakers mounted on a truck and a platform for the artist to perform, called trio-elétrico.

Pernambuco Style

This Carnival is held at Pátio de São in Recife, Brazil, and is unique in many aspects. They do not have any competitions in this parade, the groups instead perform side by side. The Galo da Madrugada is the biggest carnival parade in the world. Their dance style is acrobatic, with frequent arm and leg movements. The rhythms used are the frevo and maracatu.

Minas Gerais Style

The Carnival is influenced by the Rio de Janeiro and Bahia styles. It fuses the themes and adds to it its own unique music of drums and bands. The important carnival parades in Minas Gerais are mainly held in the historic cities of Ouro Preto, Mariana, and Diamantina.


The costumes and masks used are of utmost importance. Their creation requires a high level of understanding of the roles they are meant to play. Like music, even the costumes are influenced by the African heritage.
Fabrics of different textures, mostly adorned with feathers and sequins, are used. While designing such elaborate costumes, the freedom of movement to the dancers is an essential aspect. Carnival make-up creates an enchanting persona.


No carnival is complete without the Brazilian national dish, Feijoada, a pork and bean stew. Streets are full of food, cooked either in houses or restaurants. The cuisines differ from place to place, with each adding its unique flavor to its carnivals.
Dancers often eat light meals, but enjoy the full course after the parade is over. Drinks are equally important to beat the heat. Brazilian soda, or Guaraná, and beer are the preferred choices.
A carnival goes beyond providing entertainment and reflects the culture for the world to see and appreciate. The Brazilian Carnival rejoices life; it spreads euphoria through its dance, song, music, food, and people.