Nearly 800,000 Brazilian and foreign tourists joined the six million Rio residents to revel on the streets during the carnival that has grown in popularity for its elaborate processions, costumes, samba, music and craziness across the globe.
The Brazil carnival attracts more than two million people on the streets of cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Vitoria per day in the month of February. The annual carnival is held for five days between Friday (51 days before Easter) and Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. Originated from Greek spring festival in honour of the god of wine, Dionysus; the Romans adopted it for Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and Saturnalia. The day was celebrated in drunken revelry when the masters and the slaves exchanged gifts. The Roman Catholic Church modified the feast of Saturnalia into a festival preceding the beginning of Lent. What developed, however, was indulgences into food, music, dance and drinks.
It travelled to Brazil with the Portuguese immigrants in 1723 to reach another scale of celebration. People went out into the streets, soaking each other with buckets of water, throwing mud and food and often indulging into brawls and riots. It saw numerous changes conceptually in the 19th century with organised parades and involvement of the Emperor with aristocrats who paraded in masks with elaborate costumes and music. Towards the end of the century, the carnival became a working class festivity and often used as a ground to express political opinions or dissatisfactions such as the military censorship from 1964-1985.
Samba, the primary attraction and the ritual Candomble dance to drums and handclaps, was born in Rio at the end of the 19th century. Today, the carnival pits the city’s 12 best samba schools against one another in ornate parades with over 2,500 participants each that cost more than USD 3 million. Although the efforts are judged in 10 categories and announced later in the week, the winner gets nothing more than an year round worth of bragging rights. Each Samba school is responsible to choose its own theme that traditionally revolve around the historical, cultural or political scenarios with elaborate costumes, headgears and full body makeup making them unique. The floats or vehicles that are decorated to correspond to the theme, music and dance add to their expression. Led by a ‘dancing queen’ adorned with gems, body paint and elaborate wings to match the theme of the samba school, the parades are followed by thousands of revellers on the street.