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Burning the Old Man

January 08, 2015 5 min read

Every year people bring in the New Year with celebrations in the hope that their effusive greeting of the first moment of the New Year will somehow make the 365 days that follow somewhat happier and bring good fortune.

I’ve always found the celebrations associated with the change of date unappealing and have rarely attended parties or gatherings that monumentalise that moment. I’m all for fun & gatherings but found this specific event too frivolous to give up a night’s sleep for.

Until this year.

On December 31st, as I drove through the tiny village lanes in Goa I saw residents putting up dummies of the ‘old man’.

The dummy is made up of straw and fully clothed with donated shirts, pants and fashion accessories. He also has a bottle of wine & a cigarette in his mouth and quite often has some quirky element that reflects the mood of his teenaged creators


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OLD MAN #2 & #3

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Through the conversations with the people I accost with my questions, I learn that this tradition is passed on from the older single boys to the younger boys who pick up the threads once the previous lot marry and settle down. The work on the dummy begins a day or two before New Year’s eve and is usually done by a group of neighborhood friends. It is always a self-initiated project and the only direction they receive is from the older boys. Almost every neighborhood has its own ‘old man’. And every ‘old man’ has his own little donation box for passers-by to put in a few rupees. The money collected – usually just a few hundred rupees- is then used to pay for the little neighborhood party that is held on New Year’s Eve by the young people.

OLD MAN #7 – young boys having a blast dancing to blaring music!IMG_4748 IMG_4751 IMG_4754 IMG_4755  IMG_4760


A small group, a little music, a little dancing, a little beer, and a lot of fun later, the old men are  burned at midnight.

He represents the previous year – and burning him is symbolic of saying goodbye – especially to the bad parts of that year!

All day, as I drove around I took pictures of old men set up along the roads and with every new old man that I found, I became more and more determined to come back at midnight and witness the burning.

Fortunately there was one just around the corner from my house, but if there wasn’t I’d have gone to the next one or the next or the next. This was an unmissable event – who knew when next I would be in a position to witness a village NYE celebration in Goa again!

That night, I set the alarm for 11.30 and in the cold dark village night, we drove the car out of the gates and arrived at the neighborhood old man set up. The only problem when I arrived was that the location was deserted. Barring Mr. Old man there was no one else around.

OLD MAN #8 [Finally in my own neighborhood]


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Eventually, a neighbor came by and told me that the burning would commence only after the mass prayer at the church was over and that I was fortunate that the priest conducting the mass at the church was a brisk one and would take only an hour to complete the proceedings.

So I found myself a little rock and sat down to watch the village road, that is usually empty during the day with just about one car passing every 10 minutes on an average and was almost deserted at night.

A few stray dogs came by to check me out.

And every now and then, a boy who was part of the group that had created the old man would come by on his bicycle to check the donation box to see if anyone had added some money. This check was conducted roughly every 10 minutes! even though the car & auto traffic was zero. The naive optimism of youth is at once endearing and heartbreaking! If only we could protect them from disappointment….

Eventually, about half an hour after midnight the 4-5 boys all came to hang out around the old man. With time on their hands, they practiced bike stunts in the middle of the village road as they waited for friends to arrive. Just the thing to do in the middle of the night in the middle of an empty road!  The things I get to see never fail to surprise me!


IMG_4778 IMG_4779Finally the mass ended in the distant church. And when ‘everyone’ arrived i.e. all 8 of the friends, the old man was  carried to a spot that was more appropriate for burning. And then set on fire.

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As the old year and the old man burned the small group of people – all strangers to me, wished each other a happy year ahead. The camaraderie within the cosy group, ignited from spending that hour together in the cool dark night with only dim street lamps to light up the event was priceless.

And although I still do not see the point of singling out a specific moment or change of date for a celebration, I am glad that this experience showed me that it IS important to carve out a moment that has a special place to clear out the negative baggage of the past year and make space for positivity and hope!

Magical moments on a nameless road in  hardly-known village in Goa, India!


And then ….the morning after…the first dawn of the new year!


The year will bring what it will and as we begin a new segment of the journey I wish us all ‘enough’ with the poem:

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.

I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”


Jan 2015

Photos taken with the phone camera – so they aren’t as spectacular as the real thing was!

The post Burning the Old Man appeared first on The Art Blog by WOVENSOULS.COM.

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