“Surva” – Bulgarian masquerade festival between the tradition and the modernity

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By Rumyana Yotova,  American Councils Bulgaria Program assistant

On January 28th American Councils team in Sofia together with YES abroad students Rachel Freeman and Elijah Septoff visited the International festival of masquerade games “Surva”. The festival traditionally takes place in the city of Pernik every year in the last weekend of January and it is the biggest event not only for Bulgaria but in Balkan context as well.

The festival promotes ancient masquerade rituals known in Bulgaria as Kukeri and Survakari, that are still alive in the folklore tradition but also integrate new interpretation of the mask culture. It is a competitive event in which more then 100 groups from almost every folklore region in Bulgaria are taking part as well as the International competition with companies from Europe, Asia and Africa. The participants are marching in a procession showing not only their masks and costumes but also dancing and making sounds with huge bells hanging from their belts or performing different shows. According to the traditions these pre-spring rituals are performed by single men and are related to the end of the old year and the advent of the new with the wish for a rich harvest, health and fertility for humans and farm animals. The role of the mask is to protect from the harmful influence of impure powers and it usually represent heads of peculiar creatures with scary faces.

During the festival the YES abroad students had the chance to get familiar with these ancient pagan rituals still part of the Bulgarian culture. Besides the variety of handcraft masks Rachel and Elijah were able to see national costumes from different ethnological regions that participants were wearing as well as performing folklore music and dances . Some of the groups were also representing scenes of country life and different roles in the Bulgarian patriarchal family as well as traditional rituals such as wedding.

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Yes abroad students next to a Kuker. According to some beliefs touching the masked men brings good luck and good health.