The Masquerade ritual of Surva originates hundreds of years back in time, but it is still alive in the Bulgarian folklore tradition to this day.
On the first day of New Year, the youngest children in the family recite a short verse wishing their family and loved ones well. Those performing the ritual are known as Survakari, while the participants in the pre-spring masquerade carnival are known as Kukeri.
The masquerade dance of the Kukeri is perhaps one of the most Bulgarian rituals that exist and a rather jaw-dropping experience for foreign guests that witness this festival for the first time. Having said that, this festival and variations of the tradition exist in other Balkan countries and bring joy to young and old.
The dance of the Kukeri intends to chase away the evil spirits and prepare people for a new better beginning. In essence, the festival is a sort of a transition between the old and the new year. A welcome to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life.
The dance and whole ritual are both rich in colour and sound and have an enchanting effect on the crowds and a sense of mysticism.
The Kukeri wear impressive masks and unique hand-made costumes and their rhytmic dance fills the air with the sounds of hundreds of bells and whispered blessings and wishes for good health, prosperity, and abundance. It can in my view induce a sense of trance and overall the effect on the spectator is quite rejuvenating. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why most of the participants look stress-free like the human goat below combing his golden fleece.
The masks, according to folklore beliefs, protects from the harmful influence of impure powers, while the sounds of the bells are said to reinforce the protective properties of the masks.
The biggest masquerade carnival in Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula takes place in the city of Pernik each January. Last year more than 6500 participants took part. In fact, the number of participants has been growing exponentially each year as well as international representation from neigbouring Macedonia and other countries. The history and traditions of each etnographic region are embodied in the masks and dances of the performers and it is likely that you will be surprised in the very moment you think you have seen it all. You can find more information about this lavish carnival competition on the official Surva web site.
The Kukeri masquerade dance is famous throughout other parts of Bulgaria too. This year on the 7th of January, more than 2000 participants took part in the city of Blagoevgrad. A jury carefully examined all participating groups and presented awards in various categories. Hence, those most traditional, innovative and artistic performing groups were given an incentive to keep the flames of this old tradition and participated again in the coming year.
If you find yourself skiing in Borovets or Bansko this time of the year, why not visit Blagoevgrad for the day and experience the mystical Kukeri dance.