Way back in 2011 when I was blissfully schoolwork-free and going to photography classes I went to the annual Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games in the nearby town of Pernik, and I wrote about it here. This event is truly one of the coolest and craziest festivals happening in Bulgaria, and now that I have a car and I am actually not terrified of driving, I could drive my cousin Tsveti and myself to this year's celebrations over the weekend.
Bulgaria has a rich folklore tradition, which is incredibly interesting, quite varied for such a small country and also filled with fairly tale creatures that rival some of the best fantasy series out there. One of the most famous customs, apart from the live ember walking nestinari, is related to the kukeri, people dressed up as scary monsters and making an insane amount of noise with the huge bells on their costumes so as to chase away evil spirits and usher in the new season of prosperity and happiness. Depending on the region, the kukeri look different - some have many heads, some are literally covered in bells, some have masks the size of a person, some are all covered in feathers, others in sheep skin or horse hair, and yet others have goat horns and painted faces. Their purpose, though, is one and the same: to scare away sickness and bad luck and bring in health and a good crop.
Nowadays the festival is not just for the kukeri, even if such groups are predominant. Today the festival features masquerade groups from all over the world that bring their own unique costumes and customs to the event, making it a tapestry of cultures and traditions. There are also groups that are more modern in their costumes or have a decidedly humorous twist, like that one group of people that included a bunch of guys dressed up as doctors who would "kidnap" people from the audience and put them down on a gurney, spraying the local grape alcohol rakia in their mouths from a toy syringe as an "anesthetic." And since I got my hands on a badge that allowed me access to the roped in area where the parade of masquerade groups was passing, I was one of the lucky (or not, depends on your point of view and your taste in rakia) girls kidnapped and put on the gurney. That was quite a laugh, let me tell you.
Their vibrant colors, the richness of the textures and variety of materials used in making the costumes make the kukeri a dream to photograph. This is the third year I have attended the festival, and it never disappoints. It's so much fun to see all the costumes, all the people laughing and dancing, and all the adorable little kids dressed like kukeri. This year I went a bit earlier during the day, and that was a great decision, because it was pouring down rain in the afternoon in Sofia. Here are some of the photos I took of the event, while I enjoyed my insider pass :)