BULGARIAN town scares off evil spirits with colourful carnival. 

MASKED revellers in colourful hand-made costumes thronged the streets in of Pernik in Bulgaria on Sunday, warding off evil spirits and celebrating the beginning of spring with hopes for good health and a good harvest.

The pulsating Surva carnival - the oldest festival of masquerade games in the Balkan country, this year features a record 7,500 Kukeri [mummers] from nine countries.

Visitors from China and the United States were among thousands braving chilly January weather for the annual festivities in the traditional mining town, located 15 miles southwest of capital Sofia.

''The atmosphere is brilliant, these costumes are so beautiful and the masks are just amazing,'' said Chinese student Wand Xao.

''I will definitely come back next year because this festival is a magic, it fills me with energy and optimism.''

Every winter, the mummers, [actors in traditional masked mime play] dressed as animals or wearing elaborate horned masks, perform a traditional dance in a spectacular parade, producing an astonishing noise from the huge copper bells worn around their waists.

Most of the masks, which can be up to three feet [nearly one metre] in height, are double-faced, reflecting the coexistence of of good and evil.

''It's generally thought that the custom is related to Thracian Dionysos and similar rituals can be found in different parts of the Balkan peninsula,'' said one of the oldest mummer Ivan Boyadzhiev, who took part in the parade for 14th consecutive time. [Reuters]


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