Sao Joao is celebrated on the 24th of June every year. Entire Goa come together to celebrate one of its vivacious monsoon festivals. This colorful feast is not just a tradition but emphasizes what it means to be Goan passionate, fun loving and larger than life.
Sao Joao has a unique significance in Christianity as it is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and is celebrated all across the state with pomp and fervor. According to tradition, this day commemorates the excitement felt by the unborn John, who is said to have ‘leapt in joy’ in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when visited by Mary, the mother of Jesus. The custom of people jumping into village wells is in imitation of John’s reaction of ecstasy.
Sao Joao, like the most of festivals in Goa is a picture of blissful merriment, vibrance and is unique in its own way. On this day Goan Catholics are seen showing off their colorful costumes and ‘kopel’ (crown) which is put up on head of fresh and fragrant flowers, fruits and leaves. The day begins with a procession of especially youngsters dancing to the melodious tunes of the ‘ghumott’ (local goan instrument) and ‘kansallem’ from door to door in their villages collecting gifts, liquor and fruits while the women busily prepare Goan delicacies like ‘Sannas’, ‘folle’ ‘Patoleos’ and other lip smacking traditional dishes.
Prayers and the collectibles are offered at the well before cries of ‘Viva Sao joao’ reverberate through the air followed by a resounding splash as they take a plunge into the cool, sweet waters. This day is a special day for newly married couples and especially if there is a birth in the family. As per tradition mothers send off their daughters to their new homes with the traditional offering of ‘dali’ which consist of all seasonal fruits like Mangoes, Jackfruit, pineapple etc. Newly married couples usually offer a bottle of wine or feni and the same is done if a child is born in the family.
It is the scene of unbridled revelry and utter contentment as trays filled with ‘Ponnsache ghore’ (jackfruit), ‘kopachem’ (feni and sweet wine) is passed around while the rustic tune of the ghumott accompanies the melodious voices singing with exuberance in harmony:
“Sao Joao Sao Joao, Guvta mure, vat amkam disonamm, aicho dis urbecho, konn konnak hassonam choll re pie re tu illo ghe re faleam kaim mevonam osli festa vorsak kiteak don pautti ienam Viva Sao Joao!”
(“…Today is the day of celebration, Come, have a drink, you too, have a little, because tomorrow you won’t get any. Why don’t such feasts come twice a year?”)
While Sao Joao is celebrated all across Goa, it is done so more boisterously up north especially in the villages of Anjuna, Siolim, Calangute, Assagao to name a few. For almost 150 years now revelers from these villages would come together and sail up to pay homage at the chapel of Sao Joao in Siolim. Head on out to the scenic village of Siolim that comes alive with the tunes of Goan ‘kantarams’, ‘Mandos’ and vivacious display of tradition in the form of comedy and dance shows by local tiatrists. While many villages have a special celebration in the form of a boat parade known as ‘Sangodd’, nowhere is it celebrated as grandly by the Siolikars.
Being held for more than a quarter of a century, the Siolim Traditional Boat Festival gives you a peek into the rich and pulsating culture of Goa and is attended by revelers from all over Goa. Each Sangodd is uniquely decorated that is made by joining boats using banana trunks covered with coconut palms.
Come tomorrow, Goa will be alive with the chants of ‘Viva Soa Joao’. Sao Joao is not just the festival of tradition; it is the celebration of communal harmony and brotherhood among Goans, an appealing mix of fun, merriment and faith. Be a part of this monsoon celebration and soak yourself in not only the rain but the pure joy of being Goan. And don’t forget to gulp down that fire burning shot of Feni to keep you warm.
Viva Sao Joao!!
Article written by Deborah Pereira.
Photos by Ashit Desai