The feast of Sao Joao will be celebrated today, staying true to the tradition of not celebrating on June 24 which is also the feast of The Sacred Heart of Jesus. Sao Joao will be celebrated with typical gusto in various parts of the state. Celebrations will be held at clubs as well as in various waddo’s. The festival is an important part of the Goan calendar.
In the traditional manner, after mass, young Goan Catholic men leap into and swim in local wells, streams and ponds as a tribute to St. John the Baptist. The feast of São João is a celebration of the birthday of St. John the Baptist. When John grew up, he is described as living in the wilderness, wearing clothes of camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey. John foretold the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. When Jesus was thirty years old, he was baptised by St. John in the river Jordan. The feast of São João in Goa coincides with the time of the year when the monsoon usually has commenced, there is fresh greenery and flowers in the surroundings, and wells and other water bodies are full. Consequently, the celebration of the birth of St. John in Goa apparently evolved to incorporate elements of celebration of the rainy season. Jumping in wells and ponds is symbolic of the baby leaping in the womb, and of the baptism in the river Jordan. Men only wearing kopels made of flowers, and other adornments and vestments made from plants is probably also a nod to the fact that St. John wore natural coverings instead of clothing made of fabric.
While the feast of São João is celebrated across the Catholic world on the same day, Goa is the only place in the world where it is marked by leaping into wells. On this day, groups of people go around singing traditional songs accompanied with instruments like ghumot, mhadalem and kansallem. While the São João celebrations are “centuries old”, a more recent tradition is followed in the village of Siolim, in Bardez taluka, featuring colourful floats on boats. These festivities date back 175 years, when San Joao revellers from Chapora and Zhor villages of Anjuna, Badem in Assagao and Siolim would come in boats to the chapel of San Joao in Pereira Vaddo, Siolim, every year, to pay homage to the saint.
In the village of Saligao, also in the Bardez taluka, the event is celebrated as the Vangodd de Saligao, a village festival of music, dance and with the villagers often cooking enough food to feed all the visitors free of cost. São João is also a celebration of thanksgiving for newly-weds, and for families with babies born during the preceding year.
Several Goan villages, including Siolim, Assagao, Candolim, Calangute, Anjuna, and Chapora, celebrate Sao Joao with joy and devotion. The main event of the day, the “Sangodd” or boat parade, is eagerly anticipated by all. Food and Feni is another integral part of the Sao Joao feast (else why call it a feast?). Newlywed brides carry baskets of fruit; Jackfruit, Pineapples and Bananas being the favourite. These gifts are presumably sent by the bride’s mother to her sons-in-law who so consented to let her daughter spend some time with her mother back home and now has to return to her husband. One very popular song sung at this feast is called, ‘Sasumai ponos dadla” which means, ‘my mother-in-law has sent me a jackfruit’.
Large crowds of revellers gather here dressed in very colourful headgear called “Kopel.” Remember the olive leaf crowns of the Romans? Those crowns are no match for a ‘Sao Joao Kopel.’
The crowns worn at this feast are a sight to behold. They are made out of fresh flowers, fruit, and even vegetables, and they are strung together with organic thread. It is as if the revellers want to crown the Gods, who sent the beautiful rain that will now bring in fresh flowers and fruit and veggies which adorn their cheerful heads, with such joy and pride.
One can get really very creative and the results can be so outlandish and eye-catching even the peacocks that come out in this season might blush with amusement.
For Simon, who is a resident of Santa Cruz, celebrations will be held on June 25, a Sunday, to ensure everyone in the area joins in. He said “This year the fest is proponed by a day because the feast of Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on June 24. Our celebrations will be a mix of the traditional and the modern’’. He said there would be traditional Goan food as part of the buffet, a brass band, Kopel competition, a fruit basket competition, urak cocktails in addition to a rain dance which he promised would be the biggest and bands. When asked if the tradition of jumping into the well would be followed, he said it would be difficult to find wells because most of them were closed anyway but he said that would not stop anyone from having fun.
It should be a fun time for everyone.