Sao Joao Feast Of Goa

Come June and Goa gears itself for the unique and popular water festival called ‘Sao Joao’ on the 24th of June. This has been one of the more famous Christian feasts in the state and is celebrated with grandness, joyfullness and great fervour! However, this festival isn’t just for Goans or Catholics anymore and on this feast day of St John the Baptist, all are invited to attend the celebrations. It has transformed into Goa’s very own monsoon festival and captures the Goan love and passion for life, spirit of fun and celebration of their faith.

Boat decorating competitionThis feast is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who was born on 24th June and who, according to the scriptures, was the cousin of Jesus. He had also baptised Jesus in the river Jordan. According to folklore, when Mother Mary broke the news to her sister Elizabeth that she is going to have baby Jesus, at that time Elizabeth was pregnant with St. John the Baptist, who jumped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb on hearing this news.

To mark this event, on this day, local men jump into wells, lakes and ponds shouting ‘Viva San Joao’ (many pronounce it as San instead of Sao as easier to pronounce) – where the waterbody symbolises Elizabeth’s womb and the jump signifies the joy that St. John felt when he heard about the conception of Jesus.

In various parts of Goa, the festivities start on the eve, ie.23rd June with a religious ceremony where members first gather and pray for good monsoons. This feast is especially sacred to newlyweds, new parents and people who have just bought new houses. A procession of villagers singing mandos go around to the houses of these people, crowning them with festive headgear and singing for a while around the house before proceeding. Sao Joao is also called the Festival of Fertility as young, to-be mothers make offerings to God for a child.

The next day, offerings of ‘dali’, gifts of fruits and feni are made at the Chapel of Sao Joao and exchanged with friends and relatives, after which the revelry continues. From north to south, people flash  bright, colourful costumes and floral headgear called ‘kopel’ (crown) made from fresh flowers, fruits, vines etc. The young and old, together sing and dance to the beat of the ghumot (local drum) and kansallem (cymbals). The gathering moves through the neighbourhood with people jumping into wells of friends and partons, finally reaching the river where they once again, dive into the water chanting ‘San Joao…viva San Joao’. People enjoy Goan delicacies and the popular drink, Feni. Anyone and everyone are welcome to join in, with most hotels and guesthouses organizing pool parties. The mood is festive and colourful.

The celebrations in North Goa, with its well-known party vibe, are more boisterous than those of the South. It is celebrated with much more enthusiasm in several villages such as Siolim, Anjuna, Assagao, Candolim, Calangute and Chapora. The highlight of the day is the Sangodd (boat parade), on which people parade singing Mandos and religious hymns. Uniquely decorated, these floating platforms are made by joining two boats or banana trunks tied together and decked with coconut palms and members of that Sangodd wear a uniform dress to distinguish themselves from other groups. On this day there are a number of competitions, where the young folk get to exhibit their talents. Those who want to see the boat decorating competition and the sailing of the boats down the river should make their way to Siolim.

During monsoons, this event is a major attraction for tourists. The festival is enjoyed even more when it rains heavily. Pool parties and private Sao Joao parties are organized at many places in Goa, where popular Goan music bands and dancers perform. It is almost like the Carnival in a few ways. The Goa Tourism Development Corporation organises a Sao Joao cruise from the Santa Monica Jetty (Panjim). This is a leisurely 5 hour cruise on the Mandovi river where there is music, dancing and feasting and tickets can be bought in the days preceding Sao Joao.

So, let the party begin !

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Picture Credits –  Wannabemaven – Edwina D’Souza

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