WHY & HOW SAO JOAO IS CELEBRATED IN GOA? 

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Ami sogle zanvaim vortoutanv, chodda

tempan bhetleanv,

Sao Joao-chem fest mhunnon ami mavoddea

aileanv,

Mateak him kopelam ghalun udok navonk

bhair sorleanv,

Aichea dissak voddle ami nokon khuim

pauleanv

This melodious song, by the legendary C Alvares, will either be played or sung at every traditional Sao Joao celebration worth its salt on June 24. 

The musician sings the tune posing as a son-in-law who feels all important as he is invited over to his wife’s house for Sao Joao. Alvares describes a time when Sao Joao was known as zanvoianchem fest or the feast of sons-in-law, which is the case only in some parts today. He speaks of a time when the festival was a barely known acquaintance of the Sao Joao pool parties organized today to mark the day.

Villages which still pride themselves in maintaining at least part of the traditional fervour see the young and old wearing crowns, known locally as kopelam,as men jump into the designated village wells. The kopelam are carefully woven together using flowers and leaves that are just washed clean by the first monsoon showers. These flowers and leaves are held together with the help of twigs in these completely organic crowns.


 As the men take the plunge into the well, they are watched keenly by women and children, as either traditional music sung to the beat of ghumot (drums) and tashe (cymbals) or the new-age music add to the zeal in the background.The local feni also most often flows freely in many of these celebrations, while everyone feasts on the dhali—consisting of sanna,vodde, mango, jackfruit and pineapple. But the original version of Sao Joao was all about extending the village hospitality for the benefit of husbands of the newly-married daughters of the village.


Sao Joao was one of the festivals which was ‘adopted and adapted’ by the newly converted Goans during the Portuguese regime to fill the void they felt in the absence of their traditional practices. Sao Joao is parallel to the practice of a newly-married Hindu bride being sent off to her maternal home after the first monsoon showers in the Hindu lunar calendar month of Aashaad. She is later fetched home by her husband, after he has been sufficiently pampered by her family with food and other hospitality.

Sao Joao coincides with a period in the Hindu calendar when a newly-married Hindu girl is brought back to her parental home, with sexual relations restored only when her husband comes to take her back. The monsoon season appears to be considered inauspicious even to conceive new life. The Catholic celebration has adopted this practice in its own way.  She interprets the son-in-law being either dared or pushed into the well by force as a means of separation from his wife. But the old Hindu tradition of sending the bride off to her maternal home is sometimes thought to be to satisfy her longing to see her family in times when public transport meant distances were stretched even longer in the absence of means to traverse them. And so, Sao Joao possibly served the same purpose back then.

Whether the son-in-law is invited with the same fervour or not, Goans have been taking a more conscientious view of the festival in recent years by focusing on harbouring a sense of unity among the neighbours during Sao Joao and less on the aspects of jumping in the wells or consuming alcohol.Many villagers feel the plunge in the well can lead to contamination of the drinking water. In the more Catholic context, jumping in the well during Sao Joao is believed to be a reminder of St John leaping with joy in his mother’s womb, or sometimes as relating to the baptism of St John in the River Jordan. Last year, Socorro villagers also attempted to revive the art of weaving the beautiful kopelam at their Sao Joao celebrations.

For over two decades in Siolim (the only village where Sao Joao sees a boat parade), revellers in artistically decorated boats from Anjuna, Vagator, Badem and Siolim sail along the fringed, green banks of the tributary of the Chapora river up to the huge cross in front of the St Anthony’s church. In any case, C Alvares was one of the lucky sons-in-law to have been invited for Sao Joao when the zanvoim was still central to the celebrations.

It is the feast of St John the Baptist on June 24th. On this day young men around Goa jump into wells to retrieve gifts thrown in by villagers.

This celebration is called Sao Joao, one of the more famous Christian feasts in the state.
The festivals takes place at the beginning of Monsoon season in Goa and people of all ages jumping into wells, streams and ponds.

In Siolim, the village in north Goa’s Bardez taluka, colourful boat races are organised on this day.
This monsoon feast has special significance in Christianity as it is dedicated to St John the Baptist.

Christian scripture tells us of John the Baptist leaping for joy in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb when she was told of Jesus’ birth.
John, the Baptist later went on to baptize Jesus in the river Jordan. The well is considered to be a representation of Elizabeth’s womb and a jump into it a sign of joy for the birth of Christ.

San Joao, like any other Goan feast has that captivating spirit of merriment, color and tradition. People dressed in colourful outfits from several villages meet near a stream front in carnival-coloured boats and floats. It is akin to the Carnival in few ways.

But San Joao is not celebrated with the same fervour throughout Goa. It is celebrated with less enthusiasm in South Goa. The display of Sangodd, a decorated floating platform, made by tying two boats or banana tree trunks together, which are then put into nearby streams to float is an important part of the celebrations.

But in North Goa this festival is celebrated with great vibrance. It is celebrated with great fervour and gusto, particularly in Siolim, Anjuna, Candolim, Calangute and Assagao. Getting to any of the main locations for the display of floats is a task for anyone not on foot, with the small roads getting a decade’s share of their traffic.

On the feast day, villagers begin the day by taking a plunge in the village wells singing ‘Viva San Joao’. The highlight of the day is the Sangodd, on which people parade singing Mandos and religious hymns.
The Sangodds are uniquely decorated and members of that Sangodd wear a uniform dress to distinguish themselves from other groups. This is also a time to celebrate one’s spirit of adventure. So, on this day there are a number of competitions where youths get to exhibit their talents.

The celebration of San Joao in Bardez (North Goa) goes back nearly 150 years, when San Joao revelers from Chapora and Zhor villages of Anjuna, Badem in Assagao and Siolim would come up year after year in boats to the chapel of Sao Joao in Periera Vaddo, Siolim, to pay homage and take part in the traditional dali.

People, especially the newly married or those with a new-born (where new means before after June 24 of the previous year, that is the previous Sao Joao) gather with the dali and gifts containing seasonal fruits like mangoes, pineapples, jackfruits, a bottle of feni and other traditional goan cuisine.

The young and old alike sing and dance to the beat of the ghumot and kansallem, with lovely coronets of seasonal flowers on their heads(mainly known as copel) and ‘drenched to the bone’ with feni. Many then proceed to jump time and time again into the streams, wells and ponds to keep away the cold from getting them.


Jezreen Fernandes 

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