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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Explained: Goa’s Sao Joao festival, and why revellers jump into wells and ponds

In Goa, Sao Joao is an occasion for the family and the villagers to get to know their newly wed daughters’ husbands a little better.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR , Edited by Explained Desk | Panaji |
Updated: June 24, 2022 9:33:52 am
Jumping into the well is part of Sao Joao festivities. (Flickr/FN-Goa)

As in every monsoon, Catholics in Goa will celebrate Sao Joao, the feast of St John the Baptist, on Friday. The celebrations will include revellers sporting crowns made of fruits, flowers and leaves, and the major draw of the feast is the water bodies – wells, ponds, fountains, rivers – in which the revellers take the “leap of joy”. Enjoyed by children and adults alike, the festival also includes playing the traditional gumott (percussion instrument), a boat festival, servings of feni, and a place of pride for new sons-in-law.

What is Sao Joao and where is it celebrated in Goa?

In Goa, Catholics celebrate all the feasts of the Roman Catholic Church, which include the feast of St John the Baptist on June 24 (John the Baptist because he had baptised Jesus Christ on the river Jordan). Traditionally, there are spirited Sao Joao festivities in the villages of Cortalim in South Goa and Harmal, Baga, Siolim and Terekhol in North Goa. However, over the years, pool parties and private Sao Joao parties in Goa have been a “complete package of merriment and joy” for tourists, according to the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC).

During Sao Joao, revellers take the “leap of joy”. (Credit: FacebookGoldenGoa)

What does jumping into water bodies symbolise?

In the 2004 edition of her book Feasts, Festivals and Observances of Goa, author and historian Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues wrote: “The youngsters in Goa celebrate this occasion with revelry and perform daredevil feats, by jumping into over flowing wells or rivulets… The boys are found merrily jumping into the water to commemorate the leap of joy, which St John is said to have taken in the womb of his mother St Elizabeth when virgin Mary visited her.”

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The festivities also include revellers wearing the Kopel, the crown of fruits, flowers and leaves, parading in villages and often well hopping from one place to another as they chant, “Sao Joao! Viva Sao Joao”. Villagers gather near the well and cheer for those throwing and dunking themselves into the water. Full-throated renditions of Konkani songs written for the occasion are accompanied by traditional musical instruments like the gumott and cansaim (cymbal).

Rodrigues writes that the revellers are treated with sweets, fruits and a peg of feni. “There have been a number of tragedies due to the alcohol consumption, and the revellers jumping in an inebriated condition. To avoid these, some groups carry with them a ladder made of rope so that in case of an accident, the same can be used to get the person out of the well,” she writes. “Some groups do not drink and collect the bottles instead of drinking them. They then auction these and use the money for a good cause.”

What other events are part of Sao Joao festivities?

Among the prominent festivities on Friday will be the Sao Joao boat parade in Siolim that usually sees visitors running into thousands. The Sao Joao traditional boat festival started in 1992 and is held in front of St Anthony’s Church in the village, now also the pin code for many upscale properties. A stage is erected and participants show up in vibrant costumes and prizes are awarded by the best decorated boat, dress and kopel (crown).

Baga may be better known as a tourist hub but it too has a Sao Joao tradition that Rodrigues writes about. In this bustling part of North Goa’s coastal belt, sangodd is celebrated as a part of the feast of St John the Baptist. “Two boats are tied together to make a sangodd, which means union, unity and junction. The tying of the boat signifies the unity of the village… In fact, the sangodd brings the whole community of Baga together and becomes an occasion when friends and relatives are entertained. Along the route, on both the borders of the Baga river, people gather to participate and woo the sangodd,” Rodrigues writes.

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What is the importance assigned to new sons-in-law?

In Goa, Sao Joao is an occasion for the family and the villagers to get to know their newly wed daughters’ husbands a little better. Traditionally, the new son-in-law would be crowned with festive headgear of fruits and leaves, taken around the village and would then jump into the well with other revelers.

Rodrigues writes: “The tradition of taking the son-in-law around the village comes from a very sad incident… a new son-in-law came to visit his in laws. However, on his way back home, he met with an accident and died. Unfortunately, the people did not know him, as he was not introduced to the villagers. Therefore, they decided that in the future, they would introduce the son-in-law to the villagers and the feast of St John the Baptist would be a good occasion to do so.”

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