Sao Joao Or The Feast of St John in Goa

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Sao Joao Or The Feast of St John in Goa

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A feast day is not about a large celebratory meal as much as it is about an annual religious celebration in honour of a saint. Goan festivals embody the spirit of merriment, food and drink alongwith communal harmony and the Sao Joao isn’t different in that regard.

On the day, 24th June, the day of the Feast, young men across North and South Goa jump into wells to find and retrieve gifts thrown in by the villagers. With the onset of the rains, the Sao Joao is a colourful event replete with water sports as boys and men alike jump into wells, rivers, lakes and ponds as a symbolic ritual.

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Christian scriptures narrate the tale of St. John the Baptist leaping for joy in his mother’s womb when he heard news about the coming of the Christ. The wells, tanks and rivers are symbolic wombs and the men jump into it, expressing the joy that St. John expressed in utero.

Sao Joao is celebrated across Goa but the degree of festivity varies from province to province. The Feast is celebrated with special pomp in North Goa. Siolim in the taluka of Bardez, North Goa readies up for colourful boat races in addition to the merry diving. People dress up in colourful outfits, wear a head wreath of flowers and gather for the spectacle of the boat races. The frenzy and festivity is nothing less than a carnival at this point.

Apart from Siolim, Anjuna, Candolim, Calangute and Assagao witness a great surge in traffic. The narrow in-roads suddenly find more vehicles and pedestrians on one day than they would have otherwise seen throughout the year. The sight of floats in the rivers and lakes is a sight that people throng to admire.

The day begins with the boys and the men taking a plunge into the water singing “Sao Joao”. The highlight of the day is the Sangodd on which people sing religious hymns and “Mandos” while parading through the streets. The Sangodds are uniquely decorated and members of the Sangodd wear a uniform dress to distinguish themselves from other groups. This is also a time to celebrate the spirit of adventure.

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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 moussrad mango (a Goan variety of mango), pineapples, jackfruits and a bottle of feni.

If you find yourself in North Goa in June and it happens to be 24th June, don’t fail to explore Siolim, Anjuna or Assagao and take a leap of faith into one of the numerous ponds that dot the countryside. And remember to say “Sao Joao” before you leap!