The villages of Goa will come alive on June 24th in a burst of colour and revelry this weekend. Why? Because it’s Sao Joao. And every true blue Goan (and NOT Goanese, hello, mind your language) knows why this festival is our most favourite monsoon `must celebrate’ checklist. Where villages will chorus with `Viva Sao Joao,’ to a burst of firecrackers, a riot of colours, flowers of the season in full bloom, a generous cheer of cashew `feni,’ or local wine passed around or shots downed, fruits of the season, exchanged in good bonhomie between relatives, neighbours and enemies alike. Everybody makes peace with each other on Sao Joao. Revelers sporting `kopels’ (a crown of leaves and flowers) take to the waters in colourful boats and canoes (sangodd) dressed to the hilt. Others make a beeline for the village wells, after a bold swig of `feni,’ boisterously chanting the name of the patron saint of the monsoon festival — Saint John the Baptist (Sao Joao) — before they dive. If you ain’t a participant, you ain’t a true blue blooded Goan, I was told. I’m hydrophobic!! Sucks, I know.
GENESIS OF SAO JOAO FESTIVAL
If you haven’t got the drift yet, this is the festival of Sao Joao celebrated with great gaiety on June 24. Legend has it that the babe (St John) growing in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, leaped with joy at the arrival of the Virgin Mary (pregnant with Jesus Christ). Mary, was visiting her cousin after being told by Angel Gabriel that Elizabeth had conceived in her old age. It is this occasion which is commemorated by the festival of Sao Joao. The baby, St John the Baptist, in his adulthood grew to achieve great religious significance preparing the path of Christianity for the leader of the Christian church, Jesus Christ. St John himself baptized Jesus by dipping him in the waters of the River Jordan (one of the reasons attributed to the custom of jumping in the well). It is said that when Jesus received baptism at the hands of St John, the heavens opened up and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove. However, religious intonations aside, the festival is also a special occasion for mothers-in-law, who earmark the feast of St John as a special day to felicitate their sons-in-law. A big family gathering is planned, and an invitation is sent to the son-in-law along with special crowns of flowers, palm leaves and gifts of local food delicacies and fruits (ojem). The feast is called zanvium hanchem fest. When the son-in-law arrives, fruits are exchanged as symbols of fertility, and he is led to the well or a water body by family and villagers to have a dip.
GO SIOLIM THIS WEEKEND
In Siolim, the heady celebration culminates in the `sangodd.’ Siolicars claim to be the first to celebrate the feast as a water festival. Author and writer of the book `Siolim’, Sebastian D’Cruz from Marna, Siolim, recalls the genesis of the festival to 1946, while working as a sacristan of Siolim Church, 60 years ago. He says, “All the youth came together at the Siolim Church in their boats. They gathered before the two big Crosses, lit candles and after a small prayer they would garland the Crosses and return back. At that time, three small boats (`poneu’) made the trip up the Siolim creek from the villages of Badem, Caisua and Querem. The boats were decorated with tender coconut leaves and flowers, carrying five to six young boys wearing crowns of fresh flowers, leaves and fruits on their heads, singing the Mando to the tune of the `ghumot’ (local drum). After the garlanding of the Crosses, a toast (`saud’) would be proposed followed by hearty merry making and feasting.”
Today, a huge stage marks the creek bank which announce competitions for the best boat, the best `kopel,’ best costume categories to mark the festivities, even as more decorative boats from neighbouring villages vie for cash prizes helped by technology – from row boats to motor boats. While organizers of the feast strive hard to keep the festivities traditional, authentic and local, thousands gather from all over Goa at Siolim to watch a Konkani `tiatr,’ pop bands and music concerts that mark the occasion. Criss-crossing through the multitude of crowds, a couple of years back I almost had my bottom pinched by a local reveler high on `feni,’ who sheepishly grinned when I reprimanded him. No, not cool. Watch out for these.
What you simply cannot miss is visiting a local tavern bursting to the brims with the young and old clinking glasses of feni, loud conversation, the in-house sound system blaring with local Konkani songs, even as the rain pours down from the heavens to chill the heat generated by the merry-making. As they say, it happens only in Goa. Viva Sao!
There’s something bewitching about this verdant village that encompasses the essence and soul of Goa. This quaint hamlet is always in the news, be it for its celebrations, or, its celebrity citizens, its football, or, for its heady brew, – coconut and cashew feni.
The village of Siolim is situated to the extreme North-West point of the taluka of Bardez, on the left bank of the Chapora river. It is the last ‘bourgeois’ village in the north of Goa, about seven km from Mapusa. Wednesday market at the old Ferry Terminal is worth a visit. Do visit the St Anthony’s Church and Satteri Temple.Very popular among tourists is Siolim House, a beautifully restored 300-year-old Portuguese era manor house, which is now a unique boutique heritage hotel in Goa, and is popular among tourists. Most North Goa beaches are within a short driving distance from Siolim. But, be smart and avoid the beaches during the monsoon. And for heaven’s sake, DO NOT get into the water!!
*All photographs sourced from the internet.
*This article was first published in the Femina