If the Monsoons in Goa is beautiful, it becomes even more memorable during the Feast of Sao Joao (Saint John the Baptist) which is celebrated uniquely in the rain-drenched villages of Goa on the 24th of June. There is so much of song, dance and merriment, you can’t help but get carried away with the heady spirit of the season. The music of the drums called the Ghumott and the percussion instrument called the Kansallem can be so enticing that you can’t help but become one with all the joy surrounding you, you might even want to join the revellers and jump into a well with an ecstatic shout of “viva Sao Joao” as the villagers do. Or at least join in the mandos and other peppy dances happening along the riverfronts, wells, and ponds around.
The feast of Sao Joao has Biblical references
In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Elizabeth tells her cousin Mary (who came to visit her as soon as she heard of Elizabeth’s pregnancy). “The child in my womb leapt for joy.” This is perhaps the reason why local folk, during the Sao Joao feast, jump or leap into the wells with joyful shouts of Sao Joao! Sao Joao! It’s a sight you will remember for ages to come.
Sasumai ponos dadla
Food and Feni is another integral part of the Sao Joao feast (else why call it a feast?). Newlywed brides carry baskets of fruit; Jackfruit, Pineapples and Bananas being the favourite.
These gifts are presumably sent by the bride’s mother to her sons-in-law who so consented to let her daughter spend some time with her mother back home and now has to return to her husband. One very popular song sung at this feast is called, ‘Sasumai ponos dadla” which means, ‘my mother-in-law has sent me a jackfruit’.
Another occasion for delicious ‘Patoleo’
It’s also common to find that Goan delicacy called Patoleo in the bride’s basket. This is a sweet made with finely ground rice flour paste which is applied to fragrant leaves that can be as large as a banana leaf. The two sides of the leaf are stuck together after a yummy mixture of freshly scraped coconut and jaggery is filled in the centre – the whole leaf and the filling is then steam cooked in a large copper vessel. Sannaas – rice cakes, are another delicacy that finds its way into the newly married bride’s basket. This special fondness for the son-in-law, at this feast, is a unique element of the feast of Sao Joao in Goa. Though the same feast is celebrated in Portugal, the fondness for the son-in-law is only in Goa.
Pic: What’s Goan On
Some historians say this is typical of Goa, a land where all religions can mix peacefully. The fondness for the son in law, according to these historians, is an adaption of a Hindu custom which is celebrated around the same time. There, the newlywed bride, missing her mother and family asks her husband to let her spend some time back home, and if the husband graciously agrees, then, when it’s time for the bride to go back, his mother-in-law will shower her affection for him with large baskets of such delicious goodies.
The way Siolim celebrates Sao Joao blows the completion out of the water
Although there are many villages in Goa which celebrate this feast enthusiastically, one village which has been celebrating this feast for over 200 years now is the village of Siolim in North Goa.
The colourful, theme-based floats are another memorable part of this feast. Youth groups from the village around get together and prepare their floats based on special themes. Work starts several days in advance and in the creative hands and minds of these enthusiastic youth the boats take the form of dragons, sea creatures, and other mythical creatures, as they snake their way down the river, starting sometimes from as far away as the Chapora Creek entrance.
The scenic Chapora river passes by the imposing Church of St. Anthony and through the village of Siolim. There is an open space just opposite the Church, on the banks of the river and this is the centre of all the fun activity during the San Jao feast.
Making a ‘Sao Joao Kopel’ is an art
Large crowds of revellers gather here dressed in very colourful headgear called “Kopel.” Remember the olive leaf crowns of the Romans? Those crowns are no match for a ‘Sao Joao Kopel.’
The crowns worn at this feast are a sight to behold. They are made out of fresh flowers, fruit, and even vegetables, and they are strung together with organic thread. It is as if the revellers want to crown the Gods, who sent the beautiful rain that will now bring in fresh flowers and fruit and veggies which adorn their cheerful heads, with such joy and pride.
One can get really very creative and the results can be so outlandish and eye-catching even the peacocks that come out in this season might blush with amusement.
Goans love to celebrate feasts with absolute joy. After all ItsGoa, right?
Cover Image Credit: Scroll.in