Goa is a tiny land full of wonders, and there is something beyond the usual beaches and activities that you should experience – the annual Sao Joao festival, also known as the Feast of St John the Baptist.
If you were planning a Goa trip in June, you are just in time to be part of the exciting and fun celebrations as Sao Joao is celebrated by the locals on 24th June. Jumping into wells, singing, traditional rituals, and lots of Feni are just a few things that you can expect during this fascinating festival in Goa. Here’s a detailed look:
What is the Sao Joao Festival all about?
Mention a festival celebrated by Goan locals, and people will instantly think of lot of alcoholic drinks, dancing, singing, feasting, and overall carnival-style community merriment. And although this festival does stay true to the Goan stereotype, it has its unique flavour that you certainly should not miss experiencing if you get the chance. Celebrated by people belonging to the Catholic community, Sao Joao is dedicated to St John the Baptist, who was the cousin of Jesus Christ and a firebrand prophet.
According to the Holy Bible, when Mother Mary was bearing Jesus, she visited St John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth to break the news. On hearing the news, St John the Baptist, who was in his mother’s womb at the time, jumped with joy inside. Later, St John the Baptist also baptised Jesus Christ in the river Jordan. The saint’s bounding with joy inside his mother is celebrated in a big way during Sao Joao.
In what way do Goans celebrate Sao Joao?
Even though it is a traditional Catholic festival, Sao Joao is celebrated as a monsoon festival with its own spin by the ever-enthusiastic Goan people. The most striking celebration of the day is young men plunging into wells and ponds to retrieve gifts thrown in by the villagers. This practice is symbolic of St John the Baptist jumping inside Elizabeth’s womb, as the water body they jump into is considered her womb. As they take the plunge, the air rings with shouts of ‘Viva San Joao.’
People celebrating the festival don vibrant costumes and coronets called ‘Koupal’ that are made with fruits, fresh flowers, leaves, and vines. The festival is also marked by a procession, in which young people go door to door around the place and collect gifts, fruits, and liquor.
These are then offered at a local water body along with prayers. Newly-married couples and young women of child-bearing age are particularly in the spotlight during Sao Joao as it is also referred to as ‘the Festival of Fertility.’ New brides are given traditional ‘dalis’ that are plates packed with seasonal fruits to be taken as gifts to their in-laws’ homes. The young women make offerings to the Lord while wishing for a child and join the others in throwing the gifts, fruits, flowers, etc. into the water which the young men will then jump in to retrieve.
In many place, a highlight of the day are the colourfully-decorated Sangodds, floating platforms created by joining boats together with banana tree trunks and coconut palms. Live performers entertain people while on these Sangodds, and people are much too happy to join in the celebrations as they exchange gifts and eatables, participate in various folk dances, sing the local parade music called ‘Mandos’ along with religious hymns, and help themselves to free-flowing Feni.
Young and old alike celebrate Sao Joao as they make merry, and as the Feni intake increases, often the men are seen jumping time and again into nearby water bodies to enjoy the monsoon to the fullest. In most place, the day ends with a big feast where everyone comes together to make more merry and feast on plenty of meat and seafood.
Where in Goa is Sao Joao celebrated?
Goa has been celebrating this festival for about 175 years, and the Northern part is where the celebrations are at their most boisterous form as compared to South Goa. Live shows where young people showcase their talents, parades and processions, and even drunken revelry are the order of the day as locals get together to celebrate the occasion. In earlier times, people from different villages would travel in boats to the chapel of Sao Joao located in Siolim to be part of the celebrations. The tradition continues even today as people from all over flock to north Goa to witness and join in the San Joao festivities.
Fernandes Wado near the Siolim Church is where you should head to if you wish to attend the ‘after party’ of the day’s celebrations. The party continues late into the night with groovy music, spirited celebrations, lots of food, and of course, a whole lot of liquor. Often visitors who plan to be passive spectators cannot help but shake a leg to the live performances of Konkani, Hindi, and English songs. Even though the festival has come a long way, Sao Joao has managed to retain most of its traditional flavour in Goa, and this is what makes the event so uniquely Goan.
Goa Fact File:
Location: About 600 km from Mumbai.
How to Reach: The Dabolim airport has regular flights to many Indian cities. Major railway stations inn Goa are Vasco-da-Gama, Thivim, and Madgaon. The state is approachable by road from other cities with taxis and buses.
Official Language: Konkani
Time Zone: UTC+05:30
Climate: Tropical monsoon
Food & Drink: Seafood and pork dishes. Feni is a popular local drink.
Interested to book a holiday to Goa?