Carnival over, Goa celebrates the feast of Sao Joao

Panaji, June 24 (IANS) As torrential rains lash the countryside, the Carnival is already a memory washed away by the monsoon. But in the true spirit of Goa, the revelry doesn’t really end.

If one doesn’t mind being soaked to the bone, June 24 is the day to be in Goa, where amid the din of drums and rhythmic, ear-splitting thump of the thick, fibrous coconut leaf stems slapped hard against the ground, the state celebrates the monsoon feast of Sao Joao.

A drive along the state’s coastline, especially in the coastal belt, which is home to a large section of Goa’s Catholic population, is likely to see this merry scene repeated over and over again – where drunk revellers Goa, wearing wreathes of flowers and leaves locally called copels, dive in and out of wells and ponds across their respective villages, as mark of celebration.

“Traditionally the village people gather at a cross in the village and after a small prayer begin their serenading through the village wishing people offering fruits as they move along. The serenade usually culminates at a village well, and jumps in it shouting ‘Viva Sao Joao!'” Fr Pedro Rodrigues who recalls the merriment in his youthful days said.

If one considers the festival of Carnival as Goa’s glorified commercial showcasing of its popular Luso culture to the world, the feast of Sao Joao (or the festival of St John the Baptist) presents the other unfettered side of a cultural fusion.

The feast of Catholic prophet Saint John the Baptist which comes exactly six months before Christmas and has its roots in a Biblical tale.

According to the Bible, when Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was told she would conceive the Jesus, through an angelic apparition, she paid a visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John (who later became St John the Baptist) in her womb. John, according to the Bible leapt for joy within the womb on hearing Mary’s greeting.

Hence, the revellers drenched to the bone in water (thanks to well-diving acrobatics) and soaked to the soul in ‘feni’ (a popular distilled alcohol manufactures from fermented cashew-apple juice) jump into the wells, ponds or creeks, yelling, ‘Viva re Sao Joao’ in remembrance of St John the Baptist’s leap of joy in his mother’s womb.

In Vagator, a beach village in north Goa, Richard D’Souza has already readied trays of fruit, nuts and drinks for a party of Sao Joao revellers, who will return the courtesy by plunging into the well in his ancestral home.

“It’s all fun. I have been part of this ritual for over thirty years. Once they are done with jumping in the well here, I will join them and head for other homes,” D’Souza said.

Sao Joao also has another significance. Young brides wishing motherhood offer seasonal fruits, flowers and vegetables, to ponds or wells or other water bodies in the locality, as an offering to fertility spirits! Young girls hoping for a fortuitous match are also known to make such offering.

Tourism exploitation of the Sao Joao festival is marginal as compared with its popular counterpart, the Carnival.

In north Goa this festival is celebrated with great verve in Siolim, a coastal village 20 km from the capital. The highlight of the day is a traditional boat parade, which glide across a nearby creek.

–Indo-Asian news service


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