All festivals in Goa have a carnival like feel. Goans of all walks of life participate whole heartedly in their festivities. Dazzling colour, thundering music, lively dance, delicious food and spirited drinks deck these festivities. On these joyous occasions we can see the spirit of Goa alive and kicking as the people often take to streets, beaches, public squares and enjoy themselves without disturbing anyone. In fact they welcome tourists who wish to join them in the celebrations. Among these several festivals, no one can forget the Sao Joao that is celebrated in the month of June. It is unique water festival that has religion, tradition and culture embedded into it. It is a celebration of fertility too! Newly married Young girls return to their homes with their husbands and celebrate the feast with great love and happiness along with their people. Much like carnival Goans dress bright and colourful costumes and sing and dance to the tune of music that keeps everyone in festive mood. ‘Viva Sao Joao’ is on the lips of all Goans, young and old and Goa explodes and leaps into the clouds of joy.
Every feast in Goa has a unique signature. Sao Joao has the lovely cornets that are stitched together with leaves, flowers and fresh fruits. The Goans call it ‘Koupal’ in Konkani. Goans wear these fancy ‘Koupal’ and naturally step into the mood of the festival. Like every other Goan feast, Sao Joao is also contagious. Often a Goan decked with the ‘Koupal’ and armed with a base part of the coconut leaf is seen on the streets and into the alleys of neighbourhoods shouting ‘Viva Sao Jaoa’ banging his coconut armoury on the ground. The bang makes a peculiar sound. The sound does the trick. It draws all Goans out of their homes. The festive spirit rubs on all and holds entire Goa captured in the celebration for the entire day. There is energy and intoxicating joy everywhere.
Different parts of Goa celebrate the feast differently. But jumping into the wells, lakes or rivers is common everywhere. In some places people decorate boats and sail in the river on the tune of beating drums and blowing trumpets. The boats give an appearance of floats in the waters. Often the Boats are loaded with enormous life-sized crabs, prawns, shells, mermaids etc. it seem that carnival has come once again. This time, it is in the waters. In Bardez, one can find a unique tradition of tying two decorated boats. These boats represent the newly married couples. There is song and dance on these two boats all night. The boats along with the joyful song and dance on it are called Sangodd in Konkani. Sangodd is not just the boats. It refers more to the perforce on the boats. Goan folk songs and mandos make their way on the sangodd taking all by a storm of joy.
No feast is complete without plenty of food and loads of feni (special drink) in Goa. Besides, food there are special sweets associated with feasts in Goa. Patoleo and hole are the chief the sweets on day of Sao Joao. Besides these, people share fruits like jackfruit, mangoes, pineapple and bananas with each other. Others share feni, beer, whisky, limca or coke. Often these goodies are donated by the new son in-laws of the village. There are also few villages that celebrate Sao Joao without any intoxicating drinks. The spirit of the community is enough for these to people to animate them and they too enjoy the fun and frolic of the day. Like all festivals in Goa, the sun does not set on the Sao Joao too. The celebration goes late in the night. Now adays the tourism industry has also come forward to organize Sao Joao festivities for tourists.
The festivals of Goa are both secular and deeply religious. We can find the religious side of Sao Joao too. It is the feast of Saint John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. People of Goa have great devotion to this saint. A few parishes also have him as their patron. St John the Baptist had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The Bible teaches that when Mother Mary broke the news about the birth of baby Jesus to her cousin Elizabeth, it is said that John the Baptist leaped out of Joy in the womb of his mother. Goans re-enact this moment and celebrate it by jumping into the waters. Waters symbolize the womb as it is rainy season and the earth is green and fertile. This is why for centuries Sao Joao has become a festival of water and fertility for Goans. This uniqueness of the culture and faith of Goa needs to be preserved and handed on the next generation and shared with our fellow Indians. In a world marked with ecological disasters, this festival is bright spot that enjoins us to celebrate life and the gift of water.