Amid the din of drums and rhythmic thumps of thick, fibrous coconut leaf stems slapped hard against the ground, Goa will celebrate the monsoon feast of Sao Joao Sunday.
A rollicking affair, the celebrations are highlighted with drunk revellers wearing wreaths of flowers and leaves (called copels) diving into wells and ponds across Goa’s villages.If Goa’s ‘Carnival’ is a glorified commercial window of its popular Luso culture to the world, the feast of Sao Joao (or the festival of Saint John the Baptist) presents the state’s commercial yet uncorrupted Luso side.Recalling the merriment in his youthful days, Pedro Rodrigues says, “Traditionally, people gather at a cross in the village and after a small prayer begin their serenading through the village – wishing people and offering them fruits as they move along. The procession usually culminates at a well and revellers jump into it shouting ‘Viva re Sao Joao!’”The feast of Catholic prophet St. John the Baptist comes exactly six months before Christmas and has its roots in a Biblical story.According to the Bible, when Mary, the mother of Jesus Chirst, was told that 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 with joy within the womb on hearing Mary’s greeting.Hence, the revellers drenched to the bone in water and soaked to the soul in feni (a popular beverage manufactured from fermented cashew-apple juice) yell ‘Viva re Sao Joao’ in remembrance of St. John the Baptist’s leap of joy in his mother’s womb.However, one man is trying to make a difference this year during the revelry.Call him a spoilsport, but Mario Fernandes, a resident of Salvador do Mundo, a small beautiful pastoral village in north Goa, believes that the celebration should be traditional in essence, but also insists that the feni bottle be knocked out of the festivities.”We do not want the celebrations of the feast to be a ‘drunken orgy’. We want children and housewives to have their share of fun, games and dancing along with everyone,” Mario says.With the annual feast coinciding with that time of the year when feni, which is generally distilled in April, has just matured, Sao Joao has of late become synonymous with excess drinking.Mario has brought together a group of people who organised a unique Sao Joao in Salvador-do-Mundo, where the festival was celebrated without feni – the first of its kind in Goa.Can it be repeated this year?”We are doing our bit… It’s difficult to change the mindset of people but with the media attention we have received so far, this idea would strike others too and may gradually become popular,” Mario says.Sao Joao is also associated with some other beliefs.Young brides wishing motherhood offer seasonal fruits, flowers and vegetables at ponds, wells or other water bodies to seek blessings of ‘fertility spirits’. Young girls hoping for good match are also known to make such offerings.Although Sao Joao has not been promoted by the tourism industry as much as its popular counterpart, the Carnival, in north Goa this festival is celebrated with great verve in Siolim, a coastal village 20 km from the state capital.The highlight of the day is a traditional boat parade, which glides across a nearby creek.