[Last updated: 18 June 2018]
I visited Goa thrice last year. This year I visited Goa twice in a month. I keep getting asked ‘Why do you always go to Goa?’ The simplest answer would be because I’m a Goan. But honestly there are many reasons. Goa’s laidback lifestyle, delicious non-vegetarian food, friendly locals and vibrant festivals keep bringing me back. I love their festivals. Almost all of them have a carnival like feel. The people are cheerful, costumes are colourful, there’s lively music, dance, food and unlimited alcohol. They often take to streets and they really know how to have fun. Not like the festive celebrations back in Mumbai where hooliganism takes over or the many melas across the country that just aren’t women friendly.
Monsoons are an off season in Goa. The state sees heavy downpour during the months of June, July and August and this keeps tourists at bay. But that in my opinion is because they see Goa merely as a beach holiday destination, oblivious to the fact that this state has a rich cultural heritage left behind by its Portuguese rulers.
The month of June sees a unique water festival in Goa called ‘Sao Joao’. I have known about the Sao Joao festival since childhood. Year on year, I saw Sao Joao celebrations in my neighbourhood in Mumbai albeit on a smaller scale. My folks kept telling me to check out this festival in Goa for its scale of participation and sheer enthusiasm. And so I had decided that IT WAS NOW TIME TO SEE THE BIG ONE!
Sao Joao Celebrations in Siolim, North Goa
But what are these celebrations? And what is this feast all about?
Sao Joao is the feast of St John the Baptist. He was the cousin of Jesus and he also baptised Jesus in the river Jordan. It’s a traditional feast celebrated not only in Goa but also in Portugal. If stories are to be believed, Mother Mary broke the news to her sister Elizabeth that she is going to have baby Jesus. At that time, Elizabeth was pregnant with St. John the Baptist who jumped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb on hearing this news. To mark this event, local men jump into wells, lakes and ponds shouting ‘Viva San Joao’– wherein the waterbody is reminiscent of Elizabeth’s womb. Sao Joao is also called the Festival of Fertility as young to-be mothers make offerings to God for a child.
Much like the Goa carnival, floats are colorfully decorated during this festival and people wear wonderfully bright and fancy dress costumes while shouting ‘Viva San Joao’. Not to be missed are the lovely coronets locals wear that is carefully stitched together with leaves, flowers and fresh fruits. They are also called the ‘Koupal’ in Konkani. Goans are a sporting bunch of people and camera shy in the least of the sense. Take a look at the gallery below to see the people captured with their Koupals having a wonderfully good time.
Head North to celebrate Sao Joao
Sao Joao is more popular in North Goa as compared to South Goa. Particularly the village of Siolim and Anjuna celebrate Sao Joao with great enthusiasm. I’ll recommend you to check out this cultural festival in Siolim. It takes off as a procession that heads towards the lake bang opposite St. Anthony’s Church. Stage performances are organized, mimicry artists entertain thousands of visitors and floats are decorated and set sail in the lake while people shout out ‘Viva Sao Joao’.
Celebrations at Siolim opposite St. Anthony’s Church
Being pleasantly surprised at Fernandes Wado
Head towards Fernandes Wado once the day celebrations near Siolim Church wrap up. You are likely to bump into the same faces you saw near the church in Fernandes Wado as well. This is the after party for the celebrations of Sao Joao that go late into the night with aesthetic dimly lit ambience, groovy music and beer and snack counters. There is live music performances to English, Hindi and Konkani songs and one cannot help but shake a leg. Police patrolling is in place at the location to keep bottleneck traffic and petty crime at bay. This gave me an impression that the Sao Joao celebrations at Fernandes Wado are quite popular towards this side of Goa.
After Party Celebrations at Fernandes Wado
All in all it was a wonderful evening and well worth the special trip I made all the way from Mumbai to check out this Festival. I left with a promise that I shall return again next year to visit the Sao Joao festival in Goa!
When to Visit?
The Sao Joao festival is celebrated exactly 6 months before the birth of Jesus on the 24th of June each year. The grandest celebration happens in Siolim, North Goa. Around 3pm a procession kick-starts towards the lake near St. Anthony’s church Siolim followed by a local gathering and stage performances. Be sure to head to Fernandes Wado merely 5 minutes away from the church for the after party celebrations.
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