It’s the month of June and it is pouring cats and dogs. Wild weeds spill over the kaccha footpath. The trail itself is lost amongst the overgrown weeds, but that doesn’t stop the villagers from visiting their neighbour’s house. Like troops they march on. After all it is the 24th of June, the feast of Saint John the Baptist.
There are two folklores about the origins of this feast. One of them tells of an incident when Mary, mother of Lord Jesus went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth who at the time was heavily pregnant with John. On seeing Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, Elizabeth exclaimed that, the child within her womb leaped with joy. To commemorate this event, the village youngsters jump into wells. Another popular version is that, this feast is celebrated to honour St John who was known to baptise people with water at River Jordan.
The village air is dense with the intoxicating spirit of the festival. A ‘kuttushell’ (tiny sip) of Feni plays a small part too. A short walk later, we arrive at the Fernandes house. A group of youngsters rush ahead toward the well. A set of musicians stand ready with their ‘ghumotts’.
Suddenly music fills the air and the boys jump into the well. People are clapping, whistling, laughing and hugging each other. Everyone is in a mood for celebration, young and old alike. Each is wearing an interesting looking ‘koppel’ on their head, made of locally available leaves, fruits and flowers. Womenfolk rush toward us with slices of jackfruits, mangoes, pineapples, ‘sannas’ and what not.
“She got married recently”, a cheerful aunty presents the Fernandes daughter-in-law to us. The Sao Joao festival celebrates newly married couples, in fact it is called ‘Janvoiache fest’ (a feast dedicated to son-in-laws). Mother-in-laws pamper their new son-in-laws by sending them ‘daalis’ or hampers of jackfruit, mangoes, pineapples and jaggery based sweets.
In the evening we attend the Traditional Boat festival or ‘Sangodd’. The sleepy rivulet opposite the Siolim church is at its best today. Hippies and villagers wave and clap their hands as the creatively decorated boats make their grand entrance. Villagers with special talents like singing, mimicry, dancing keep the crowds entertained until late evening.
Seafarers come home especially in June to celebrate Sao Joao. Families, who have quarrelled the entire year, take a break for today. They merrily pour a bucket of cold water over each other, clink their glasses and say, ‘Viva Sao Joao’. The younger ones are initiated by their fathers and uncles to embrace their rich heritage. Locals and visitors forget their differences with a sip of feni and dance to the rhythm of the ‘ghumott’. It is festivals like this that, indulge those of us who still find delight in the simple ways of life.
Culture is the cement that holds together a great civilization. So as long as we have festivals like Sao Joao, that remind people to take a day off from their serious lives to act however crazy they want to be, to celebrate the unity of the community and togetherness, we know, the world still has hope!
Long live Sao Joao indeed!
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