The Catholic Church celebrates the annual feast of St John, the Baptist, on June 24. He had baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan, thousands of years ago, thus earning him the name ‘John, the Baptist.’
In Goa, the feast of St John, the Baptist is better known as São João, and is especially big in the villages of Cortalim, Harmal, Siolim, Baga and Terekhol. And, as with most festivals in Goa, there are a couple of unique traditions connected with the feast of São João, such as wearing a crown of flowers (copel), the visit of a son-in-law to the house of his new bride, and the all-important jumping into wells.
And, it isn’t just wells. Any water body, including ponds and rivulets are suitable for the São João revellery, and boys jump merrily into the water to celebrate the leap of joy, which St John is believed to have taken in the womb of his mother, St Elizabeth, when she was visited by her cousin, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Revellers are given money, fruits, drinks and more as they take rounds of the village ward, jumping into wells, and singing traditional songs, including the São João song, as they go along. Local musical instruments, such as the ghumot (percussion) and kansallem (cymbals) provide the background music.
The song, São João, composed by noted tiatrist of yesteryears, the late C Alvares, has become a customary favourite at this time of year.
In the past, on the eve of the feast, the village youngsters would also make a straw effigy of ‘Judeu’, which would be burnt later in the evening, to the accompaniment of fire crackers.
A newly-married couple is invited to the bride's house for the celebrations on the feast day. The groom wears a kopel (crown) of guava fruits on his head, while his best man wears one made of leaves or creepers, called sanjuahchi val. They then join their troupe as they walk towards the well, singing São João, and eventually jumping into it as part of the festivities.
After the celebrations, the newlyweds return home, along with ojem (assorted seasonal fruits, such as pineapples, mangoes, bananas, jackfruits and guavas) given by bride's parents.
In addition to the usual São João celebrations, Sangodd is also celebrated in Baga, wherein two boats are tied together to make a sangodd, signifying union ie unity in the village.
The Sangodd celebration is also seen in Siolim, in Bardez. This village is also famed for its boat parade, involving decorated boats, cultural performances and competitions (competitions for copels, costumes, singing) which are held near the Church of St Anthony, in Siolim.