For the Love of Rains and Traditions

Celebrated in June every year, San Joao is one of Goa's cultural festivals. Tradition has it that it was on this day that unborn St. John the Baptist 'leapt with joy' in his mother Elizabeth's womb, as Mary, the mother of Jesus visited her.

Celebrated in June every year, San Joao is one of Goa’s cultural festivals. Tradition has it that it was on this day that unborn St. John the Baptist ‘leapt with joy’ in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, as Mary, the mother of Jesus visited her. PHOTO: Harsha Vadlamani

Yes, this is yet another rain-inspired story, after the one on Communist reading rooms. But such is the power of the Indian monsoon, that it can sway even the most stoic of minds. For comparison, the feelings and emotions associated with the deluge mirror those of when sighting the first of the cherry blossoms or even the Northern Lights. May be less, may be more. Any how, this post is about a fun tradition that has its roots in the picturesque villages of Goa, a popular tourist destination. And the feast of Sao Joao is a playful mix of religion, tradition, lots of merrymaking, and jumping into wells. Yes, wells. And oh, the event marks the six-month countdown to Christmas!

According to the Bible, when Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was told she would conceive Jesus, 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 for joy within the womb on hearing Mary’s greeting.

Hence, the revelers – drenched to the bone in water and soaked to the soul in ‘feni’ (a popular distilled alcohol manufactured from fermented cashew-apple juice) jump into the wells, ponds or creeks, yelling, ‘Viva re Sao Joao’ in remembrance of St John the Baptist’s leap of joy in his mother’s womb.

It is believed that Sao Joao revelers from several villages first converged in front of St. Anthony’s church in Siolim village in North Goa some 150 years ago. Back then, people gathered in large numbers from several parts of Goa in the beautiful village of Siolim to watch the delightful sight of ornate boats row up the Chapora River. Even today, Siolim continues to be the focal point of the festivities where colorfully decorated boats have a friendly race.

For the newly weds, the festival is said to be very special. Usually, the mother of the bride pays special attention to the son-in-law, in hope of a great future for her daughter. The daughters are given a basket of juicy jackfruit, ripe mangoes, the last of the pineapples, specially ‘saved’ for sharing with her new home. For the son-in-law, it is time to become part of his wife’s village. This is usually done with good food, dance and a good round of games.

Locals throng the streets, bedecked in bright, costume clothes and floral headgear. Known as ‘kopel’, these head-gears are made of wild flowers, leavers, twigs – anything that comes from nature and grows widely in the rains. The best kopel of the day gets a prize along with crowning of the Rain Queen. Normally, the best dressed award is reserved for the wackiest of all.

At the end of the festival, its essence is of celebrating the full splendor of the rains and honoring Nature.

Read a brilliant first-person account of the festivities here. You now know the perfect time to visit India!

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