Goa’s Sao Jao festival: When and why do you take the “leap of Joy”?

The Catholic community in the state of Goa celebrates Sao Jao, the feast of St. John the Baptist every monsoon, and this year it started on Friday, June 24.

Usually, the festivities are held in the villages of Cortalim, Harmal, Baga, Terekhol, and Siolim in North and South Goa. (Image: Flickr/FN-Goa)

The Catholic community in the state of Goa celebrates Sao Jao, the feast of St. John the Baptist every monsoon, and this year it started on Friday, June 24. The festivities feature a variety of food from local cuisine and serving feni. The main draw is the various water bodies that are used for the event, such as ponds, fountains, and wells where the revelers plunge in called “leap of joy”. Besides these, the festival also includes a boat festival and the playing of the gumott, a type of percussion instrument.

Catholics in Goa celebrate various religious festivals at the Roman Catholic Church. One of these is the feast of St. John the Baptist, which is celebrated on June 24. John the Bapist baptised Jesus Christ on the river Jordan).

Usually, the festivities are held in the villages of Cortalim, Harmal, Baga, Terekhol, and Siolim in North and South Goa, respectively. However, over the years, various private pool parties that are a complete package of merriment is being held in the state and are huge crowd pullers, Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) said.

Why do revelers jump in ponds, and pools during the festival?

In her 2004 book, Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa, a historian, said that the festivities in the state are carried out with a lot of fun and excitement. During the festival, the kids participate in various activities, such as jumping into the wells and pools. According to her, the boys are encouraged to recreate the leap of joy by jumping into the water. It is believed that St John took the plunge into the womb of his mother St Elizabeth when virgin Mary visited her.

The revelers from different villages also participate in various activities, such as parading and dancing in the streets. They are often cheered by the villagers as swim in the wells. The singing and playing of various Konkani songs composed for the occasion are also carried out by the villagers. The festivities also include the wearing of the Kopel, which is a traditional attire worn by the local community.

They are also encouraged to avoid consuming alcohol, which has been known to cause various accidents as they plunge into the water bodies in an inebriated condition. Some groups also carry a ladder made of rope to save intoxicated individuals in the wells. They also collect the bottles that they consume instead of discarding them. These are then auctioned off to raise funds for a good cause.

What other events are part of Sao Joao festivities?

One of the most popular events that are being held on Friday is the Sao Joao boat parade, which is usually attended by thousands of people. This event, which started in 1992, takes place in front of St. Anthony’s Church in Siolim. The participants of the parade show up in vibrant costumes and are awarded prizes.

Although Baga is known for its tourist attraction and beaches, it also has a Sao Joao tradition that is celebrated during the religious festivals of St. John the Baptist. This event is carried out in this bustling part of North Goa’s coastal belt.

The purpose of the sangodd is to signify the unity of the entire Baga community. Two boats are tied together to form a sangodd, which means “union, unity, and junction.” Rodrigues in his book writes the people from various villages participate in the singing and dancing of the sangodd along the river’s borders.

What role son-in-law’s play in Sao Jao

In addition to being a religious event, the Sao Joao festivities are also celebrated to introduce the new sons-in-law to the villagers. They are usually given a lavish welcome by the villagers. The new son-in-law usually wears a festive hat made from leaves and is then taken to the well for the “leap of joy”.

The tradition became a norm after once a son-in-law came to visit his in-laws but met an accident and died way back before meeting the villagers. Since then the feast of St John the Baptist has been made the occasion to introduce the new son-in-law to the village.

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