Sao Joao Fest and Ponsanche Fest in Tradition Forms
“Ami sogle zanvaim vortoutanv, chodda tempan bhetleanv , Sao Joao-chem fest mhunnon ami mavoddea aileanv, Mateak him kopelam ghalun udok navonk bhair sorleanv, Aichea dissak voddle ami nokon khuim pauleanv”- a song in Goan language by legendary singer C Alvares
Mapusa/Margoa: The above melodious song, by the legendary C Alvares, will either be played or sung at every traditional Sao Joao celebration worth its salt from June 24-26 . But as Alvares’s sweet voice is later drowned out by Bollywood item numbers or electronic mixes during the revelry, so has the memory of the original significance of Sao Joao or St John’s feast — in most parts of Goa.
Sao Joao celebrations and ‘Ponsanche Fest (Jack fruit Fest) were held across the state with a variety of programmes during the weekend in Southern parts of Goa, namely Mapusa/Navelim/Margao. Besides well-jumping, many villages this year saw the merriment of Sao Joao in traditional forms. In Navelim, there was a revival of Goa’s traditional sport of taablam. A large number of people flocked to witness the traditional grand boat parade on the occasion of the feast St John the Baptist organized in front of the St Anthony’s church in Siolim. Around nine floats took part in the competition based on the theme of environment protection. The Sao Joao committee had also organized cultural performances. It is learnt that the true spirit of the festival came alive in Gaunsawaddo, Siolim, Baga-Arpora and Chinvar waddo, Anjuna. While attending the closing ceremony of “Mahindra Monsoon Challenge 2016’ in Canacona-South Goa, I had the opportunity to witness some fun of ‘Sao Joao” (Feast of St John the Baptist) in Canacona, and Pernem-Goa.
Sao Joao is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who also baptized Jesus in River Jordan. According to the Biblical story, Mary, the Mother of God broke the news to her sister Elizabeth that she was going to have a baby named Jesus. At that time Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist who jumped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb on hearing the news. Hence Sao Joao marks the event of ‘the leap of joy’ where young men and boys jump into wells and water bodies shouting ‘Viva Sao Joao’.
The musician sings the tune posing as a son-in-law who feels all important as he is invited over to his wife’s house for Sao Joao. Alvares describes a time when Sao Joao was known as zanvoianchem fest or the feast of sons-in-law, which is the case only in some parts today. He speaks of a time when the festival was a barely known acquaintance of the Sao Joao pool parties organized today to mark the day. Villages which still pride themselves in maintaining at least part of the traditional fervour see the young and old wearing crowns, known locally as kopelam , as men jump into the designated village wells. The kopelam are carefully woven together using flowers and leaves that are just washed clean by the first monsoon showers. These flowers and leaves are held together with the help of twigs in these completely organic crowns.
As the men take the plunge into the well, they are watched keenly by women and children, as either traditional music sung to the beat of ghumot/Gumta (drums) and tashe (cymbals) or the new-age music add to the zeal in the background. The local feni also most often flows freely in many of these celebrations, while everyone feasts on the dhali — consisting of sanna, vodde , mango, jack fruit and pineapple. But the original version of Sao Joao is all about extending the village hospitality for the benefit of husbands of the newly-married daughters of the village.
Whether the son-in-law is invited with the same fervour or not, Goans have been taking a more conscientious view of the festival in recent years by focusing on harbouring a sense of unity among the neighbours during Sao Joao and less on the aspects of jumping in the wells or consuming alcohol. Many villagers feel the plunge in the well can lead to contamination of the drinking water. In the more Catholic context, jumping in the well during Sao Joao is believed to be a reminder of St John leaping with joy in his mother’s womb, or sometimes as relating to the baptism of St John in the River Jordan.
The villagers of Socorro interpreted the revelry with its own festival of jack fruits (Ponsanche fest) with no jumping in wells. The festival highlighted Goa’s traditional dishes and a variety of jack-fruit products. The Socorro villagers revived the art of weaving the beautiful kopelam at this Sao Joao celebrations. The Sao Joao fest also saw boat parade, with revelers in artistically decorated boats sail along the fringed, green banks of the tributary of the Chapora river up to the huge cross in front of the St Anthony’s church. A large number of people flocked to witness the traditional grand boat parade on the occasion of the feast St John the Baptist organized in front of the St Anthony’s church in Siolim. Around nine floats took part in the competition based on the theme of environment protection. The Sao Joao committee had also organized cultural performances.
Ponsanche Fest :
You can Savour Goa’s choicest jack fruits and the scrumptious dishes made from them at the “Ponsanche Fest”or the “Jack-fruit Festival”at Socorro. Held on the same day as the Sao Joao festival, this celebration of the juicy jack-fruit brings together locals and tourists alike, with both looking to taste traditional delicacies. The Konkani word for jackfruit is the same as the Sanskrit panas. In Goa, two varieties can be found that differ in the nature of their flesh: the pulpy “rasaal” and the firmer, crisper “kaapo”.
In local folklore, a more generous fruit is hard to cite. The flesh is eaten as it is, or used as the main ingredient in several traditional preparations. The chewy saatth, prepared by grinding and flattening the pulp and then drying it in the sun, is much relished in Goa. The roasted seeds are a wholesome snack and jack-fruit chips make for irresistible nibbles. To cap it all, the neighbourhood cows are ever grateful for the skins tossed their way.
The event featured different types of raw and ripe jack-fruits and their popular by-products like squashes, papads, sattam, and jacada. There was live demonstrations of cutting and de-seeding the jackfruit, baking its seeds and preparation of traditional dishes.
These vibrant traditional festivals show why splashing your way through Goa during the rains can be sheer bliss. After all, there’s a lot more to this beautiful little state than just the sun, sand and surf and monsoon is just the perfect time to discover them.