For us Catholics, Christmas and Easter are the two major feasts in the year. There are other feast that are celebrated; one among these is a feast that is important, non glamorous and yet deeply rooted in tradition. This one is called ‘Monti Fest’ in Konkani, or ‘Bandra fest’ to some or more simply, The feast of the Nativity (Birth) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ which falls on September 8. Being a Bandra boy, this feast is more about the tradition and culture it signifies.
Now, preceding the feast, is the nine days of prayers what we call novena. As a kid, I remember going to the novena daily for those nine days. At that time, I was blissfully unaware of the religious significance it had. What I was in awe of was the devout singing and the artistic decorations done daily in church. The hymn of choice would be “Be with us Mary, along the way. Guide every step we take”. Another incentive to attend the fair was the sweets that would be distributed to the children after the service.Almost two decades have passed and nothing has changed. Yet, what is unfailing noticeable is the steady stream of devotees who come unfailingly to shrine of the mother. Some with hands exulted to give thanks for the blessings received; others on a bended knee requesting her blessings.
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The Novem Jovan (New meal)
There is another aspect to the feast. In Mangalore, on this day, the new harvest (especially paddy) is brought to the local church to be blessed. This is done to thank the almighty for his generosity and seek his blessings on the soil and genrations to come. This is one day when the entire family comes together and celebrates. Once the crops are blessed, the strands of paddy are distributed and this this then brought home to include in the cooking of the novem. The new meal is one meal where there is strictly no non-vegetarian on the menu. Even the number of dishes prepared are in a sequence of odd numbers. Either 5, 7, 9 or 11. To get an idea of the kind of dishes prepared read here, here & here.
The Bandra Fair
Try to paraphrase the Bandra fair in a single paragraph or a single post would be doing it injustice. Perhaps the essence of the fair is captured by the Konkani Folk song “Bandra Festak gelon haanv tya niimnya itaara; feryent bonvta bonvta vora zaith aili bara” (I went to the Bandra fair last Sunday. The fair was so interesting I didn’t realise it was 12′ o clock). The Bandra Fair is an annual event that is connected with the shrine of the Mount since time can remember. Though it is said to have started as a means of refreshment and coming together for pilgrims who would come from afar to the shrine. However, today the fair is far beyond just that and with locals coming many a times complaining that their privacy is intruded some sheen seems to have been lost.This was the event we kids would look forward to. Running for a week after the Nativity feast, there were a variety of stalls dishing out food, games and toys. I remember walking down the 100+ stairs gaping at each stall nearly wanting to buy everything on offer. Sampling sweets, checking out toys and gorging on ice creams.
Like I said earlier each year the number of devotees seem to increase. If you are in Mumbai do try and drop by .
But I remember what what my grandmum always said, “Come for the prayer and then the fair”.