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September 08, 2009

Monthichen Fest

This festival is specially dear to the Mangalorean Konkani catholics, who have made it a unique combination of the harvest celebration and the birthday of Mary the mother of Christ. This particular amalgam originated in Mangalore about 250 years ago. Initially the hub of the celebrations was the Farangipet church on the hill Monte Mariano. Hence Monthichen Fest which literally means the Feast of the Mount.

Bombay has its own Mount Mary's festival which draws huge crowds to the suburb of Bandra. In Bangalore, thousands of devotees visit St Mary's Basilica during the preceding 9 days of the Novena, culminating in the grand finale on the 8th of September.

This is a family-oriented feast. Formerly, those who were away made it a point to return home for this occasion. The place is decorated with the produce of the land - vegetables, coconuts, banana and sugarcane. In rural areas, these would be carried to the church in procession. The day begins with the blessing of the noven (newly harvested paddy). Every family collects a few grains to take home. At the end of the service, the little children come forward to strew flowers from their baskets around the statue of Mother Mary, while the congregation renders full-throated Konkani hymns in her honour. Pieces of sugarcane are distributed to the children.  In the good old days which are remembered with nostalgia, candy and chocolates were unheard of!

At home, the whole household gathers together for family prayers ending with the Latin hymn of praise Laudate Dominum.  The festive meal is a nod towards old cultural roots - an odd number (5, 7 or 9) of traditional vegetarian dishes served on banana leaves. The sweet of the day is made of coconut milk and jaggery, mixed with a few grains of noven. The adults retire for their siesta while the children revel in unrestricted playtime. Another happy event is ticked off on the calendar.

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