Mangaluru: Nearly three decades ago before I moved to US , my mom used to prepare the traditional Monti Fest meal every year- and I couldn’t wait for that meal especially for the Alu-Dento, Chane and Vorn delicacies. For the last twenty three years being in US, guess what we had for Monti Fest meal- ‘Stuffed Turkey, KFC fried chicken, Caesar Salad, Mashed Potato, Glazed Ham, Pumpkin Pie etc- that was a typical Western style Monti Fest meal. This year with my sister-in-law back from US right in time for Monti Fest, I was lucky again to savour all the delicious homemade vegetarian “Harvest Fest” meal items meticulously prepared by her being a good chef- and everyone served themselves and enjoyed the sumptuous vegetarian meal till they decided when to stop!
Yes, Christians all over the world celebrated the feast of Nativity on 8th September; which is the birthday of Mother Mary. This Feast is commonly called as “Monthi Fest” in Konkani, which is also celebrated as the harvest festival. The new crop is blessed in the church and distributed to all the faithful gathered around the altar in the church. And later a special vegetarian fare prepared on this day is shared by the family members. ‘Novem mixed with milk’ was distributed to all guests followed by the delicious homemade lunch consisting of Mangalorean dishes including Alu-dento, sango, kuvalo, chane, moog, karathe, karamb, muska sango, Soorn, Khelem Suke, Tendli Miryapito, Ghosalein, sannas etc., and off course the traditional dessert, Vorn.
Looking back at the history of “Monti Fest”- it had its origin in Farangipet in the outskirts of Mangaluru Here, Fr. Joachim Miranda, a Goan Catholic priest of secular credentials, who lived around 250 years ago, started this practice on top of a hill, on the northern bank of the Nethravati river where lies an ancient place called Monte Moriano. It is also known as Mount of Mary. Oral history goes to state that the Nativity festival of our Lady was first celebrated at Monte Moriano to coincide with the annual feast of the church. The term ‘Monthi’ has been derived from the word ‘Monte’ and over the years has been modified to be known as ‘Monthi Fest’. On this solemn occasion, the Catholics partake in a community feast or a family feast having only vegetarian dishes.
The celebration started nine days in advance with novena prayers to Mother Mary, during which period small children took special pride in offering flowers everyday. The grand celebration of Monthi Fest was held with traditional gaiety and religious fervour at all the Churches which are decorated tastefully for the occasion. Special masses, feasts, religious ceremonies and a series of festivities in churches, parishes and homes was the order of the day. On this special day, the Catholic community members take the freshly grown paddy stalks to their respective churches in a procession as an offering of the first bounty of nature to Mother Mary. Special prayers are offered pleading the Holy Mother to keep the fertility of the nature for generations to come and provide all the bounties of nature to the children of the world.
It is a tradition in Mangaluru for the families to gather together and share a vegetarian meal consisting of at least of 7-8 vegetarian dishes. The dishes, “alu-dento” and “vorn” are the must in every household. The grains taken form blessed paddy stalk or corn is added to the milk or “vorn” and offered to the members of the family in a symbolic gesture of thanksgiving for our Lady’s blessings. The festival has a special relevance in the modern world as it keeps the community together not just in Dakshina Kannada and Mangaluru but in all different continents where Mangalorean Catholics have settled. They continue to celebrate Monthi fest in whatever way they can in their countries and enjoy the nostalgia connected with their own families and parishes back home.
At home after saying a short prayer, we all had Novem mixed with milk, and for the traditional ‘Monti Fest” meal we had Alu-Dento, Channe Sukhe, Karamb, Benda Sukhe, Moog sukhe, Rice, dali Saar, but no Vorn, because my Sis-in-Law who is a diabetic decided not to prepare this traditional sweet dessert, so unfortunately all the healthy family members had to suffer. Sssshhh..for the hard-core meat lovers like my brother Joe, (who asks “Give me this day my daily pork!) there was Pork Bafat, Chicken Vindaloo and Mutton stew. If at all we committed sins consuming non-veg food, we can go for confession! Every thing was served on a banana leaf, and tiny Alexis who had also come down from Las Vegas USA, she kept on asking, “Why am I eating on a banana leaf”- and her grandma had to explain her about the Monti Fest tradition.
Having also being invited by our family close friends to join them for the Monti Fest meal, I tried few other veg dishes there which weren’t at our house like Ghule and Bhaji, Alsande, Tendli Miryapito, Ghosalein, Khelen Sukhe- and off course my most craving item, the dessert, Vorn. So savouring these delicious vegetarian delicacies, brought back memories of the yester years when my mom prepared the sumptuous “Monti Fest” meal for all the family members. I will be looking forward for the next Monti Fest meal in 2016. Until then, Mog Asondhi!