By I J Saldanha Shet
Pics by Violet Pereira
Mangalore Sep 5: In South Kanara of old, now from Kasargod to Karwar with Mangalore as the focus, the observance of the nine-day (Novena) run-up to the ' Montifest' is special. The children are the mainstay, with adults going nostalgic too. This has now spread not only to other parts of India but also overseas where enthusiastic Mangaloreans are found.
Commencing August 30, each year, the treasured statuette of 'Infant Mary' is brought out and given a makeover with new finery and decoration. In each church, a special programme in accordance with the need is arranged each day in the morning or evening. (Nowadays, in Mangalore city we see it in the evening).
Children gather flowers from the surroundings of their homes and so on (or from the market too these days) and carry them to the church in pretty little baskets or trays. Then after the prayers, they gather around the decorated statuette of Infant Mary and shower it with the flowers three times, singing a special hymn in Konkani 'SakkaD Sangata MeLuiam'. This takes place, weather permitting, in the open yard of the church.
Toddlers to high school kids take part actively, with elders too contributing a role. All eagerly look forward to the sweets and snacks distributed at the end. It is a thrilling sight to behold and the older folks too enjoy the sight with nostalgic memories! The 'Montifest' follows with special traditions on September 8 - a red-letter day culturally and religiously for the Konkani Catholics the world over.
The earliest churches of Kanara on the west coast, are accepted as: Rosario at Bundar, Monte Mariano at Farangipet, Mother of Mercy at Ullal (Fajir), while many others too may have a claim.
The only church that was untouched in the Captivity Era in the 1780s was Monte Mariano at Farangipet, eventually the base of Capuchin Friars. It catered to the Christian agriculturists of the hinterland around Bantwal. These Konkani Catholics were the backbone of the present-day Catholic population.
Monte Mariano, got its typical name from a Portuguese church atop a mount in Goa, dedicated to Mary - the phenomenon spread to other areas too. The September 8 event traditionally attained certain harvest observances progressively which took different forms and converged with various cultures from ancient times.
Around Mangalore and in Kanara the 'mount of Mary' 'Monte Mariano' in Konkani became known as 'Monti Mai' and 'Fest' translating to 'Feast of Mary of the Mount'. The churches' thinking through the ages in various areas has been to inculcate and preserve the local culture, so other interpretations too are valid.
Come September, the rains should have ceased, yet the 21st Century global warming and freak weather is drenching the coastal areas Kanara and Konkan. Harvest is looked forward to by all communities; it is the traditional agrarian legacy of local history.
So we have in a row Chaturthi, Onam - and the lesser known Montifest / Maria Jayanti, the birthday of Mary, the Mother of Christ Jesus -September 8. The Konkani community irrespective of religion adopted Coastal Kanara as their home centuries ago.
Their place of eminence has held them in good stead over time and these Konkani speakers amalgamated in harmony with the local culture, now a seamless harmonious population all proud citizens of India or Bharat.