By I J Saldanha-Shet
Mangaluru, Sep 7, 2017: On the west coast of India, Konkan, Goa, Kanara and Kerala are well known for their ancient local catholic roots and traditions. The end of August soon after Aashada month, the Tuluva Aati, the SW monsoon ends, a resplendent green time for all communities sets in. Harvest is in the air, it is the traditional agrarian legacy and heritage. Ganesh Chathurthi, Onam, Rakhibhandan.....and lesser known Monthi Festh (Feast of the Mount) / Maria Jayanthi all celebrate natures’ bounty. The Konkani community irrespective of religion adopted Coastal Kanara as their home centuries ago. Early in the sixteenth century the Portuguese conquered Goa and soon they entered Canara the domain of Sri Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagara. They first set up Our Lady of the Rosary Church near the Old Mangalore Port or Bundar also called the Factory Church, later moved up north and known as ’Rosario’ Cathedral in Mangaluru as well as the ’Monte Mariano’ Monastary in Farangipete to the east on the banks of Nethravathi. The deep agrarian ethos of Karnataka are reinforced by such celebrations it is reiterated.
From Aug 30:
The Novena (Navadina), a nine day preparation for the feast commences from August 30. Particularly children gather flowers from the surroundings of their homes (or now from the market) and carry them to the church in pretty little baskets or trays. Soon after holy mass, they gather around the decorated statuette of Infant Mary and shower it with flowers singing a special hymn in Konkani saying in melody ’Let us all gather together’. Toddlers to grown ups take part with lively joy overflowing. It is a thrilling sight to behold, the older folks too enjoy the sight with nostalgic childhood nostalgia!
The Festh - Sept 8:
The feast day September 8, is a red letter family day for the Konkani Catholics everywhere. The blessing of the Nove - New Rice Corn and first fruits gathered from the fields, a sight bringing back the struggle and values of family and community. A festive Mass is celebrated in the Parish churches, the new rice paddy sheaves are brought to the church in a procession by the Gurkars (leaders) along with sugarcane, fruit and vegetables and solemnly blessed by the priests. Later, the ’Blessed Corn’ is distributed to the adults present, the children are given a whole big ’sugar cane’ ! There is a general festive spirit at a peak midst exchange of Greetings, then the focus shifts to homes and families.
The social focus of this unique festival draws a parallel to local traditions of the ancient coastal farming traditions of the region and the harvest meal partaken in the family homes by members gathering is special. It is always entirely a purely vegetarian fare with odd number of vegetable dishes usually 7,9,11, 13......and so on. A special prayerful tradition is observed: The ’Nove’ newly blessed rice paddy is crushed and sprinkled to the dishes and also served in a sweet drink of coco nut milk. There is much devotion and gratitude to God and providers - the farmers. The Festh, has become a virtual global observance among larger Kanara communities in Gulf Countries,Canada, US, UK, Australia,Africa and more today. It is evolving as a link observance identifying the Konkani Catholics and other groups; formulating variations to suit individual visions.
For the singular Christian Konkani community, this ’Festh’ got a boost after 1799, after Tipu’s captivity of the Konkani Catholics ended. The history of Tipu Sultan who ruled on west coast of India holds the interest and fascination of many with diverse back grounds. The migration of Saraswats (Konkanis) to Mangalore and beyond and the identity conversion that took hold over the centuries is historic. The peace treaty between Tipu Sultan and the English peace commissioners on 11 March 1784 in Mangalore was the signal for putting into execution Tipu’s draconian orders for the arrest and deportation of the Konkani Christians of Kanara specially around Mangalore, to Srirangapatna near Mysore and the confiscation of all their valuables and properties.
In 1789, Tipu’s assault on the Travancore Lines led to war with the East India Company and her allies again. It ended in 1792 with a major setback for Tipu and the escape of 700 Christians to Virajpet in Kodagu. Baptism records there reveal that Christianity continued to be secretly practiced in Srirangapatna, with many children being baptized by elders of the community. These records reveal the names and home towns of some of the captives. Tipu died fighting on the ramparts of his fort in Srirangapatna near Mysore on 4th May 1799. Only then did the survivors of the captivity gain freedom and gradually return and rebuild their lives and the community - the 1800s were crucial. Perhaps barely a third of the community survived the Captivity. The present Konkani Catholics now seen world wide are mostly descendants of those who returned from the 15 year captivity of Tipu, their faith was tested and reinforced by suffering and fire.