By I J Saldanha Shet
Mangalore, September 8, 2011: Monthisaibineche Festh – Celebrates the universal family and harvest rites of thanks giving traditional among Konkani Catholics rooted Kanara. Nine days of preparation (Novena) for the feat ends, the children along with elders have come daily to their church and showered flowers on the statuette of Infant Mary with joy and nostalgia.
THE CHURCH RITES: The feast day 8th September is a red letter day for the people and the church. The blessing of the NEW RICE CORN (NOVE)and first fruits gathered from the fields a sight bringing back the struggle and family values of family and community, now diluted to unrecognizable levels. A festive Holy Mass is celebrated in the Parish churches, the new rice paddy sheaves are brought to the church in a procession by the Gurkars (ward leaders) and is solemnly blessed by the priests present. After the mass the Blessed Corn is distributed to the adults present, the children are given a whole big ’sugar cane’ ! The 160 plus parish churches and other institutions of Mangalore Diocese will observe this tradition. The Diocese in the midst of it’s 125 years celebrations has dedicated the whole month of September this year to the Family! There is a general festive spirit in the air amidst Good wishes and the focus shifts to homes and families.
THE INFANT MARY STATUETTE: The image was first made in th 18th century according to a legend, by a Franciscan Nun. About 1730, it was presented to the Bishop of Como in Italy. On his death it was handed over to the Franciscan Nuns who developed great devotion among people to the ‘Infant Mary’. Due to Napoliean’s revolution when the monasteries were closed down, one of the nuns carefully saved it and handed it over to the Parish of St.Mark in Milan. History indicates that in 1842 it was given to the ‘Sisters of Charity’ and installed in the Mother House and was exposed for devotions only on 8 September each year. In 1884 extraordinary happenings and miracles spread wide the devotion to Infant Mary. The first Italian nuns of this order came to assist Fr.Muller in Kankanady Hospital in 1898. A replica of the image was first brought to Mangalore by the ‘Sisters of Charity’ soon after and can still be seen at the Infant Mary Convent Chapel near the Jeppu Seminary.
THE BACK DROP: The family that prays together stays together,so the family that eats together grows together. The social focus of this unique festival of Kanara draws a parallel to local traditions of the region and the harvest meal partaken in the family home by as many members as possible is special. It is always a purely vegetarian fare with odd number of vegetable dishes usually 7,9,11......and so on. To name some of the vegetable popular for this feast in Konkani: Gosale (furrow gourd), Alsando (long beans), Benda (ladies finger/okra), Karatte(bitter gourd), Dantu ( stem of spinach), Alve or Allu (long stalked stem), Ambade ( hog plum), Thoshe (Cucumber), Chene(Black Bengal gram/Chana), Dudhi(pumpkin), Kuvalo (Ash pumpkin) ................ and other available vegetables - Narl (Coconut) is widely used and is the main flavour of the community at all times in all dishes. Itoo, Boiled Red Rice, Sanna ( a type of Idli with coconut milk), Appa, and so on are the basic of the meal. A special prayerful tradition is observed: The ’NOVE’ newly blessed rice paddy is sprinkled to the dishes; a special mix of coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom in which crushed blessed paddy is added is passed round to all the members present after a solemn prayer of thanksgiving according to the family needs.
There is much devotion and gratitude to God and providers, in the evening the married children visit parental/elders homes and are generally offered ’Shevio Roce’ (rice noodles with cardamon flavoured coconut sweet milk) again sprinkled with ’blessed corn’ -Nove.
A BIT of THE HISTORY:
The Earliest churches of KANARA on the west coast, are accepted as: Rosario at Bundar, Monte Mariano at Farangipet, Mother of Mercy at Ullal and other too The only church that was untouched in the Captivity Era in the 1780/1800s 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 it’s typical name from a Portuguese church atop a mount in Goa, dedicated to MARY - the phenomena spread to other areas too. September 8, traditionally got certain harvest observances progressively which took different forms and converged with various cultures from ancient times. Around Mangalore and in Canara the ’mount of mary’ ’Monte Mariano’ in Konkani became known as ’Monthi Mai’ and ’Festh’ translating to ’Feast of Mary of the Mount’. The churches thinking through the ages in various areas has been to inculcate and preserve local culture (inculturation) so other interpretations too are valid. Harvest is looked forward to by all communities;it is the traditional agrarian legacy of local history. ,Chathurthi Onam - and the lesser known Monthi Festh/ Maria Jayanthi, the Birthday of Mary the Mother of Christ Jesus -September 8. The Konkani community irrespective of religion adopted Coastal Canara as their home centuries ago. Their place of eminence has held good 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.
MONTHICHE FESTH – SEPTEMBER 8, has become a virtual global observance among larger Kanara communities in Gulf Countries,Canada, US, UK, Australia,Africa and more. It is evolving as a link observance identifying the Konkani Catholics and other groups are formulating suitable variations to suit the individual visions. May the good resulting out of such sacred observances unite all human kind to eternal values and Blessings from the most high now and forever!