Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

Come September, my oldest memories of the Bandra Fair are of being manoeuvred by a firm set of hands (my father’s) through throngs of people with the goal of reaching the front of the Mount Mary’s Church to say a prayer before the altar. of course, this wouldn’t be possible sans the lure Of a giant wheel ride and candy floss at the end of it. 

A decade later, the enticement of a ride and sugary treats are replaced by the belief that petitions and desires will be met when I bring them to the Mount. And so, whenever I’ve taken in the sight of the crowd, I pause a minute to reflect on the sheer devotion of these multitudes, flocking from cities far and wide to pay homage to Mary on her special day.

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

Intentional offerings

Lined outside the church, you will see stalls selling various Catholic religious items such as the Rosary beads, scapulars, crosses and prayer booklets which aid in prayers. What captivates my attention are the wax objects, and I’m not referring to the array of vibrantly coloured candles that are on display, but the figurines that are more specifically designed to suit your intention.

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

For instance, if one was suffering from a hand ailment, one would buy a wax offering shaped as a hand and offer it up with prayers. Likewise, there are waxworks that correspond to other illnesses or desires. This year, in keeping with the concerns of our environment, and the Pope being a strong advocate of the cause of creation, thermocol and plastic are banned from the stalls and in the area. 

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

Legend has it

Mount Mary’s Church is a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The beautiful church is perched atop a hill and overlooks the glorious Arabian sea. The church is also called The Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount. According to sources online, in the 16th century, Jesuit priests from Portugal brought the statue to Bandra and constructed the church there. In 1700, Arab pirates cut off the right hand of the statue and disfigured it.

When the church was rebuilt in 1760, the statue was replaced with the statue of Our Lady of Navigators from the St. Andrew's Church in the vicinity. And this statue has an interesting story to it. Legend has it that a Koli fisherman dreamt that he would find a statue in the sea. Between 1700 and 1760, the statue was found floating in the sea.

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

This was believed to be nothing less than a miracle by the locals, and thus the Bandra Fair came to be in order to celebrate this. This claim is supported by a Jesuit Annual Letter dated to 1669 and published in the book ‘St. Andrew's Church, Bandra’. However, in 1761, the original statue of the Lady of the Mount was renovated and returned to the church.

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

Fair & festivities

After offering prayers, people throng the stalls lining the way down the hill right down to the old September Garden located in the Mount Carmel Church compound at the tail end of the fair. The stalls selling eateries have retained the specialities from across the country.

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

Some favourites include Guava cheese, Mawa peda from Uttar Pradesh, Halva from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Delhi, and chikki from Maharashtra. I remember my parents buying several packets of bright orange, ginger-flavoured and well as white sugary Kadio-bodio (tiny sticks made of maida flour dipped in sugar syrup and dried), a speciality of Goa, to distribute to the neighbours and house guests.

Bernadette Solomon, a resident of Bandra reminisces about the live bands as well as artists like Usha Uthup who performed at September Garden. She tells us about the laughing mirrors, the dog shows, the well of death and the cane stall, which were the highlights of her time. What she remembers fondly is climbing the steps to go for mass all decked up and then going to the canteen to gorge on snacks and pick lucky draws!

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

Fr. Reuben Tellis, parish priest of Mount Carmel church, Bandra, recollects his time at the Mount over the years. “As a child, my parents would bring my brother and me to the Basilica for veneration of the image of our Lady of the Mount. After the veneration, we did the customary walk down the fair. As a youth, I used to join the parish walking pilgrimage to the Mount, praying the Rosary and it was quite an experience to walk together with a few hundreds of parishioners from Santa Cruz.

As a seminarian, I participated in the walking pilgrimage to the Mount from Goregaon starting at 3 am on the Wednesday of the Octave. After freshening up, we would have mass con-celebrated by the seminary priests and I would be part of the choir. I walked every year of my seminary studies. As joint director of the youth, I was part of the committee helping with the arrangements at the Mount and now, I celebrate masses and sit for confessions.”

Tracing the significance of the famed Bandra Fair

The fair starts today and it ends on September 15. If you’re not a regular fair-goer, carve some time out to explore this cosmopolitan melting pot of beliefs at the Mount. The Lady of the Mount sees no caste, creed or any other bias of any sort. You can come to her with all the matters of your heart, just like you would go to your mother. And then you can revel in the simple festivities that follow and treat yourself to some delicacies of this season.

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