SEPTEMBER month in Mumbai is the time for monsoon to announce its departure, by occasionally hitting the skyline with vibrant spells of downpour – to onset the tone for a vibrant spell of festivities to begin. Amazingly, among the many diverse religious festivals held in Mumbai, the occasion of Mother Mary’s birthday at the Mount Mary Basilica in Bandra is celebrated with enthusiasm by people of diverse religion.
Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, home address of famous Bollywood personalities is also popular among the masses for Mount Mary Basilica. Eight days of festivities is held every year at the Basilica, which initiates on a Sunday after Mother Mary’s birthday on 8th of September continuing till the successive Sunday, called as ‘Bandra Fair’. Being part of this celebration implies living an ancient tradition which started right from the conception of this Shrine. It was in the year 1570; the Jesuit Fathers from Santa Ana Church brought a wooden statue of Mother Mary from Portugal. They positioned the statue on the main altar of an Oratory made of mud, at the Mount near Lands End.
During its early days of celebration, devotees would reach to the foothill of Mount at wake of dawn. They travelled from their villages in bullock carts, the long journey made it tough for the bullocks to pull the carts onto the hill top. The foot of the hill became a parking spot for the bullock carts and also a spot for the villagers to refresh themselves. Later, they would walk up to the mount to participate in the religious ceremony for celebrating the birthday of their beloved Mother Mary. This voyage incidentally lead to the spirit of merriment, for after the completion of rituals the pilgrims would indulge in sipping tea, munching snacks from kiosks and chatting with fellow pilgrims.
The contemporary scenario is relatively different as the sole purpose remains the same, the addition is the expansion of commercial activities. For most of its present-day pilgrims the journey from their respective homes reaches a refreshing spot at the Bandra Station. During the Fair, special buses are arranged by BEST (public transport) at the Bus Depot near Bandra Station, these buses navigate to halt at Lands End.
From Lands End, the trip leads to a short vertical climb – which is an upward walk via Kane Rd. The interesting part of this climb is the sense of harmony among people, all in a meditative mood under the sweltering sun. An observant pilgrim will also become familiar with the hottest fashion trend followed in the city, as among the devoted crowd are many groups of youngsters enjoying the special trip.
It’s a traditional practice to offer flowers and candles during a visit here, kiosks selling these offering are located all through the lengthy stretch of this road. Pilgrims have the flexibility to care less about going to these stalls as the venders take up the onus to reach up to them and yes of course…. bargaining happens! However, you do need to visit these stalls if you wish to purchase a wax replica – depicting a special need. A guaranteed surprise that awaits you is the sight to choose from of a wide range of white wax replicas, all stocked-up next to each other. These offerings are made in prayer, for thanksgiving or in request of favours.
During the period of fair, masses (religious service) are held only in the morning at the shamiana (tent) adjacent to the Basilica. The walking crowd halts at a distance, near the Basilica. They wait at a junction, to view the majestic Shrine to its left and to its right overlooking the Basilica is the Oratory of Our Lady of Fatima – flowing with sea of worshippers ascending and descending its stairs.
Pilgrims step inside the Basilica’s premises in queues to attend mass or to visit the Shrine. While standing in queues, waiting patiently to pay their respect, the practice of alms-giving is accepted by pilgrims to show support to various charitable causes. Within the Shrine, it’s a sense of experiencing heaven on earth; on a seven-step high altar made of white marble is the venerable statue of Mother Mary with Child Jesus.
Travelling down its history, one of the most significant chapters unfolded in the year 1700. A pirate army of Muscat Arabs arrived at Bandra with the purpose to find treasure. They were frustrated on finding no treasure in the Chapel. In rage, they axed down the right forearm of the statue in expectation of finding gold. It is also believed that a huge flock of bees attacked them, to fail them from their intention of setting the Chapel on fire.
The statue of Our Lady of Navigators from the side altar of St. Andrew’s Church was positioned at the Mount, for the countless pilgrims who paid visit to the Chapel. In the Jesuit Annual Letter dated to 1669 and published in the book St. Andrew’s Church, Bandra (1616–1966) it is mentioned that a local fisherman had dreamt to find a statue in the sea. The statue of Our Lady of Navigators was found floating in the sea during the period 1700 – 1760, Bandra Fair started to celebrate this miracle. The local fishermen named this statue as ‘Mot Mauli’, meaning ‘The Pearl Mother’.
Many years later, in the year 1761, the damaged statue of Our Lady of the Mount was restored by placing an attachable Child Jesus on it and was brought back to its original place. The statue that was taken from St. Andrew’s Church was returned. On 5th December 1954; Cardinal Valerian Gracias crowned the statue of Our Lady of the Mount and Child Jesus with gold crowns upon its arrival from a pilgrimage across the city and its adjoining areas. And on the very same day, Pope Pius XII gave the Church the status of a Minor Basilica.
Its history is fascinating and the time spent inside this Basilica spellbinds a person to a meditative calm of being in an isolated island along with the divine force. While leaving this abode a person surely feels the cheer to lead on with life. The exit route from the Basilica leads to the Mount Mary’s Steps. Descending these steps opens doors to merriment and the conclusion part of this exciting journey.
The Mount Mary’s steps is also a meeting point because chances are that you may accidently bang head on, to meet long lost friends. The side stretch of these stairs is taken over by kiosks selling varied types of sweets; the pathway to eateries serving non-vegetarian delights is amusingly spotted across the side lanes of these kiosks. It is heartening to conclude, that the prime purpose of visit to the Mount Mary Basilica remains unchanged i.e. the religious and social experience.