Why Monthi Fest is so called?


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By John B. Monteiro
Bellevision Media Network

For now the corn house filled, the harvest home,
The invited neibhours to the husking come
The frolic scene, where work and mirth and play
Unite their charms to cheer the hours away.
-Joel Barlow, American poet (1754-1812).

 

07 September 2012: Harvest festivals are annual celebrations that occurs around the time of the main harvest of a given region. Given the differences in climate and crops around the world, harvest festivals can be found at various times throughout the world. Harvests festivals typically feature feasting, both family and public, with foods that are drawn from crops that come to maturity around the time of the festival. Ample food and freedom from the necessity to work in the fields are two central features of harvest festivals: eating, merriment, contests, music and romance are common features of harvest festivals around the world.

 

 

On September 8th every year, Christians in India, especially West Coast, mark the birth of Mary, mother of Jesus, with the ceremonial partaking of the new corn. Called the feast of Nativity, Monthi Fest in Konkani, it involves the blessing, enthroning and partaking of new corn – a characteristic observed by other communities also.  Keralites celebrate Onam and Gowd Sarasvat Brahmins mark Chauthi. This is the time of the year when nature is bountiful with rain-fed paddy crop ready to be harvested and vegetables aplenty (though costly now?).

 

While celebration of Nativity dates back to the fifth century AD, the fusion of the new corn celebration with it is a grey area. However, the symbolism is traced to the barrenness of Anna, mother of Mary, till she was very old. Thus, the new corn celebration has parallel in the journey from barrenness to first fruit. The dry land gets soaked with the monsoon rains and culminates in the first main harvest, called Yenel in Tulu Nadu.

 

 

Traditionally Nativity was celebrated as a family feast in which vegetable is the king of cuisine for the day. Nine or more vegetable dishes (odd numbers) are prepared. The de-husked corn, blessed in the church and brought home, is powdered and mixed with a dish made out of coconut milk and rice batter, is partaken reverentially. Unlike on other feasts of Christians, non-vegetarian was traditionally taboo on this day. In days of yore, close families got together on the day for the ceremonial lunch at the residence of the eldest male. Even people from as far away as Mumbai used to make an attempt to join this lunch. However, many of these traditions are now dented. Also, almost faded away is the custom of sending the blessed corn by post to those working away from home – like Mumbai and Gulf centres. In some cases, unblessed corn is now couriered to the Gulf to be blessed locally.

 

Gurkars (president) of various wards of the parish bring matured bunches of paddy corn to the church where they are blessed and offered to the congregation. A special prayer recited at the blessing reads: “Father of mercy give your people help and strength from Heaven…. May this celebration of (Mary’s) birthday bring us closer to lasting peace”. Prayers are also invoked “To bless these new fruits in your blessed name…. Grant health of body and soul to those who receive these new fruits”.

 

 

Nativity continues to be a favourite of children. An impressive part of Nativity is the novena that precedes the feast – nine days of devotion involving offering of flowers to Mary in the bambina by children. The floral offerings are accompanied by stanzas of hymn preceded, interspersed and followed by a chorus. When the chorus is sung, fistful of flowers is flung into the air in unison.

 

A free translation of the hymn in Konkani reflects the sentiments of the devotees towards Mary.

 

Let us all get together and come close
Let us sing with one voice and praise Mary

(chorus)

Let us search the gardens and fields and gather flowers
Where then will we find flowers fit for Mary?

 

Let us make a laurel out of them and offer to Mary
By tomorrow these Jasmines and roses will fade.

 

May your name increase in fame and your devotion spread afar
With your blessings may our nation prosper.

 

On the days of the novena, children who participate in floral offerings are presented sweets and sugar canes on the feast day. The poor are distributed rice, coconuts, vegetables and other goodies by the Catholic parishes. These are donated by generous and able parishioners.

 

Despite the popularity of Monthi Fest, not many one stop to ask why it is called Monthi Fest. Some research and inquiries with people who should know leads me to the conclusion that Monthi Fest, as it is celebrated in Canara, originated at Farangipet about 260 years ago. Farangipet is home to an ancient Catholic outpost which at various times has been, and still is, a church, friary and seminary. Located on top of a hill on the northern bank of Nethravati River, the ancient name of the place is Monte Mariano – Mount of Mary. The Monthi Fest derives its name, with little corruption, from “Monte”. It was here that a Goan secular priest, Fr. Joachim Miranda, started the annual feast to coincide with the feast of Nativity of Mary. But, Catholics are generally unfamiliar with the Monte Mariano name and call the place Coventh (convent). Even the RTC, based on ancient land records, notes the owner of the plot as Monthu Mary Cuvent Devaru.

 

Some hold that Monthi Fest originated in Bandra, Bombay. The Mount Mary shrine there, located on a hillock close to Arabian Sea, traces its origin, as a small chapel, to 1566. That “Mount” in English and Farangipet’s “Monte” in Portuguese has the same meaning and is open to corruption to “Monthi” in Konkani. The shrine in Bandra is dedicated to Infant Mary. Mount Mary feast is celebrate in Bombay for eight days starting from Sunday preceding September 8 and concluding on the following Sunday. The eight days, specially the two Sundays, transform Bandra into a vast Mela, with crowds belonging to all religions thronging the hill-top shrine and fair stalls along the slopes of the hill.

 

However, the mela is centred on Mount Mary Shrine, rather than Nativity and much less on new corn. On the other hand, Canara’s Monthi Fest is more new-corn-centic than Nativity per se. The Monthi Fest term is not used by the East Indians, the original settlers of Bombay whose Marathi is close to Konkani. Their new corn celebration is not linked to Nativity or Mount Mary feast and is marked later, as their paddy crop gets ready for harvesting later than in Canara. Also, it is relevant to recall that in the olden days it was a practice for Canara Catholics to send new corn, distributed on Monthi Fest day, by post to their close relatives in Bombay who, in turn, fixed a convenient day, much after Monthi Fest, to eat the new corn ceremoniously. If new-corn-related Monthi Fest was being celebrated in Bombay, why would they send the blessed corn from Canara? Therefore, the linking of Monthi Fest with Bandra’s Mount Mary seems tenuous. So, which Mount is linked to Monthi Fest?

 

Post-script:

The harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few. – Mathew, IX- 37, New Testament of Bible. Now that the harvest is ready in Tulu Nadu, there are no labourers to reap whatever is remaining after floods washed away the plantings in the floods in Udupi and delayed reaping elsewhere in Tulu Nadu. So, the biblical saying, in another context, is coming true in another avatar!

 

 

Comments on this Article
Edward Saldhana, Moodubelle/ Sharjah Fri, September-7-2012, 12:40

Bhalok moriyek ami vandiya fula jelyani maan koruya bhalok moriyek naman korya tumka sarvank santhosbhorith monthi saibhinhiche festh happy festh.

Philip Mudartha, Qatar Fri, September-7-2012, 8:00
May the readers enjoy good health and cheer through the coming year. Happy Monti Fest!
Victor Castelino, Boliye/Dubai Fri, September-7-2012, 1:37
A good one for the occasion JB. After reading the ownership name in the "patta" of the "Convent" a broad smile flashed on my face! One suggestion though, before some one points a finger at you, better change the "Bombay" to "Mumbai". It is very difficult to get rid of old habits!
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