The birth of Mother Mary or the “Monthi Saibinnichem Festh” as the Konkani community of Kudla or coastal districts calls this feast is celebrated with grandeur among the catholic community in the coastal districts.
It’s an occasion when families come together and renew their bonds over a meal that contains grain from the first harvest blessed by a priest at a Eucharistic Celebration. Tradition demands that the family sit down together after the angelus (A prayer to Mother Mary) and taste the new corn in a vegetarian meal (having normally an odd no. locally available vegetables, ranging in number from 3 to 9) served on banana leaves.
The preparations for the grand feast begin 9 days in advance. Children and adults alike, attend daily mass and shower flowers on the statue of Infant Mary in a novena of prayer and song. The tradition of showering flowers on the statue of Infant Mary or ‘Maria Bambina’ is a long one. The statue “Maria Bambina” was modelled in wax in 1735 by Sr. Izabella ChaaraFornari, superior of the Poor Clare Sisters in Italy. This statue was venerated in public only on 8 September and due to this public appearance and devotion many were benefitted and hence globally this statue was christened as “Statue of Miracle”. It was transferred in 1856 to the Mother House of Sisters of Charity in Milan (Italy). This statue is in the possession of the Sisters of Charity even today and it has been used for spreading devotion.
The local catholic community however refers to it as “MonthiSaibinnichiImaz” and the reason why the feast has become a rage in the Mangalorean Catholic community is that it has been handed down to them by their ancestors. The Franciscan Church at Arkulla in Farangipet was one of three built during the 15th century, in the place where the Portuguese conducted their trade. It was at this church, that Fr. Joachim Miranda, started a seminary for Priests called the ‘MontheMairano’ in 1763. He was attracted by the statue of “Maria Bambina” made by Sister of Franciscan, Italy. He introduced this statue to the Monthi Fest and the new spirit and enthusiasm were created for the celebration which has only intensified ever since.
History in India
It’s history, that the Portuguese established their rule in Goa in 1510, and began to convert Hindus to Christianity. Converted Christians combined the old with the new. They combined their important festivals with the feasts of saints and Mother Mary. Therefore, currently, many Catholic celebratory practices are a combination of age-old customs and traditions practised by the original Hindu GSB community in Goa and new Christian practices borrowed from the preachers of Christianity. One such example is the distribution of new corn, sugar cane and a few other customs during the feast of the Nativity.
But the tradition of celebration of this feast actually began at the Shrine of Mount Mary at Bandra, Mumbai, where the feast is celebrated in a grand way – It starts with a nine-day novena on a Sunday preceding the feast on the 8th, and continues for eight days. The traditional celebration was started by Jesuit Priests in 1556. As the church where is was celebrated was situated on a hill in Bandra, it was called Mount Mary. Gradually it became a pilgrimage site for the converted Christians from Goa and Mumbai. In Portuguese “Mount” means “ Monthe” and hence, this feast was finally christened in Konkani as “Monthi Saibinnichem Festh”. Since the harvest feast which preceded this “MonthiSaibinnichemFesth” was conducted over nine days, a nine day Novena to Mother Mary was also introduced along with new corn tradition of the feast. From there these celebrations spread south to the coastal districts, first to Farangipet where the Portuguese conducted their trade and then inward.
History in the world
The Nativity of Mother Mary was first celebrated in the sixth century, when St. Romanos the Melodist, an Eastern Christian who composed many of the hymns used in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies, composed a hymn for the feast. The feast spread to Rome in the seventh century, but it was a couple more centuries before it was celebrated throughout the West.
The source for the story of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel written about A.D. 150. From it, we learn the names of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, as well as the tradition that the couple was childless until an angel appeared to Anna and told her that she would conceive. (Many of the same details appear also in the later apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.)
The traditional date of the feast, September 8, falls exactly nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Perhaps because of its close proximity to the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not celebrated today with the same solemnity as the Immaculate Conception.
“The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the centre of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children” – Jessica Lange. The life of Mother Mary epitomises this unselfishness – from the way she was conceived to the way gave her life up to the Lord as the mother of his only son Jesus Christ, to suffer along with him during his excruciating crucifixion. It is an example of the selfless love all mothers bestow on their children and their families. Therefore while it is an important feast in the Christian calendar, it is venerated as a feast of motherhood across all communities in the Coastal districts.