Catholic families across Mumbai eagerly look forward to the festivity of the year when September approaches. The Sunday after September 8, celebrated as the Feast of Mother Mary, brings the Mount Mary Fair or as it is better known, the Bandra Fair to the city. It is not a celebration limited to the Catholics but people of all faith throng the church to seek blessings.
As devotees line up before the church, they have a stream of stalls along the way selling candles of different shapes. “We have candles for different parts of the body here, so people who are ailing from a certain disease can pray for healing by burning them,” said Andrew Gonsalves, a candle stall owner. While people queue up before the church through the day, the real celebration can be witnessed after sundown. The lines get longer, the lights come on and the music gets louder.
The festivities extend all the way from Mount Mary’s Basilica to the Mount Carmel Church, where the fair is organised at the September Garden. All along the way, stalls line both sides of the road selling knick-knacks, toys, candles, clothes and food. At many of the food stalls, traditional delicacies like guava cheese, kadio bodio, mawa peda, halwa and chikki are sold.
“We have been frequenting the fair since childhood and now my children go there. It is a lot of fun when you go in large groups. However, the crowds have dipped over the years and with that the attraction has also reduced. I remember the huge crowds back earlier. Now, we see crowds only during the weekend,” says Jenny D’Mello, who provides free drinking water to all passing pilgrims. While the church is open through the day, the activities at the fair pick up only by the evening.
The giant wheel, the Tora Tora light up and the food stalls open their counters. As darkness descends, peals of laughter, the whirring sound of the giant wheel and aromatic smell of food fill the air. However, the veterans at the fair rue that the spirit of the fair has changed over the years. “This year, we noticed that people have come to the fair more as tourists than pilgrims.
The sanctity of the celebration has been lost with everyone trying to click a selfie or taking pictures. Earlier, there would be more pilgrims coming to the Basilica in true faith,” said Jocelyn Gonsalves, who has been going to the fair for over forty years now. The Basilica is closed for pilgrims by 10 pm but they can still go to the small shrine in front of it to worship. The fair continues to be open until 11 pm when the crowds begin to thin. Conducted for eight days, the Fair will end on Sunday (September 17).