FOR MORE than a century now, devotees of the Roman Catholic faith, from Mumbai have been taking trips to visit the holy shrine in Velankanni in Tamil Nadu. Every year, for nine days beginning from August 29 to September 6 , they engage in the devotion of Mother Mary in the Catholic Basilica, which is one of the country’s biggest Catholic pilgrimage centres.
Known to be ‘Our Lady of Good Health’ or the deity who blesses one with heath and prosperity, it is claimed that thousands of devotees from Mumbai head down south to Velankanni to offer prayers when it is time for ‘Novena’.
“As September 8 is the birthday of Mother Mary, every year there is a Novena, prayer for nine days, starting from August 29 to September 8. More than 80,000 pilgrims from Mumbai and Vasai to Tamil Nadu to pay obeisance to the shrine,” says Charlie Rosario, a devotee and regular visitor from Mumbai to the shrine.
In the mid 16th century, locals had done an apparition of Mother Mary in Velankanni.
The shrine, that started as a thatched chapel in the mid-16th century, became a parish church in 1771 when Catholics in India were under persecution from the Dutch. Later, in 1962, it was granted a Special status of a Minor Basilica by Pope John XIII.
The shrine is also unique as the it is one of only two icons where Mary is portrayed wearing an Indian Sari.
“The museum situated opposite to the Basilica has a very rich variety of exhibits. The precious offerings made by the devotees are on display. Biblical incidents are depicted on both
sidewalls. Also, this Roman Catholic Church has an extended Basilica where one can find the statue of Jesus Christ. The Gothic style of architecture is a unique feature of the Church,” says Thomas E, Father of the church and one of the organisers of the festival.
What draws many pilgrims to the centre, devotees claim, is the belief in the power of the visit to the shrine and the solace it comforts them with.
“It also offers them a break from the routine. From the busy life in the metropolitan city like Mumbai, dedicating nine days of your life in the prayer time and worship actually rekindles your hope and meaning in life,” says Louis Rodrigues, a devotee.
Attending masses, flag-hoisting and carrying the palkhi of Mother Mary every day forms the routines for the devotees here. The pilgrims who come here also follow the Hindu tradition of tonsuring their heads as an offering and also perform ear-boring ceremony. A dip in the pond alongside the shrine is also considered holy among the rituals.
Interestingly locals also organise a mass for those who are not able make the trip to the shrine.
“We also arrange for mass services in the Velankanni church in Andheri for the rest of the devotees who could not attend the festival,” Louis adds.