The Bandra Fair Is Back!

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Statue of Mother Mary with Christ Child, Mt Mary, Bandra
Statue of Mother Mary with Christ Child, Mt Mary, Bandra
Statue of Mother Mary with Christ Child, Mt Mary, Bandra

For Christians, the 8th of September is a significant date as they honour the birthday of Mother Mary, the virgin Mother of Jesus. As they fervently believe in the Mother who cures all remedies, the birthday of the woman who conceived Jesus is very auspicious for our Christian brethren. The first Sunday after the 8th of Sept marks the beginning of a week long celebration at The Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount also known as Mount Mary Church, Bandra.

Popularly known as the Bandra Fair, it hosts thousands of pilgrims that climb the slopes of this small hill to pay their respects to Mother Mary. The darshan begins at 5:30 AM and the church remains open until 10:30 PM on all the 8 days of the fair.

People from all parts of the city have been descending upon Bandora, as Bandra was known, since almost the 17th century. Documented evidence tells us that pilgrims arrived in bullock carts and boats from across the nearby Mahim creek and take part in the celebrations of Mother Mary’s birthday. We joined the hundreds of pilgrims in their walk up the hill last evening and came home with a unique experience.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, Bandra
Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, Bandra

Over time, pilgrims to the Bandra fair have multiplied in numbers and every year a sea of humanity washes over this otherwise quaint hill. There are many believers from all faiths and communities, setting a marvelous example of the diversity that we experience in this country. Each one with devotion in their eyes and hope in their hearts prays to the Holy Mother. Wax figurines of body parts are offered if one suffers from an ailment and candles are lit. The atmosphere inside the Basilica is calm and serene.

The devotees move in a single file near the Sanctuary and others sit patiently on the pews. Young and old look up in awe at the beautiful Sanctum Santorum where the venerable statue of Mother Mary stands along with Christ child. The altar also has an engraving of the Last Supper which draws attention of all visitors. The walls of the Basilica depict the Life of Mary in murals.

Stalls selling goan sweetmeats, Mt Mary, Bandra
Stalls selling goan sweetmeats, Mt Mary, Bandra

We moved out, dodging flower and candle sellers, and we went upto the shrine across the road. As we climbed the stairs, we couldn’t help notice the beautiful Arabian sea stretching out on the west and on the east the semi-gothic Basilica standing in its full glory. Fans of Hindi cinema will recall many movies where this setting is used, Amar Akbar Anthony being the most prominent one.

The steps leading to the Basilica house the various stalls and are under the jurisdiction of the organisers. Goan music and carols are played at the many music CD stalls that dot either side of the steps and create a festive atmosphere. Halwas from Calicut (Nothern Kerala), Kerala chips, Aam papad, roasted channa and milk pedas, and several varieties of sweetmeats are sold. To add to the Goan flavour, a few stalls sell Vindaloo and Sorpotel. There are also a few bookstalls and stalls selling accessories which see a good turnout, courtesy the numerous college students that visit the fair. The atmosphere on the steps is jovial and merry.

BMC truck sends small vendors scampering at Bandra
BMC truck sends small vendors scampering at Bandra

However, as we stepped out onto the street, we noticed the many other stalls that had sprung up around the area. There were stalls selling kebabs, tandoori, pav bhaji cooked under ramshackle tents or in the compounds of the buildings. Tattoo artists lined the street with their battery powered machines and numerous other illegal stalls had encroached the otherwise empty street, all attempting to cash in on the surging crowds that visit the fair.

The festive nature of the fair is compromised by the presence of these illegal stalls, and groups of youngsters seeking cheap thrills who indulge in eve teasing, leering which mars the experience to a large extent and also create a sense of insecurity amongst the women.  The autorickshaw drivers are not far behind and exploit the situation by charging almost double to ply to nearby places such as Bandra station. The residents around the ‘steps’ as the area is locally known have been complaining about the nuisance every year and don’t look forward to it. High levels of monitoring, presence of more plain clothes policemen, stricter action against illegal stall owners and constant patrolling will help solve these problems to a certain extent.

This situation outside of the fair and the views of residents made us wonder if we are losing the beauty of festivals to such deplorable ills that plague almost all festivals. From Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav to Gokulashtami to Diwali to Holi. The reluctant tolerance to such elements by the society and the authorities that allows them to flourish with minimal hindrance has created this sad situation.

It is about time that we as citizens of the city, take it upon ourselves to restore the beauty of these festivals which were started to bring people of various communities together, create a sense of brotherhood and unity by celebrating the heritage of each community however, small or large. Active participation in the local self governments, close co-ordination between authorities and the organisers and a strict intolerant attitude to anti social elements and hooliganism will help in weeding out some of the problems.

What are your views? We would be happy to hear them. In the meanwhile, do visit the fair, it will be on until 16th of September. For more details about the fair and the Basilica, visit the official website of the Mt. Mary Church.

All Images By Rushikesh Kulkarni

Post By Rushikesh Kulkarni (22 Posts)

Runs Breakfree Journeys, a cult tourism outfit interested in outdoor travel and backpacking. On days that he is not wandering around the Western Ghats, he is spotted roaming in the bylanes of Bombay scouting for heritage history and good food.

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Rushikesh Kulkarni

Rushikesh Kulkarni
Runs Breakfree Journeys, a cult tourism outfit interested in outdoor travel and backpacking. On days that he is not wandering around the Western Ghats, he is spotted roaming in the bylanes of Bombay scouting for heritage history and good food.