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The Mount Mary Fair is an eight-day feast that celebrates the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. While there exist no written records of her birth, September 8 universally celebrated as her birthday. This day is celebrated as Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The day falls exactly nine months after December 8, which is believed to be the day when Mary was conceived. This day is celebrated as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Typically Christians celebrate the day on which the saints die because it is believed to be the day when they enter the eternal life. And while Catholics and the Orthodox Church do celebrate Mary’s death as the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (it falls on August 15), Mary and Jesus are the only two exceptions to the rule. The birth of Mary is celebrated on December 8 and that of Jesus’ birthday is celebrated on, of course, December 25 or Christmas Day. Also Read - Cyclone Nisarga Updates: Three Dead in Maharashtra; Power Supply to be Restored in Ratnagiri And Shrivardhan Soon

In Bandra, Mount Mary’s Basilica celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary with an eight-day long fair. The fair begins on the Sunday after September 8 and goes on for eight days. Needless to say, the cosmopolitan hub of Bandra comes alive during these eight days as the festivities include long lines of shopping and food stalls, amusement rides and street events. The Mount Mary Fair (also known as Bandra Fair) also hosts concerts and attracts thousands of devotees from all faiths. The streets and lanes leading to the church are chock-a-block packed with people. This year the Bandra Fair begins from September 11 and will go on till September 18. The venue for the fair is, of course, the Mount Mary Church complex. While the festivities begin on the Sunday after September 8, the Novena or the prayers begin nine days before the fair. Quite like Ganesh Chaturthi, the Mount Mary Fair is a classic example of the city’s cosmopolitan fabric with people across communities flock to the basilica to celebrate and pray. Also Read - Cyclone Nisarga: IndiGo Cancels 17 Flights to And From Mumbai, to Operate Only 3


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

Mount Mary Fair draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year with almost everyone visiting the church to catch a glimpse of Mother Mary. Most of these pilgrims are those who either seek her blessings and favors or those who come to thank her for having granted their prayers. And it isn’t just the Christians who queue up outside the church the basilica also welcomes people from other faiths. While there are no official records of the ratio of Christians to non-Christians, the authorities’ claim of having more non-Christians among the worshippers isn’t entirely unbelievable. The practice of asking for boons from Mother Mary has given rise to a somewhat amusing tradition: that of offering candles in different shapes and sizes. Those who are unwell choose one that corresponds to their ailment and then offer it at the church with their prayers. There are also candles in shapes of houses for those who wish to buy a home or shops for those who seek divine intervention in their businesses as well as in the shape of a bundle of currency notes for devotees who wish to make more money! Also Read - 'Touching Gesture'! Narayana Murthy Touches The Feet of Ratan Tata And Twitter Can't Stop Hailing The 'Historic Moment'

History of the Mount Mary Fair


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

Contrary to popular beliefs, the origin of the fair had almost nothing to do with the legend of a fisherman dreaming of finding a statue of Mother Mary floating in the Arabian Sea and then actually finding it a few years later. According to Peter De Souza, a local historian and photographer, the legend is just that: an urban myth and one that has made its way to the fair’s Wikipedia page. According to him the earliest mention of the festivities has been found in a Jesuit document dating back to 1669 and it is safe to assume that the fair was very much part of the church’s history right from the beginning. De Souza says that the fair evolved like almost every other fair around the world would. First it was a small feast that celebrated the birth of Mary and that evolved into a bigger and a more popular fair.

In the beginning pilgrims would come to the church on bullock carts or horse-driven carriages and park them at the bottom of the hill. Others would arrive on boats since Bandra was still an island and it would be centuries before a causeway connecting it to Mahim would be built. The pilgrims who would gather to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of Virgin Mary would usually be famished because of the long journey. Since life was a lot slower, the visiting pilgrims would typically stay back at the homes of their relatives in the villages of Bandra and spend a few days with them before heading back home. De Souza says that during this time doors of homes and gates of the compounds would be left open as a sign of invitation to the near and dear ones.


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

Along with the pilgrims, the Mount Mary Fair also attracted small vendors who would serve refreshments to the tired visitors. With time, the number of vendors grew as did the wares they sold. And today the Mount Mary Fair has evolved into a grand celebration complete with merry-go-rounds and daredevil performances. Initially, most of these festivities that also included music and dance performances would be restricted to the old September Garden that is part of the Mount Carmel Church compound. Today these festivities have spilled over on to the roads and lanes leading up to the church, even though they don’t strictly fall within the purview of the Basilica.

History of the Mount Mary Basilica


Photograph courtesy: Soum Paul/Creative Commons

The presiding deity of the Mount Mary Basilica is, of course, Mother Mary. She is referred to by several titles, one of them being Our Lady of Mount since the church stands on top of a small hill and the other being Our Lady of Navigators, a devotional title that was given to Mary by European navigators who saw her as their protector at high seas. While the current edifice is just a little over a century old, the story of the statue is a few hundred years older!

Our story begins in 1570 when Jesuit priests brought along with them a wooden statue of Mother Mary and began spreading the religion in the newly-conquered colony. It was around this time that the first structure appeared on the hillock where the current edifice stands. The simple oratory was made of mud and served as a place for personal worship. Sooner rather than later, the oratory began attracting not just the Portuguese officers who were stationed at the Land’s End nearby but also the local fishermen and their families.

By 1616 the Christian population in the area began to burgeon and this led to the forming of the parish of St Andrew. The small oratory was placed under the authority of the new parish. In 1640, the oratory was enlarged and received the status of a chapel. By now the chapel was beginning to attract a lot more devotees than ever before. It was this second edifice that was witness to the transfer of power as the Portuguese handed over the islands of Bombay to the British as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. In 1700, Arab pirates attacked the chapel in the hope of finding treasure. When their hopes were dashed, they broke the right hand of the statue believing it was made of gold. The damaged idol was then replaced by one from the side altar of the neighboring St Andrew’s Church.

But even as Christianity spread in the region and indeed the country, political instability led to the decline of pilgrims arriving at the chapel. It also didn’t help that there were no priests to head the Mount. And so for good 20 years — between 1741 and 1761 — public worshipping at Mount Mary came to a halt. It was in 1761 that someone had a genius idea of bringing back the damaged statue of Mary and placing a detachable statuette of Child Jesus on it, thus covering the damage.

With passing time, the popularity of Mount Mary began to spread and even attracted people from other faiths. It was because of the generosity of one such non-Christian that the chapel got the first proper road. This was mid 1800s and the benefactor, of course, was the Parsi philanthropist Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy who donated money for the construction of this road from the Bandra end of the Mahim Causeway all the way to the church. Even though, the first train in India ran between Bori Bunder and Thane in 1853, it would be almost a decade and a half before the now-upscale Bandra would be connected on the railway route. It was only in the summer of 1967 that trains began running along the western side of the city with just one train connecting the city center to the far-flung villages of Virar in the north. In any case, the extension of the railway line made Mount Mary even more accessible and pilgrims who would earlier travel great distances on bullock carts and horse-driven carriages for days now simply had to take the train!

More than half a century after Jejeebhoy, another non-Christian would come to the aid of Mount Mary. Shapoorjee Chandabhoy, also a Parsi, served as an architect for the construction of a new edifice and began construction in the face of the plague of 1895. Bullock carts and mules were used to transport the construction material to the top of the mount and in 1904 the church as we see it today was completed and thrown open to pilgrims. Since then the Mount Mary Basilica has hosted two popes — Pope Paul VI in 1964 and Pope John Paul II in 1986 — and billions of pilgrims.

Stunning photographs of Mount Mary Basilica


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

Peter De Souza has written extensively about the Basilica and its architecture on his website. The structure you see today is a little over a hundred years old and has been constructed in semi-Gothic style. Its imposing facade is a little over 67 feet wide and has four floors. The main entrance to the basilica with its protective stone arches is, of course, on the lowest floor and is flanked by two windows. The columns are made of Malad Stone, which was particularly popular in the buildings of the time. (David Sassoon Library and several of the buildings around the Kala Ghoda area are built from the same stone. Malad Stone gets its name from the area which once nothing more than a large stone quarry on the fringes of the city but is now a bustling and crowded suburb of Mumbai.)

The next floor has five windows — three of which provide ventilation to the nave — and an arch which features the emblem of the Basilica. The emblem has the letters AM carved on it. AM is short for Ave Maria, Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the time of the Annunciation. The two lily stems around the initials symbolize Mary’s virginity, an important concept in the Christian beliefs.

The third floor features four windows and an inscription that reads Anno Jubilaei 1904, which denotes the golden jubilee year of the promulgation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the year the Mount Mary Basilica was thrown open to the public.

Pyramidical spires on either side, also mounted with a Cross, comprise the final floor of the façade of the Mount Mary Basilica.

The two towers that flank the main entrance have foundations that are a little over 18 feet in length and breadth and 98 feet high. Both the towers have two doors each that lead up to the steeple. The northern tower has a large bell 24-inch diameter and is engaged with a cross and an inscription dating back to 1852. The southern tower has a relatively smaller bell. Both these bells are used every day.


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

The principle shell of the nave of Mount Mary Basilica is almost 67 feet long and 38 feet wide and can be accessed by four other entrances besides the main entrance that faces the Arabian Sea. Each of these entrances has large windows that provide sufficient sunlight to the nave even during the bleakest of the monsoon days. The nave’s ceiling is as high as 42 feet and made entirely of teak and is supported by a wooden loft that covers three sides of the nave. Four teakwood columns that rest on a stone base support the loft and the spectacular ceiling. The ceiling itself is protected from the elements with Mangalore tiles.

We leave you with some more photographs of the Mount Mary Basilica by Peter De Souza:


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

The old mural depicting the life of Mary may have faded away but they have been replaced by newer fiber glass ones


Photograph courtesy: Peter De Souza

This marble plaque representing the Last Supper was presented to Bishop Longinus Pereira who got it inserted at a later date.


The pulpit (pictured above), made of marble, features the Papal coat of arms


Right above the pulpit are Mary’s immortal words: “All generations shall call me blessed!”

Mount Mary Fair begins on September 11 and will continue till September 18.