Happy Monthi Fest

By Published On: 7 Sep '20Last Updated: 20 Sep '20

Here are a few recollections of my Monthi Fest, what it meant for me as a child and I am sharing them with all of you today

Happy Monthi Fest to all you lovely people around the world who are celebrating this feast today.

8th of September is devoted to Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Roman Catholic Church. This is the day Konkani speaking Catholics living in the coastal districts of India and also all over the world celebrate as Mother Mary’s birthday even as of today. This is the day that is called as the festival of harvest or the day of ‘New Rice’.

The story of Monthi Fest goes back to 16th century Goa, the motherland of Konkani speaking Catholics and to the Mangalorean Catholic community Monthi Fest is as popular as Christmas.

Here are a few recollections of my Monthi Fest, what it meant for me as a child and I am sharing them with all of you today. Many of you would relate my recollections if you have come from a similar background as me.

Monthi Fest is preceded by 9 days of offering by way of flowers and novena to our dear lady at the grotto of the local parish and for me it was the Mother of Sorrows Church, Udupi. As a child, I remember rushing home after school just to drop the school bag off at home and then run to gather flowers from my garden and from my neighbours’ gardens before any of the other children got there. Some of my neighbours although non-Catholics were very kind to me and would reserve their flowers for me even if other children were keen to get their hands on them. The week preceding the Monthi Fest was quite intense as the focus of that week was to get the best buds in town to offer to our lady. The buds gathered were then brought home and sprinkled on the grass overnight to bloom. I remember waking up to an alarm at 5.00 am in the morning for the first eight days of September and if I slept in, my mum would sing out loud “putha misak vosunk asa, pula bosheynth galunk asath, veggi veggi ootu, atham saade paanch jaleem” (my dear, you need to get to church, you have to arrange the flowers on your plate, wake up soon, it’s now 5.30 am). Although sleepy, I would then rise with so much excitement to go out in the dark concreted area of the front yard and pick up the blooms to arrange on my plate to offer our dear lady. I have a distinct memory of checking around to see if they were any snakes around the flowers as we had sightings of snakes from time to time. That was very scary as I was the only one to wake up that early. Then the excitement never stopped. The flowers were collected and brought inside still with a lot of dew and water around them. Mind you, I would become quite wet by the time I collected those flowers and walked into the house because the monsoon season is still in force as June to September is the monsoon season all over the Indian subcontinent receiving nearly 75% of its rainfall during this period. Then the choice of trays to lay the flowers was also exciting. Every day I loved arranging my flowers in a different plate, I had square plates, porcelain round plates, small plastic plates for the days I did not get many flowers and large steel plates for days I had gathered a bounty of flowers. Simple joys but I still remember it felt so good to have a good collection of flowers to offer to our dear lady. Roses were the pick of the crop and I would do anything to get a beautiful rose from the neighbours who had a beautiful rose garden. The rose was the flower that took the centre stage and no other flower was good enough to take that place.

And so, the hibiscus (they were so many beautiful colours and varieties those days, we had three varieties in our own garden), chrysanthemums, the marigold, dahlias, zenias and the mitai flowers (they were beautiful yellow bell shaped flowers). One thing I remember is that I felt sad when I could not gather a rose for the centre of my plate and mind you there were many days when there was no rose in sight. On the days there was no rose, it was a battle even to go to church simply because my plate felt incomplete without that rose in the centre. I also remember expressing this sadness to my mum and my mum would say “amchya Moriek kanchim pullam jathath putha, aaslim pullam puro” (my dear, our lady is happy with any flowers, the flowers you have are just enough). I did feel better to get that acknowledgement from my mum.

Once the flowers were laid on the tray, I would dress up and I was ready to go to church, say around 6.30 pm. I had my usual group that I would go with and we all met just outside the gate of my house. We walked to the church which took us approximately 30 minutes, making sure that we did not drop the flowers. There were times when the entire tray would flip, and it was a mad rush to put the flowers back on and off we would walk again. This ritual started on 30 August and lasted for nine days and on the 8th of September, I would gather more special flowers if I could and go to church. This eighth (8th) day of September was a day (it still is) of the feast of the Nativity of our Blessed Virgin Mary and is celebrated with devotion. This was the day which had special celebrations at the church in honour of Mother Mary and most of the parishioners would gather to celebrate the birth of Mary. During the mass fresh vegetables, grains and fruits were offered to celebrate the harvest.

Arriving at the church, we would whisper between ourselves about the kobu (sugarcane) that we would get after the mass and we could not contain our excitement at receiving that kobu (sugarcane). Simple childhood pleasures stay fresh in my mind even as of today.

The holy Eucharistic mass would start pretty much on time and the parish priest blessed the new rice paddy and took it in a procession inside the church. After the mass we would go to the grotto outside the church and offer some special prayers to Mother Mary followed by the traditional hymn “Sakkad Sangatha Melya sakkad lagi saryam aamche thale yek karyam Moriyek Hogalsiyam” during which time all the children offered flowers and venerated the statue of Mother Mary. The first blessed harvest was distributed to all the attendees after the thanksgiving mass.

Now comes the most exciting part of the day and that is the receiving of kobu (sugarcane) for which we had to queue up just outside the hall. Once we got the kobu, we would go home happy to continue the celebrations with some traditional food.

My mum would prepare a variety of vegetarian delicacies from locally grown vegetables. Meat and alcohol were avoided on this day however today we make many non-vegetarian dishes too. We would normally have anywhere between 9 to 11 vegetables preparations namely sheviyo roce (vermicelli noodles with coconut milk sweetened with jaggery), pathrodes (a steamed savoury cake prepared with colocasia leaves and ground rice, which is then cut into little squares and cooked in a coconut based curry), allu dento curry (colocasia leaves and stalk coconut curry), sprouted moong curry, gosalim thel piyav (ridged gourd dry dish), snake beans thel piyav, bhendi thel piyav, Karumb (cucumber salad) and to finish off nicely a delicious dessert called Vorn (rice pudding). The blessed rice paddy was powdered and added to either the sheviyo roce or vorn and every member of the family would partake in this new harvest.

These thanksgiving celebrations take place in Australia also and every state has their own celebrations to mark the feast of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Monthi Fest. It is a well- attended celebration and a lot of planning goes behind making this day special for all the Catholics living in and around each state. The cultural programs following these celebrations are also unforgettable.

8th of September is also a significant day for me and for my husband as our son was born on 8 September. We strongly believe in Mother Mary and know she is there watching over us every day. We thank Mother Mary for the plentiful blessings showered upon us every day.

Happy Monthi Fest to all!

Lavina with Deliciously Indian

Hi, I’m Catherine!

I’m all about creating tasty Indian dishes with whatever’s on hand, even when I’m short on time or budget. I love turning simple ingredients into flavorful delights. Join me on this culinary adventure where we’ll explore the magic of Indian cuisine, one delicious dish at a time!

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