Celebrating good harvest

Celebrating good harvest

In coastal Karnataka, as the southwest monsoon recedes by the end of August, harvesting season begins. One of the festivals celebrated in this month by the Konkani community is Monti Fest. Monti Fest celebrates the nativity of blessed Virgin Mary and the new harvest. Novena, a nine-day preparation for the feast, commences from August 30.

Early in 16th century, the Portuguese conquered Goa and set up habitations in the surrounding Konkan areas too. They built the beautiful Our Lady of the Rosary Church near the Old Mangalore Port, also called the Factory Church, now known as ‘Rosario’ in Mangaluru.   

During the nine-day celebrations, children gather flowers from the surroundings of their homes (now from markets) and carry them to the church in pretty little baskets. After prayers, they gather around the decorated statuette of Infant Mary and shower it with flowers singing a special hymn in Konkani called Sekked Sangatha Melian (Let us all gather together) in the yard of the church.

The feast day, i.e., September 8, is an important day for all Konkani Catholics everywhere. A festive mass is celebrated in the Parish churches, the new rice paddy sheaves are brought to the church in a procession by the gurkars (leaders) along with sugarcane, fruit and vegetables and solemnly blessed by the priest. Later, the blessed crop (nove) is distributed among  adults, while children get sugarcane pieces.

The social focus of this unique festival draws a parallel to local traditions of the ancient Kannadiga farming community of the coastal region, and the harvest meal partaken in the family home by as many members as possible is special. It is always entirely a purely vegetarian fare.

Most of the dishes prepared during this fest utilise the locally-available veggies like gosale (furrow gourd), alsando (long beans), benda (okra), karatte (bitter gourd), dantu (stem of spinach), ambate (hog plum), thoshe (cucumber), chene (black Bengal gram) and so on. Coconut is widely used in all the preparations and forms the base for a majority of festive culinary preparations.

The nove is crushed and sprinkled on all the dishes. A special mix of coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom with the nove is offered to all the devotees after a solemn prayer of thanksgiving. In the evening, married couples visit elders’ homes, where they are offered shevio rice (rice noodles with cardamom-flavoured coconut sweet milk), again sprinkled with the nove.

Over the years, Monti Fest has grown into a global observance event among larger Kanara communities in the Gulf countries, Canada, US, UK, Australia and Africa. It is also evolving as a link between the communities that celebrate such traditions.

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