Friendship anchors a harvest fest

The Portuguese arrived in Goa in 1510 and began their trade. Their activities, both religious and secular, expanded and soon they landed in Mangaluru. The Portuguese traders used the Netravathi river route for their trade as the river joins the Arabian Sea.

In 1526, some priests of the Franciscan order entered the then South Canara and established three churches around Mangaluru — the Lady of Rosario or Rosario Church in Bolar, close to the confluence of River Netravathi and the Arabian Sea; Our Lady of Mercy at Ullal; and St Francis of Assisi at Farangipet.

When the Portuguese first arrived in Mangaluru, traders among others, the people called them farangi, a local term for foreigners. They settled along the banks of the Netravathi, and the locality in which they lived was called Farangipet or Farangipete, about 15 km from Mangaluru. ‘Pete’ means town or marketplace. It was a Portuguese trade outpost.

Not long after their arrival, the church Monte Mariano was established on a hillock overlooking River Netravathi. Monte Mariano is Portuguese for ‘Mount of Mary’. Today, it incorporates St Fidelis Friary and St Francis Assisi Church. The campus is dotted with coconut trees and areca nut palms.

Monarch & priest

There is a carved wooden statue of St Francis of Assisi, said to be 500 years old. The statue of the saint holds a cross and a Bible. A statue of Infant Mary in the chapel was brought from Italy.

When Hyder Ali conquered the Bednore kingdom in 1763, Fr Joachim Miranda, a Goan, served as the first parish priest here. Hyder Ali sought his favour and asked for his prayers for the success of his military campaigns by making offerings to the church. The priest won the heart and friendship of Hyder Ali. A copper plate given by Hyder Ali authorised the rights of land for worship. 

At the entrance of Monte Mariano is a silver-hued statue of Mary. An inscription at the bottom of the statue reads, ‘At the feet of this statue, the soldiers of Hyder Ali and those of Tipu Sultan were lighting candles.’

It was Fr Miranda who first introduced the Monti Fest, celebrated as a harvest festival. The nativity festival of St Mary, mother of Jesus, was first celebrated at Monte Mariano to coincide with the annual feast of the church. The term monti is derived from the word monte. The harvest festival is a Hindu tradition adopted by Mangalorean Catholics, many of whom were agriculturists.

Nine days before the main feast, people attend the nine-day novena, signifying devotion to St Mary, something similar to the Navaratri. Traditionally, during this period, people opt for only vegetarian fare. Children offer flowers to Mary and sing hymns in her honour.

Revelry 

On the festival day, bunches of newly-harvested paddy stalks are blessed in the church and a sheaf is carried home by every Catholic and symbolically consumed as the first meal of the newly harvested grain. Sugarcane is distributed among children. The new corn is then taken home, de-husked, powdered and served in milk or coconut milk, and jaggery. It signifies the first meal after harvest. 

It is a time-honoured custom to have a vegetarian meal on a banana leaf comprising varieties in odd numbers. These generally include ridge gourd, bitter gourd, string beans, ladies’ finger, gherkins, cucumber, colocasia leaves and stems, and green gram.

These vegetables were popular because they were grown by the people themselves in their fields or garden. Today, urbanites get it from the vegetable market. 

In the past, this fest was celebrated on a grand scale at Monte Mariano. The surrounding parishes also participated in it. Some devotees walked from Mangaluru to Farangipet to participate in it. The fest continues to be celebrated by the Catholics of Mangaluru on September 8. It’s also a feast that unites Mangalureans worldwide. 

Today, Farangipet is a place buzzing with activity along the Bengaluru-Mangaluru highway, but Monte Mariano, just off the main road, continues to be an oasis of calm — verdant, just as it would have been during the days of the Portuguese. And the river Netravathi quietly flows nearby.

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