“At last I am here. I made it” exclaimed Eliza Saldanha (78), who lives in Navi Mumbai. Mrs Saldanha, ailing with ageing sickness made her way to Mount Mary with the help of the walking stick accompanied by one of her relatives. As the conversation continued, she said “It is difficult to travel at this age. But the memories of youth, the favours I have received are far great than these sicknesses. My effort to reach here is like a drop of water in the mighty ocean of blessings and graces.”
The Basilica of Mount Mary, Bandra stands as an iconic landmark in Mumbai’s Bandra. Throughout the year, devotees flock here with their ‘wish bags’. Like the past, this year too, prayers and services were packed with devotees, all to commemorate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
One can trace the inception of this fair back to 1669 in a Jesuit document that mentions the celebration of Bandra fair. People often called this fair the Second Christmas, and in modern times, it is attended by nearly a million people over eight days.
This year as well, there was a week-long Bandra Fair, starting from September 8 to the following Sunday, attracting all walks of people for the Darshan of Mother Mary. Pilgrims, as they made their way towards the sanctuary and gazed at their loving mother, spoke of how one could feel a sense of peace pervading there. The devotees expressed their faith by offering candles shaped in different forms, presenting their respective ‘wish bags’.
After the spiritual experience, the devotees climbed down towards the eastern steps making their way to the Bandra fair for a social gathering, alms-giving, and merry-making.
The stalls erected within the boundaries of the basilica come under its jurisdiction, all other activity beyond organized and controlled by the local municipal corporation. There were vendors who had been putting up stalls for over 60-70 years. While conversing with them they said that this year the BMC has raised the rate of the stall to Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 12,000 per week. Unlike the past, the crowd is relatively less and the stalls have not been profitable as there is a dip in the market.
The police department played a wonderful role during the days of Feast and Fair. Almost 150 to 200 cops during the day and a 100 at night saw to the smooth functioning of the entire fair. Managing the traffic, seeing to the discipline and the security aspect, the cops were ready at every nook and corner. They were assisted by NSS student volunteers from St. Andrew’s College.
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