Thursday 13 September 2012

My Brush with God at Bandra Fair

When a volunteering colleague -'Ze German' - offered to show me around Bandra Fair last night, I of course said yes please.  I was so keen because I assumed such a fair would be showcasing wonderful Indian handicrafts and delicious local foods.  I also had in mind that the air would be filled with the sounds of native music and the laughter of children - in fact I envisaged the atmosphere of a lovely German Christmas market, of which I have been to many (minus the snow of course).  I couldn't have been more wrong.

Bandra Fair is actually more properly known as Mount Mary Fair - which unbeknown to me is an eight day Christian 'pilgrimage' from the bottom of Mount Mary Road up to the top where Mount Mary Church is situated.  Apparently this annual festival is visited by up to a million people during the eight days from 8th September - which bearing in mind the narrow streets and the already over-burdened and badly managed traffic, makes it hell for people living in the vicinity of Bandra. And 'Pilgrimage' is probably overdoing it a bit - I would describe is more as a light 30 minute upward stroll.  Proper pilgrimages surely involve wearing cloth sacks and very little on your feet whilst traipsing across land and sea for months, maybe years, just to say 'hello' to a representation of Jesus or Mary?

Very disappointingly the sides of Mount Mary Road were not lined with beautiful stalls selling local  handicrafts or Indian foods but instead (and even worse for a non-religious person such as myself) contained stall after stall after stall selling nothing but candles.  But not even pretty candles of different colours and scents.... just a load of white ones, in bizarre shapes such as a horse, human leg or head!  I was trying to work out if you are supposed to buy all the body parts and then somehow fuse them together to 'make your own effigy'...? But nobody on the 'stroll' seemed to be purchasing anything so I couldn't tell. And as per usual, Ze German and I were constantly hassled by street kids all the way to the top trying to sell us small candles and marigold posies.

Mount Mary Fair - stall after stall of white candles - mostly body parts such as legs and heads.
In terms of the 'experience' all was not lost.  After marching German style to the top (good to have German friends, they keep you fit), I saw Mount Mary Church (otherwise known as 'Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount') for the first time.  It was impressive looking and beautifully lit up and actually looked very Christmassy.  In fact I didn't really feel like I was in India at all - I was almost transported to Hamburg! Directly opposite is the 'Oratory of Our Lady of Fatima' - a slightly novel looking monument - with 38 symmetrical steps leading up to a 6 foot statue of Fatima.  Again beautifully lit up with many people at the top praying and offering their wax candles to the statue. (aaaaaaah, that's what they're for!).

Gothic Style Mount Mary Church. Must go back when they take down the temporary monsoon roof.
We entered the church which was filled with thousands of visitors (sorry, 'pilgrims').  Everyone was staring up at the statue of Mary and praying whilst I clicked away on my camera.  I was impressed by the multicoloured light show they had going on in Indian!

Everyone was mesmerised by Mary - whilst I was mesmerised by the spectacular light show on the roof of the Church

Inside Mount St Mary Church. Mass for the Masses.

Steps leading up to the top of the Oratory of Our Lady of Fatima

This reminds of something out of the 'Omen' you know what I mean?

errr... my name is Jules?
On the way back from our pilgrimage, I think Ze German and I had been spritually affected by what we saw.  For we took four street urchins under our wing and bought them fresh coconut drinks.  See how they smile!  Blessed are us!!!

Bandra fair is on until 16th September.  Be quick.  Be Godly.

More info here:
My blog on Bandra fair was featured in DNA newspaper today 24th September 2012!!



  1. Beautiful photos - anything worth eating there? Might take a stroll tomorrow evening. :)

    1. Hello 'Anonymous'. Defo nothing worth eating in that section but I think if you go further down towards Mount Carmel Church (back of Lilavati) you will see some stalls selling dodgy street food and loads of tat. Enjoy!

  2. Bandra Fair used to be THE event to look forward to for us as children in the pre-cable TV and Facebook days. The main focus was (still is to an extent) the shrine and the faith of millions. After a visit to the basilica, we'd head down the stone steps buying some religious items and the famous roasted black grams along with the white sugary stuff. Then we'd head to the fair for the ferris wheel and other rides. It was fun with us getting treated to "choco-bar" ice-cream, candy floss and some other junk. Simple times, simple joys! However, in recent years, the commercialisation of the fair like most other festivals and events here has led to it being crass and just annoying. Sad to see childhood memories being reduced to this.

    I'm still heading to the basilica and the fair tomorrow as my kid cousins wanted to go. Let's hope it's not as harrowing as I'm expecting it to be (last day of the fair and it's a Sunday!).

    PS: Those wax offerings are in funny shapes because they signify what the devotees want and are offered to Mary to intercede for them. A body part relates to an affliction of the said part. Similarly, a house or a car signifies a wish for the said property.

    1. Hello J welcome back! Thank you for your great insights. I did read afterwards about the wax body parts and felt slightly foolish that I didn't use my common sense. It's basically like a mini-Lourdes up there! I hope you had a nice time when you went? I made a slight mockery of the event because I am non-religious but I know it's a very important and meaningful event for millions of people.....

  3. I'm not an atheist but I'd be the first one to tell you that these religious events annoy me a great deal. Religion is a personal business and we are free to conduct traditions/rituals/festivals associated with it. But why should they cause inconvenience to others? I wish people were more sensitive to that.

    We did go the basilica and then did a quick round of the fair. The kids got names written on rice grains which were then inserted in capsules and attached to a keychain or a chain that could be worn. Silly, but fun. :)

  4. Great news !!! An excellent British writer (who writes about her Indian experiences) has made it into the Indian tabloids. For those who don't know what I am referring to, please check out today's edition of the DNA newspaper (page 6).

    Good going !!!


    1. Ha ha thanks Percy. And surely not a tabloid but a "top quality local daily"!!



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