Thursday, September 07, 2006

by John B. Monteiro
Mangalore: September 7, 2005

Catholics in Tulu Nadu, set to celebrate 'Monti Fest' on September 8, know it is the day of the Nativity feast - the birth of Mary, Mother of Jesus. But, hardly anyone stops to think why it is called 'Monti Fest'. Some research and inquiries with people who should know leads to the conclusion that Monti Fest originated at Farangipet about 240 years ago. Farangipet is home to an ancient Catholic outpost which, at various times, has been, and still is, a church, friary, monastery and seminary. Located on top of a hillock, on the north bank of Netravati River, the official name of the place is Monte Mariano - Mount of Mary. The 'Monti Fest' derives its name, with a little corruption, from 'Monte'. It was here that a Goan secular priest, Fr Joachim Miranda, started this annual new corn feast to coincide with the feast of Nativity. But, Catholics generally are unfamiliar with the Monte Mariano name and call the place 'Covent' (convent). They cannot be faulted because even the RTC, based on ancient land records, notes the owner of the plot as 'Montu Mary Cuvent Devaru.' In 1510, the Portuguese conquered Goa and founded their empire in India. In 1526, some Franciscan priests entered Canara and founded three churches around Mangalore - Lady of Rosary at Bolar, Lady of Mercy at Ullal and St. Francis of Assisi at Farangipet. The last name means foreigner's town ('farangi' + 'pet') because it was a Portuguese trade outpost.Hyder Ali conquered the Bednore Kingdom in 1763 when Fr. Miranda was the parish priest at Farangipet. Hyder Ali sought his favour and asked for his prayers for the success of his military campaigns and also made votive offerings in Monte Mariano Church. However, for his son, Tippu Sultan, Fr Miranda was a problem.He was aware that the priest and Hyder Ali were good friends. Tippu began showing respect for the priest but was determined to capture Catholics and hold them captive in Srirangapatnam. Tippu sought from Fr Miranda information about the British General, Mathew. On his refusal to oblige, Fr Miranda was banished to Tellichery. Incidentally, while Tippu destroyed all churches in Canara, he spared Monte Mariano in deference to his father's friendship with Fr Miranda.That is the Fr Miranda who started the 'Monti Fest.' It is one of the three designated major feasts of Mangalore Diocese - the others being the feasts of St. Lawrence at Karkala and Lady of Pompei at Urva. Until a few decades ago, 'Monti Fest' was celebrated on a grand scale at Monte Mariano, with surrounding parishes too participating. A large number of devotees from Mangalore, including tile manufacturers and coffee planters, footed it out to Farangipet for the feast. All this is faded memory now and so is the origin of 'Monti Fest' - till you read this!