Mother Mary of Bandra

Bandra — Mumbai’s “Queen of the Suburbs” — celebrates life ever so often at myriad festivals. The weeklong “Bandra Fair” that begins on the Sunday following September 8 conjures up a heady, hearty dose of faith, fun and fanfare for many Mumbaikars. Irrespective of class, creed or caste, they congregate to celebrate the birthday of one of Bandra’s mothers, Mary, implored by the title: Mother of God.

We imbibe faith with our mother’s milk. I was born and bred in Bandra. My Goenkar mother narrated how Saibinn Mai, Mary, miraculously and meticulously ministered to all her children, worldwide. And being enshrined atop “Mount Mary’s” nearby, her maternal mantle more selectively and securely embraced Bandraites. How lucky, I mused!
Mum explained that some fisherman found the miraculous statue of Mary and her infant, Jesus, some 300 years ago on the frothy Arabian Sea that washes the feet of Mount Mary. “We’ve celebrated Mary’s Feast and Bandra Fair ever since”, she concluded.
Family visits to Mary’s Basilica are unforgettable. Come September, we’d faithfully do the “novena” prayers before the feast, my bouncy boyish steps racing to Mount Mary’s. Swamped in a sea of sweaty Marian bhaktas I’d prod and push for a darshan of Mother Mary. Armed with candles, rosaries and malas, thousands thronged Mary’s shrine. I’d struggle to touch her feet and shower her with flying kisses — fervently praying that dad would be propitious to my tummy’s needs during the descent through the Bandra Fair.
Catholics are often accused of adoring Mary who is but a human being, even if perfect. Mindful that devotion to Mary could digress from faith in God, who’s solely to be adored, bhaktas must remember that only of Mary can it be said that, though she’s not a goddess, she is ever Mother of God. A poetic oxymoron, indeed. Of course, God is not born! But Mary gave birth to Jesus whom Christians believe to be God.
The veneration of Mary mystifies many. Why is Mary so globally loved? When a woman who’s not a Christian was asked, “Why do you pray to Mary?” she replied: “Because Mary has child Jesus in her arms; so, she understands the ups and downs that I, her child, face!”
Mata cults are immensely popular in India. Durga, Kali, Parvati and glorious village goddesses adorn the Hindu pantheon. Each of them, like Mary, symbolises a dimension of the Divine that we desire to possess, but which is — at least, here and now — beyond our reach. Thus, like the up and down of Mount Mary, or the ebb and flow of the Arabian Sea hemming it, we journey “godward” assisted by spiritual symbols, godly guideposts and mystical maps that illumine our pilgrim pathways. Mary is one such that reveals the tender, comforting, reassuring “feminine face” of God.
Mata fare and Bandra Fair marry heaven with earth. Indeed, matas and melas go hand-in-glove. Interestingly, Mount Mary sees pilgrims stopping along its gentle slope to admire the residences of Bollywood’s Rekha and Shah Rukh Khan — demigods of yesterday and today. Though stardust entices one to remain rooted downhill, the prudent pilgrim will trudge uphill to venerate the “Star of the Sea”, Mary.
Mary’s litany of titles embraces coincidenta oppositorum, the “combination of opposites”. How is Mary both, mother and virgin? How come she is Mother of God and humankind’s mother? Mary is mother because even though unmarried she said, “Yes, Lord!” when told: “God’s Spirit will overshadow you… and the child to be born will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Unwaveringly obedient to God’s will, she ever remained virgin with her undivided attention firmly focused on God: “I am God’s servant”, said she, “Let it be with me according to God’s word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary does not point to herself, but to God. “Do as Jesus tells you!” (John 2:5) she once instructed waiters when wine had run out at a wedding feast at Cana and her son, Jesus, worked his first miracle. It’s unlikely that the wine will run out in Bandra during this September Fest. But, faith, hope and love might. So, enjoying melas, let’s listen to matas who reveal that God is passionately tender, unfailingly protective and graciously healing. Lead us, Mata Miriam, through melas and yatras to God’s eternal abode!

— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of
Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples’ initiatives for
fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be
contacted at fragons@gmail.com

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