Following a lull last year, the crowds are back at the famous Bandra fair.
While more than two lakh devotees thronged the Mount Mary Basilica, Bandra (West), on the first day of the fair, weekdays, too, saw around one lakh visitors a day, according to church authorities.
“Last year, the crowd had shrunk as the fair clashed with the 10-day Ganeshotsav. We had witnessed a 30% drop in the number of visitors then,” said Father Aniceto Periera, vice-rector of the church.
Usually, the fair draws around 10 lakh people every year, not only from the city, but also from nearby places through specially organised tours.
The church is expecting a huge turnout of devotees on Saturday and Sunday. “More people visit the fair on the second weekend of the festival,” said Periera.
Every year, the basilica begins the celebrations for the birthday of Mother Mary with Novenas or nine days of prayer before September 8.
This year, the Novenas began on September 5 and continued till September 13. The feast was celebrated on the first Sunday after September 8, kickstarting celebrations for eight days (also called Octave) that will conclude on September 21.
Monsignor Nereus Rodrigues, rector of the Mount Mary Basilica, said that the special 11.30am mass performed for specific devotees is a huge attraction during the celebrations. “The special mass — conducted in Tamil, Konkani, Gujarati and Marathi on different days —draws devotees from all over the state. Every day, we witness more than 2,000 people attending this mass,” said Rodrigues, adding that the celebrations transcend religious barriers.
“More than 80% of the devotees are from different faiths. We observe the people very closely and, through the manner in which they pray, we are able to recognise who is Catholic and who isn’t. Some of them also make it a point to remove their shows outside the prayer hall. That, too, is a hint,” said Rodrigues.
With the crowds soaring, the police presence has been increased. “We have deployed more women police officers and cops in plainclothes at the venue this time,” said Ramchandra Dhavale, senior inspector of Bandra police station.