Mahalaya Amavasya – A Day to Appease the Deceased

Mahalaya Amavasya, which is just a public holiday to some residents of Kudla, is a day of great significance to others. It is the last day of the Pitru Paksha, also known as Mahalaya, the dark fortnight dedicated to making offerings of food and water to the deceased members of one’s family. The last day of this dark fortnight is called Mahalaya Amavasya, a special day that comes just before the Navarathri.

The Philanthropic Karna

Karna, the great warrior and philanthropist of the Mahabharata, is known for his generosity. He donated a lot of wealth and gave generously to charity. When he died and went to heaven, he was rewarded with gold and precious stones. But he did not receive any food.

When he asked Yama, the god of death, the reason for this, Yama (Indra, the king of gods, in some versions of the same legend) told him that he was being punished for not making any offerings to his ancestors. Karna replied that he did not do so because he did not know who his ancestors were. He also requested to be allowed to return to earth for a fortnight so that he could make the required offerings. This fortnight came to be known as Pitru Paksha.

The Belief System

Here is a set of beliefs associated with Pitru Paksha:

  1. Believers say that offerings made during Pitru Paksha benefit the souls of all deceased souls, irrespective of whether they are related to the person making the offerings.
  2. According to the Hindu texts, the souls of three generations of ancestors reside in Pitru Loka, a place sandwiched between earth and heaven. Yama, the presiding deity of death, rules over Pitru Loka. Only the souls of three generations of ancestors can reside in this place. When a member of the new generation dies, the first generation is granted entry into heaven. During Pitru Paksha, offerings are made to the souls of ancestors residing in Pitru Loka.
  3. Hindus make offerings of food and water to their deceased ancestors during Pitru Paksha. If they forget or don’t find time to do so, they can consider Mahalaya Amavasya as their last opportunity to make offerings. Mahalaya Amavasya is dedicated to all deceased ancestors, a sort of common death anniversary.
  4. The offerings are usually made by the eldest son of the family or a male relative belonging to the paternal side of the family.
  5. The offerings are cooked in special silver or copper utensils and served in leaf cups or on banana plates. Believers usually serve kheer, wheat porridge, rice, dal, spring beans, and gourd to their deceased ancestors.
  6. Since Pitru Paksha is considered to be inauspicious, believers do not make any purchases on those days.

The Rite

The eldest male member of the house performs the rites after taking a purifying bath and changing his sacred thread. He offers pindas (balls of barley flour and sesame seeds or cooked rice) during the ceremony and worships Vishnu.

He then serves the offerings to the deceased ancestors on banana leaf plates or leaf cups on the roof or terrace of the house. When a crow eats the offering, it is considered as accepted by the deceased ancestors. This is because crows are believed to be either messengers of Yama or spirits of ancestors. The family eats only after a crow pecks at the offering on the terrace.

Some families recite the Bhagavata Purana and the Bhagavad Gita and/or donate to charity on this day.

Mahalaya Amavasya

Biswarup Ganguly (GFDL), CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Concept of Pitr Dosha

Pitr Dosha is a curse you invite on yourself if you fail to appease the deceased members of your family. Hindus believe that their failure to make offerings to deceased ancestors angers them. Deceased ancestors will bless them with success and prosperity only if they please them with tarpan (offerings) every year.

How will you find out if you have Pitr Dosha?

If you have Pitr Dosha, you may be facing one or many of the following problems:

  • You are never successful in anything you do irrespective of how hard you work.
  • You suffer from chronic diseases that do not respond to medical treatment.
  • You have no success in your business or career.
  • Your married life is full of strife and misery.
  • You remain childless although you have been married for several years.
  • You keep losing your wealth and property.

There is only one way to get rid of Pitr Dosha—make offerings to the manes and appease them. That’s why you have Mahalaya Amavasya.

Featured Image Credit: By Krish Dulal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Monti Fest in Kudla

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Monti Fest or the Nativity of Mary, is a popular festival in Mangalore. Celebrated on September 8 every year, it is believed to be the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Birth of Mary  

An apocryphal text, “Protoevangelium of James,” gives an account of Mary’s birth. Written in the second half of the second century, the text mentions St. Joachim and St. Anne as the parents of Mary. The book says that Mary’s parents were wealthy, but unhappy about being childless.

But neither the “Protoevangelium of James” nor any other apocryphal text talks about the actual birth place of Mary. While some mention Jerusalem as her birthplace, others say that she was born in Nazareth. Since her father was a rich man, he could have had houses in both places.

History of the Festival

A hymn dated somewhere in the sixth century makes the earliest mention of this festival. According to this hymn, the festival could have originated either in Palestine or Syria in the early sixth century.

The first mass associated with the Nativity was celebrated at the present Church of St. Anne, located in Jerusalem. This church was constructed in the fifth century as a Marian basilica at a place called Shepherd’s Pool, where Mary’s parents were believed to have lived. The Byzantines first celebrated the birthday of Mary in the seventh century.

In Mangaluru, Fr. Joachim Miranda, a Catholic priest from Goa, initiated the Monti Fest in 1763 at the Monte Mariano Church in Farangipet. The pages of history reveal that Tippu Sultan, who destroyed churches and held the Catholics of Canara captive, did not harm Monte Mariano Church out of respect for the friendship between Fr. Joachim Miranda and Hyder Ali. The festival is called Monti Fest in Kudla because it was initiated at the Monte Mariano Church, located on the banks of the Nethravathi, some three centuries ago.

How Catholics Celebrate Nativity

The Nativity is especially popular among the winegrowers of France, who call it the Feast of Our Lady of the Grape Harvest. They pick bunches of the best grapes, bring them to the local church, and decorate the statue of Mary with grapes. French believers cook delicious meals, which include these new grapes.

The people of Goa and Mangalore celebrate this festival as a harvest festival. They carry the harvest of fruits, vegetables, and grains to the church, where it is blessed and distributed among the poor. They cook delicious meals and have them with the new grain.

Monti Fest in Kudla

The Catholics of Kudla hold this festival in high esteem and celebrate it in a special way.

Family Festival: Catholic families get together to feast on the new grain. The new grains, previously blessed in church, are powdered, mixed with milk, and served to the entire family. They call it “Novem Jevnche,” which literally means “feasting on the new.”

Harvest Festival: The farmers have harvested the season’s fruits, vegetables, and grains. They take these gifts of nature to the church and offer them to God. The harvest is blessed, the surplus vegetables and fruits distributed among the needy or auctioned off to raise funds for public welfare, and the ears of rice grains are distributed among the parishioners. These rice grains are used to prepare the special milk-rice drink mentioned above.

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Birthday of Mary: Parishioners celebrate the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on this day. A statue of infant Mary is carried in a colorful procession to church and children offer flowers. Catholics call it “phulam udovchem,” which literally means “throwing flowers.” In fact, Catholic kids literally throw flowers at the statue of infant Mary.

Feast of the Girl Child: September 8 is an opportunity to remind people of the importance of women in society. On this day, crimes against women, especially female infanticide and feticide, are condemned and awareness is created on women’s empowerment.

Thanksgiving Feast: There are plenty of things to be grateful for on September 8. Catholics express their gratitude to God for giving them a loving family, a rich harvest, and a fruitful life. They especially thank God for giving them Mother Mary, through whom the Savior came into this world.

Catholics celebrate by wearing new clothes, offering flowers, cooking delicious vegetarian meals, and spending quality time with friends and family members. They share mouthwatering sannas (a soft variety of idli) and vorn (a sweet dish made of split green gram) with their non-Catholic neighbors.

September 8 is a grand opportunity to rest, relax, and unwind, to express gratitude for all the wonderful things of life, to strengthen bonds with neighbors, family members, and friends, to appreciate the girl child, and of course, to eat sugarcane and vorn.