December 2, 2020
My parents and I live in Muscat. Every year we plan to celebrate the much-awaited festival, the “Vodlem Festh” – the Parish Feast at our native place in Shankerpura, Udupi which keeps us closer to our religion and tradition.
The feast falls on the fourth week of December every year and is closely followed by Christmas and New Year. So, we look forward to celebrating these three events at our native place. The ‘’Vodlem Festh’’ carries a significant message from one generation to the next, particularly for those who are settled abroad. They make plans and schedule their trips so that they don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to attend this feast. It gives a chance to reminisce about the beautiful childhood memories and catch up with friends and families. Since I have spent my childhood in Salalah and Muscat, I never had a chance to experience the community festivities in my native place in Mangalore.
Of late, I have realized that village community festivals give us an ecstatic sense of enjoyment, relaxation and offer time needed to bond with family members whom we meet rarely.
The Annual Parish Feast is celebrated with fervour and devotion with large number of people from all different religions partaking in the celebrations. Prior to the Annual Feast, there is a procession of the Blessed Sacrament called ‘Kompricho Aithar’ (Confraternity Sunday). In this procession, people light candles and sing hymns accompanied with the brass band. The celebrations include the ‘Besp’ which takes place on a Tuesday followed by the ‘festh’ on Wednesday.
The most exciting day, the ‘Besp’ (Holy Vespers) is celebrated in the evening. It is a grand celebration and the most enjoyable part is meeting after the mass where people share great memories. This is a unique opportunity to those who have settled abroad and been away from family and friends.
At the Church premises, there is a fair called ‘Saanth’ where people enjoy eating ice cream, children buying toys, jewelry and savory snacks like jalebis, halwa, Mangalore macaroons, ‘thambde gulle’ and so on. The cosmetic stalls are a special attraction for the children and the youth. Elders visit the stalls selling religious articles like rosaries, religious books and calendars (Catholic Panchang) etc. In the eatery stalls, delicious Gobi Manchurian, corn and charmuri is served. My most favourite item is the masala corn which is served hot and sugarcane juice. They also sell watermelon and lemon juice to quench the thirst.
The Ferris wheel is the limelight of the event. What makes it different is that it is manually driven by the operators and it is much more thrilling than the automatic Ferris wheel. The ride begins to start out slowly and gradually catches up speed and moves around faster and faster and finally slows down. People are heard screaming loudly with every passing minute and this is quite enthralling. It entertains people from all age groups and brings in the real festive mood. The Youth Committees are very enthusiastic and pro-active in organizing different kinds of games for entertainment and participation which in turn helps raise funds for various church activities and social causes. In all parishes, there would be a display of fireworks ‘Daaru Laschi’ which is a thrilling sight for the people gathered around there. The fireworks and church events are mainly sponsored by the ‘Phirjenth’ (Sponsor for the feast).
On Wednesday, the feast day, the grand mass begins at 10 am which is attended by people of various neighbouring places. People light candles and offer prayers to the Patron Saint, St John the Evangelist and meet and greet people at the church premises.
Celebrations at Home
At home, the celebration is an open invitation to all relatives and friends. On the previous day, the food is prepared at home with all the family members pitching in which includes various kinds of delicacies such as Pork, a must-have dish in Mangalore and other meat dishes with sannas. My grandmother would tell me that she used to use coconut toddy to ferment the rice dough for sannas which gives it a distinctive flavor. They still use it, I am told, wherever toddy is available. Relatives and friends never fail to pay us a visit to share their warmth and love.
Currently, with the pandemic going on, we cannot say if we will be able to visit our native place and enjoy the festivities this year. There would be restrictions on large gatherings at the church but we are keeping the festive spirit in our mind and we pray to our Patron Saint, St John to overcome this pandemic situation and give us an opportunity to meet our loved ones in the near future.