Earlier this year, we just wrapped up our 2013 Mount Mary Bandra Fair and with every year the fair seems to conclude with mixed responses. Every year the fair draws over 8-10 lakh devotes on an average. This year too there were reports on devotees flocking to a count of over 2 lakh in the first two days. But the numbers have declined since then particular in the last closing days which results in a huge spike of cumulative numbers in attendance. for the other days in the week, there was an average of 50,000 daily visitors to the shrine.
Crowds have been declining and are evident from the sales generated by small business owners that setup temporary stalls. This event which is now more than 300 years old has been a crowd puller and the largest turnaround for Catholics in Mumbai – at least during my observations as a child visiting the fair.
Since the fair coincided with Ganesh Chaturti where the instance is frequent on two of these festivals occurring at the same time, the number of devotees and visitors to the shrine has actually shrunk by 30%. This was reported by the Parish priest Rev Fr Ancieto Periera. What could be the possible reasons or perhaps there is an outlier which we are maybe dealing with as number of years go by and the importance or significance of the events is out shadowed by busy lives. Let’s take a peek at some of my observations
Fewer stalls and less entertainment?
This year there were fewer stalls as the BMC gave permits to limited vendors. Also nearly 20 of the stalls were auctioned to outsiders. As for candle stands and individual sellers, they depend on loans and other provisions to setup shop for sales. On an average there were net sales or profits of average Rs 1500 a day from candle sales stands. Due to lower turn out, this has impacted sellers who have taken loans with the aim to recover at least a decent profit from their stalls.
Stall keepers were at a stretch?
This year the stalls were at a great stretch with almost 75% of them selling the same items. Due to this increased competition and increasing the space to avoid overcrowding. BMC and the fair authorities may have achieved the problem of reducing crowd clusters, but this did not correlate well into people participation. Many elders and even frequent visitors to the fair were reported to have just strolling a couple of meters from the church premises and did not proceed further due to this.
This year no different from the others BEST continued its practice of arranging special buses and people have been taking advantage of this facility in huge numbers. Particularly this year the last date of turnout (which accounts for almost 25-30% of the total bandra fair attendance) was very low as BEST observed. It appears people wanted to escape from overcrowding situations. There are several residents that have been coming only because of faith and prayers. But this has been a practice since the start and may not be a likely case of more devotees falling into this category this year. (Maybe with the rising inflation, devotees are following the practice of visiting in pure faith as opposed to participating in the mix of devotion and entertainment though the fair)
As stated earlier there might be more reasons that can explain a likely decline in devotee numbers this year. But given in all circumstances, the tradition that follows a 300 year history will continue for another 300 or more years with this year being an outlier or just noise reported by the authorities to drive more numbers next year. If you have visited the fair this year and have observed anything different that you can correlate as a possible observation, please leave your comments as it will help us look at more instances. Perhaps we can take as set of conclusions to the Archdiocese as they prepare to roll out a stronger 2014 for Mount Mary that we all cherish as Catholics residing or have spent time in Bombay.