The annual Gunadala Mary Matha fest got off to a colourful start on Wednesday with devotees thronging the Mother's shrine in multitudes to be part of the special prayers offered on the occasion.

Vijayawada Catholic Diocese Bishop Mallavarapu Prakash formally inaugurated the annual carnival in the morning. The sprawling campus of Bishop Grassy High School, the main entrance point to reach the shrine atop the hill, witnessed frenzied activity. Security personnel posted at the venue to ensure smooth flow of devotees in and out of the shrine, kept a hawk's vigil on the floating population.

The winding pathway to the grotto, painstakingly carved out of the hill bustled with families climbing up the hill with great devotion. Many devotees bring their infant babies to the fest to seek the Mother's blessings. The Gunadala carnival, which became a Diocesan fest in 1937, attracts people of all faiths. Besides Christians, a large number of people following other religions also head to this place, which is said to be wielding a healing power.

Many come here to have their heads tonsured. They break coconuts at the shrine and join the queue heading to the grotto on the hillock to light candles.

On the first day, the holy mass was conducted by Bishop Mathew Cherian Kunnal. Special prayers in the chapel at the foothill, a procession in the lanes and by lanes of Gunadala, religious songs and a kolatam were other highlights. Jubilation Parish Priests and silver jubilee fathers B. Lurdhu Francis and B. Papireddy, Rector of the shrine Monsieur M. Chinnappa, Chancellor J. John Raju and Director of the Social Service Centre M. Prasad participated in the holy mass. Members of the Gunadala choir group kept the element of faith intact by singing through the day songs eulogising the Mother's grace.

Constant guidelines by the organisers on the public address system with regard to the dos and don'ts helped keep discipline in the vicinity.

Meanwhile, all other short-cuts leading to the shrine wore a festive look. Dotted with vendors selling sweets, snacks, toys, footwear, coconuts and other paraphernalia used to offer prayers, the journey towards the shrine is an enchanting one. Outside the shrine, roads teemed with the crowds even as pretty vendors jostled for space and do some quick business.

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