Eleven days of fervour

Eleven days of fervour

Eleven days of fervour

Karaga is an annual 11-day festival that takes place in the month of April. In Bengaluru, this is held at the Dharmaraya Swamy Temple on Avenue Road in Bengaluru. Built to embody Dharmaraya (Yudishtira), his brothers and Draupadi, the temple’s festival is performed by one of the City’s oldest communities – Tigala, also known as Vahni Kula Kshatriyas. The festival entails a procession of these gods from mythology and the priest dancing in their honour all around the old boundary of the City.

Counting contributions

The Tigala community has traditionally been into occupations like kitchen gardening, agriculture and floriculture. Houdagiri Ramachandrappa, one of the trustees of the temple and an expert on Tigala history, opines that they were very good at detecting land with good water tables. They had resided in the land around the Dharmaraya Temple, Cubbon Park and Sampangi Kere (tank bed).

It is said that King Haider Ali Khan, who  ruled Mysore from 1761 to 1782, took the help of Tigala community in developing  Lalbagh gardens in Bengaluru. Today, many plant nurseries in and around Siddapura and Lalbagh are run by the Tigalas. Some of them have even been successfully turned gardening into big businesses. Their other traditional occupation, kitchen gardening, has been lauded by none other than Sir Mirza Ismail, Dewan of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom. In a speech at Dharmaraya Temple in 1938, he lauded the community by saying that they had rendered a huge service to the City since they had grown and supplied vegetables to the City for a long time.

Worshippers
As for their customs, the Tigalas worship Draupadi. This community believes they belong to the ‘Vahni’ or ‘Agni’ clan of warriors. One theory is that they liken themselves to the Rajputs who trace their mythological roots to the earliest fire rituals held at Mt Abu. In South India, it is believed that King Janamejaya (Arjuna’s great grandson) prepared for the huge fire sacrifice near Bannerghatta.

Ramachandrappa says that the temple and the community is much older than the City. The temple itself can be historically dated to more than 800 years ago. He adds that the City’s founder, Kempegowda I, renovated and expanded the temple and created an area around it for the Tigala community to reside in his brand new fort city, Bengaluru.

So, what is Karaga exactly? “Karaga simply means without using hands (ka), balancing on the head (ra) and moving (ga),” defines M D Prakash, secretary of the Akhila Karnataka Thigalara Kshemabhivrudhi Sangha, Rajajinagar Chapter. There is a mythological story behind it. At the end of the era when Pandavas went up the Himalayas for their ascent to heaven, there was still one demon Timirasura, who troubled Draupadi when she lagged behind her husbands. She created from her power, veerakumaras, who killed the demon.

As she ascended to heaven, her sons, veerakumaras, were distraught and wanted her to stay back with them. So, she promised them that she would come back to earth once a year to visit and stay with them. The homecoming of Draupadi is the essence of Karaga. While the temple is named after her husband, Dharmaraya, the community worships the wife, Draupadi as the primordial energy or fire from which came everything else.

The itinerary
The festival starts on the sixth day of Chaitra, the first month of Hindu calendar with a symbolic dhwajarohana (flag hoisting). While there are rituals everyday, the colourful festivities start from the sixth day of flag hoisting. Women and children carry beautiful flower-decked aratis to the temple. The menfolk perform various kinds of martial arts on the sixth day.

The eighth day marks the festival called Hasi Karaga or Patchai Karagam. The Sampangi tank bed becomes the sacred area. Amid rituals and the sword wielding dances by veerakumaras, the priest enters the sacred area and lifts the richly bedecked holy pot made from the tank sediment — the Hasi Karaga. He now embodies Draupadi or Shakti — the divine female power. The priest is in a devotional frenzy and the procession slowly moves towards the temple, where she is consecrated.

The culmination of the devotional frenzy happens the following night. Under the protection of veerakumaras, the priest who embodies Draupadi is decorated with a very long floral headdress that contains the holy pot — Shakti. ‘She’ dances her way through the thoroughfares of the old city. The procession starts from the Dharmaraya Temple and touches all the corners of the old fort area of Bengaluru from Yelahanka Gate to City Market and Cottonpet. An interesting feature that occurs is the exchange of lemons with one of the oldest Dargah in town, the Tawakkal Mastan Dargah, marking brotherhood across religions.

The procession of the dancing priest, the sword-wielding dance of veerakumaras and the devotees who flock to catch a glimpse of the goddess, is a sight to behold, especially from roofs of tall buildings in the old City. The eleventh day marks the end of the festivities with Vasanthotsava, when many old games are played with much fun and fanfare. The flag is brought down marking the closure of Karaga festival.

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