Woman power at Draupadamma Karaga

Woman power at Draupadamma Karaga

Woman power at Draupadamma Karaga

Karaga festival is common to many parts of South Karnataka including Bengaluru, Hoskote, Anekal, Kolar and Chikkaballapur. Multiple tales, mostly from the epics and those centred on Draupadi, explain the observance of this Karaga ritual. One story is about Draupadi walking on a bed of coals, wearing yellow clothes and carrying the Karaga on her head. A similar pot was carried on the head by Adishakti, who rescues Draupadi from a demon, in another tale. The reference to the scriptures is upheld to this day. The very name of Karaga brings to mind the picture of a priest in yellow clothes carrying the floral Karaga on the head, with a cane and sword in the hands, walking on coals and narrating the Mahabharata as he walks.

The priest is given moral support by devotees who blow conches, play cymbals and recite prayers in worship of Lord Govinda all through the ritual.

The most unique feature of the festival is in Chikkaballapur, where a woman is a priest for the ritual. Chikkaballapur town was lit up for the Karaga this year, which was the 56th Draupadamma Hoovina Karaga Shaktyutsava (the Shakti Karaga floral festival of Draupadi). This year, after the traditional rituals were performed at the temple, Puttamma, the Karaga priest from Tamil Nadu, came out into the open at around 10.30 pm. Like the male priests, Puttamma was in a turmeric-coloured saree, wearing bangles and carrying the Karaga, cane and sword. The Karaga was decked in jasmine and kanakambara.

The devotees join the priest in the ritual as she comes out of the sanctum sanctorum of the Dharmarayaswami Temple. The Veerakumaras, who accompany the Karaga priest, chant the name of Lord Govinda, matching the beats of the cymbals and the sound of the conches, as they walk alongside the priest. The trio walk all over Chikkaballapur town, from Bhuvaneshwari Circle till Maralusiddeshwara Circle, where a stage welcomes the priest. On this route, the Karaga troupe is normally accompanied by music and dance teams from other districts and states. Performances such as keelu kudure, dollu kunita, pooja kunita and tamate can be seen. The Navadurge, Ashtalakshmi and Aghori performances by the troupes from Andhra Pradesh were the special attractions of this year’s Karaga.

The view of the bold priest with the Karaga and Veerakumaras attracts hundreds of devotees, including those from neighbouring towns and villages. When the priest and the Veerakumaras pass the main roads and cross roads, devotees come forward to offer prayers to the Karaga. The stage is normally surrounded by a large number of people. This year, Puttamma, who stepped up on the stage at Maralusiddeshwara Circle, continued her worship ritual. She carried the floral Karaga and kept her steps in rhythm with the music. The tamate beats and the sound of the instruments kept both the priest and the audience company all through the night, as the Karaga worship went on till 11 am the next day.

“The Indian society has always had umpteen small and big rituals, and festivals that women observe with devotion. There is an equally large number of festivals that celebrate woman as well as her power to give and protect. Yet, a festival that witnesses a woman playing the role of a priest who conducts the ritual is something to sit up and take notice of,” said a senior citizen in Chikkaballapur.

Irappa Halakatti

(Translated by Chitra Phalguni)