Stories that structures tell

vibrant Sri Dharmaraya Swamy Temple in Bengaluru

It is a well-known fact that when the city of Bengaluru was formed, there were four towers or Kempegowda gopuras that were designated as the outer boundaries of the city. However, given the pace at which the city has grown since then, the significance of these four towers today is more symbolic than anything else. But, did you know that these towers were built in the four corners with the Sri Dharmaraya Swamy Temple’s tower as the central point? Well, this is indeed a revelation and also a testimony to the fact that this legendary temple has been central to the existence and development of the city.

Tucked away in the midst of K R Market, this temple is dedicated to the Pandavas and Draupadi, but is named after Yudhishthira, the eldest brother. The department of archaeology has certified the temple to be 800 years old, while some believe that it existed prior to Kempegowda establishing the city. 

Historical importance

However, it is said that the temple was built by the Ganga Arasaru dynasty. The area where the temple stands was earlier known as Kalyanapuri. The temple has influences of the Ganga, Pallava and the Vijayanagara schools of architecture. The present rajagopura or tower of the temple has a distinct Vijayanagara style with a central panel depicting the durbar scene with Lord Krishna, Yudhishthira, Draupadi, Arjuna, Bheema, Nakula and Sahadeva. The vimanagopura is said to be constructed in the Pallava style of architecture.

The garbhagriha or sanctum that bears a Ganga style of construction has deities dedicated to all the five Pandavas as well as Draupadi apart from Lord Krishna and Goddess Adi Shakti. The main pillars of the temple, the primitive style of the garuda kamba and intricate carvings in the interiors are a testimony to the fact that the temple is one of the most ancient in the city. The sculptures on the pillars are that of the holy bull, fish, apsaras and several other mythical figures. Apart from the main temple, there are temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Muthyalamma on either side of the main structure.

Apart from being a temple of historical importance, the Dharmaraya Swamy Temple is also a significant religious place, as it serves as the starting point for the Karaga festival. One of the oldest and famous festivals of Bengaluru, Karaga is a celebration by the people of the Thigala community, and the word Karaga means bearing the deity on the head. It is believed to be the homecoming of Draupadi and is celebrated on the day of Chaithra Poornima each year.

The festival is marked by an 11-day-long period of detailed rituals, an ode to Draupadi, whom the Thigalas worship as an ideal woman. It is believed that during this time, Draupadi descends from heaven and stays for three days with the community. The men of the community are considered to be warriors or veerakumaras of Draupadi’s army and one of them is selected to be the carrier of the Karaga.

The Karaga is a tall floral pyramid which is a colourful spectacle. The carrier dresses up in feminine clothing, and balances the Karaga precariously on his head. The contents of the pot that is carried have always remained a secret. On the day of the festival, a procession starts at midnight from the temple and moves through the streets surrounded by the veerakumaras protecting the Karaga. The carrier goes to the houses of the veerakumaras where the deity is worshipped before returning to the temple at dawn.

This festival that is celebrated with pomp and glory, is also known for its pluralistic nature with the procession stopping at the Dargah of Hazrat Tawkal Mastan before returning to the temple.

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