Karaga- a festival of bonding

The tower is all decked up- red,yellow white blooms mostly roses and chrysanthemum. The drab tower-the mantapa besides the Sampangi lake has got a new meaning today.  It is no longer a forgotten place, dusty and strewed with plastics. Today it is washed, decorated and shining. After all it has a major role to play in the annual festival of Karaga when Draupadi visits town.

karaga-mantapa
The Karaga mantapa

A bit about Bangalore Karaga

“Come back mother, don’t desert us,’ said the Veerakumaras. They were ready to lay down their lives for her. But Draupadi, their mother did not melt. She had just defeated Timarasura, a demon who had dared to tease and insult her and was in no mood to relent. Troubled by the demon,she had implored her husbands to help but they were too far away to hear her cries. So she took it upon herself to defeat the demon. She took her majestic form, created warriors from various parts of her body-the Veerakumaras were created from her shoulders and won the battle. Now she wanted to go back to heaven. Her sons seeing this, started hitting themselves over the chest with swords and begged her to give them a purpose, show them the way. Seeing their cries, she relented and said,’  I will come back to earth for three days and stay with you every year.’. This in essence is the Karaga festival when the goddess comes to town. And the whole Pete – [Avenue Road-City Market lanes and by lanes] wears a festive look.

Thigala community
The community relating the story

The Karaga celebration:

All the action begins from the Dharamaraya temple, in the city. Dharamaraya is the eldest of the Pandava brothers. The festivities are started off by hoisting a yellow flag in the temple courtyard. The communities involved in the festival tie sacred thread around the flag and themselves for the festival to proceed without any hiccups. The days following this will see homes being cleaned, food being cooked in new pots;the priest leading the Karaga taking holy baths at sites dedicated for this purpose, arati by women , exhibition of martial arts …

dharmaraya temple
Dharmaraya temple where action begins 

On the seventh day of the festivities the Karaga mantapa has the holy pot Karaga kept inside it. The pot is made from the sediment of Sampangi tank nearby, then donned with red cloth,jewelry and kept inside the mantapa along with a stick and a knife. Prayers and chants abound the place, burning of camphor, the veerakumars hitting  themselves on the chest- amidst all this the power of goddess Draupadi descends down on the Karaga bearer.

draupadi along with pandavas at a kalyani
Draupadi along with pandavas at a kalyani

The Karaga bearer is no ordinary man. He has been selected carefully, his physical and mental strength carefully gauged. The selected person is made to run with a gunny bag of salt sack at night. He would also have been  trained and certified competent by the local wrestling house or garadi mane.

When the time is right the bearer who feels the power of Draupadi, lifts the Karaga or the pot and holds the stick in left hand and dagger in the other hand. The procession led by the bearer,a throng of devotees and Veerakumaras slowly make their way  towards the Dharamaraya temple. The Karaga is placed inside the temple’s sanctum. Next day  Pongal is prepared by women in the temple, stories are recited, offerings are made. The following day is a full moon. On this day, Draupadi is married to Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers.The Karaga bearer dresses up as a female, wears a saree, dons bangles and flowers. It is believed that the power of Draupadi can only be received by a female but carrying the force can only be done by a man. Thus the priest or the bearer is a married man.

Draupadi is now married to Arjuna in the temple premises. The Karaga bearer thus wears a mangala sutra -the wedding chain of his wife . Carrying the Karaga on his head he passes through streets and petes Doddapet, Cottonpet, Balepete, Kumbarapet visting temples and the dargah of Tawakal Mastaan. The Karaga later heads back to Dharmaraya temple. Shrines in the Pete come out with their chariots and take colorful processions. Devotees worship these deities, offering flowers, burning camphor and prostrating before the deity. Drum beats often accompany these processions. People often throw yellow bananas with a flower at one end towards  the chariots.  Most often these chariots gather at the city market.

car-processions

Two more days of sacrifice, fun and frolic and the 11 day festival of Karaga ends. The communities that fasted, prayed and participated feel the loss of the goddess who had stayed with them for three days and returned back. But they console themselves saying ‘ she will return back. After all she is our mother.’

goddess worshiped at various places
goddess worshiped at various places at Pete

For more information refer the book ‘Landscapes of Urban Memory’ by Smriti Srinivasa

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