Karaga - The festival of Bangalore

25 images Created 8 Apr 2012

The Karaga is probably the most dramatic festival in the city. It has
a great deal to contribute to the issues of mapping and struggles
over the urban space. The Bengaluru Karaga touches on so many
contemporary issues like environment and communal harmony.
The annual ritual, taking place since the 1800s was started by the
Tigalas, descendants of Tamil-speaking migrants from the Arcot
district of Tamil Nadu. The Tigalas are Kshatriyas and have been
gardeners by profession. It is believed that they came to Bengaluru
during the time of Haider Ali to work on the creation of Lal Bagh.
They were landscapers, environmentalists in their own way, and
contributed to the city's plans.

At the crux of the Karaga tradition is the manifestation of Draupadi,
wife of the Pandavas. She is said to manifest in a sacred pot with a
floral cone, called the Karaga, and within the body of a male priest
who becomes the bearer of the Karaga. The 800-year old Dharmaraya
Swamy temple, dedicated to the oldest Pandava is the main venue
for the festivities. Interestingly, it is located at the far end of the Pété,
bordering the Cantonment.

Bangalore's 'tank culture' is still remembered and evoked in
the Karaga festival. For instance, the annual birth of the sacred
manifestation occurs on the seventh night of the festival at the
Uppuneerinakunte (salt water pond) in Cubbon Park, along the
Kanteerava stadium. The priest bearing the Karaga is surrounded by
Veera Kumaras, sword-bearing men of the Tigala community, who
act as his protectors. Many gather to await the manifestation of the
goddess, which usually occurs late in the night.

One of the highlights of the festival is a tour of the old city by the
priest. Bearing the Karaga on his head under a jasmine headdress,
he leaves the Dharmaraya Swamy temple. Followed by devotees and
the Veera Kumaras, he visits various temples, moves past decorated
streets and crowds and stops enroute to pay his respects at the tomb
of the Sufi master Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Baba. Legend has it that
the Sufi saint suffered some injuries when he tried to see the Karaga
procession. Seeing him, the Hindu priest stopped to apply turmeric
to the Muslim saint's wounds. Touched, the Sufi master asked that
the Karaga stop at his tomb after his death. And so the tradition
began that is followed even today, with enthusiastic participation
from both Hindus and Muslims.

The Karaga Purana, which is the sacred text read out during the
festivities, is incidentally written in Telugu.

For me, the Bengaluru Karaga is one of the city's most significant
unifying factors, bridging geographical, religious, linguistic and
cultural boundaries.
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