The ancient 11-day festival is typically celebrated every year with lakhs of people congregating for the grand procession.

Bengalurus Karaga festival wont have a procession for first time in over a centuryPictures of the Karaga in 2019 by Narayana Swamy
news Local History Tuesday, April 07, 2020 - 16:24

For the first time in over a century, the Bengaluru Karaga Shaktiyotsava will take place on Wednesday, April 8 without a procession. The eleven-day festival, which is believed to have been celebrated for more than a century, generally has lakhs of devotees gather for multiple processions. But with the lockdown in place, only 13 people are taking part in the festival at the city’s Sri Dharmarayana Swamy Temple, located in Nagarathpet. 

Though some records suggest that the festival began during the reign of Kempegowda in the 16th century, experts say the procession itself likely only began about 800 to 1,000 years ago. Narayana Swamy, one of the primary organisers of the festival, says that the procession had not been halted even when the plague hit Bengaluru in 1898. 

“We have asked all devotees to pray at home and perform puja at home this year. We have asked the government to allow Doordarshan to broadcast the rituals so people can watch it from home,” he adds.

The main procession has been replaced by a ceremony inside the temple with the four primary priests and nine others from the Thigala community. 

Every year, the celebrations begin on Chiatra Pournami, which comes right after the Ugadi festival. The myth stems from Mahabharata and the story is that of Draupadi defeating the demon Thimirasura. 

“During the battle, Draupadi’s saree comes off. She turns it into veerakumaras and gante pujaris. After the battle is won, Draupadi promises to visit the veerakumaras and gante pujaris once in a year. The procession is held due to the belief that she returns every year for a visit,” says Narayana Swamy, one of the organisers of the Karaga. 

Narayana Swamy says that according to the myth, the veerakumars belonged to the Vanikula Kshatriya community and the gante pujaris to the Thigala community. “Hence members of these two communities are at the forefront of organising the 11-day celebrations,” he says. 

What happens during the Karaga?

Speaking to TNM, PR Ramesh, the Member of the State Legislative Council (MLC) from Congress, who is from the Thigala community, says that the festival was an ode to the various water bodies that helped farming communities thrive in the city. 

“Most of the ceremonies take place at various tanks or kalyanis (man-made tanks in temples). Out of the 11 days, seven of them are all about gange puje. Processions start from various kalyanis, which are now bus stops or have drains built there. Back in Kempegowda’s time, these tanks were considered as gods. People pray to the water goddess. It's sad to see that so many water bodies are gone now,” Ramesh laments. 

The 11-day ode to the city’s disappearing water bodies

On the first day, a bamboo stick, which is about 120 ft in height with 32 knots or markings is handpicked by one of the nine members from the Thigala community. A flag is hoisted on the bamboo stick at the Dharmarayana Swamy Temple in Bengaluru. A procession with idols of Arjuna and goddess Adi Shakti are taken out on the first night. The flag and bamboo stick are brought back to the temple. This process is called patta kudisodu. 

From the second day till the eighth day, ceremonies are held at various kalyanis in the city. According to PR Ramesh, the first gange puje or prayers offered to a water body is performed at the small pond near Kanteerava Stadium. Before Bengaluru grew to be a city, the pond was a rather large lake with salty water and was commonly known as Uppuneerina Kunte. “Now there is a small pond. It’s not even a pond but a small square cement structure with water in it. Now, the puja is performed here because the lake no longer exists,” he adds. 

During the times of Kempegowda’s reign in Bengaluru, there was a giant man-made well where the current BMTC depot stands in Shantinagar. This well was surrounded by farm lands where members of the Thigala community grew vegetables. This is where the third ceremony would take place. Since the well no longer exists, the celebrations currently take place in Mahabaleshwara Temple near Poornima Talkies in Shantinagar. 

The fourth day’s ceremony happens in Mavalli, near the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. Prior to the garden’s existence, the land belonged to farmers. Here too, there were several man-made tanks that were meant for irrigation. “Earlier, the gange puje happened at one of these tanks. Now the ceremony happens in Maramma Temple in Mavalli,” PR Ramesh says. 

The fifth day, the gange puje happens at the kalyani located in Gavipuram inside a wedding hall. The sixth day’s celebrations earlier took place in the periphery of the numerous lakes that once surrounded the Dodda Annamma Temple in Majestic area. The Kempambudhi Tank, where the Majestic Bus Stop stands currently, was once a spot for the sixth-day rituals. On the seventh day, gange puje happens at the Hasi Karagada Kunte in Sampangi Ramanagar. The final kalyani, where the ceremony takes place on the eight day, is at the Mariswamappa Mutt in Kalasipalya, close to KR Market. 

Day nine is when the grand celebrations take place. The various idols of goddess Shakti that are located across seven different places in the city, are taken out for a procession, which meets at the Sri Dharmarayana Swamy Temple. “Tomorrow (April 8) is when the big procession was supposed to take place. With the lockdown, we have decided to not hold processions but to just install the seven different idols inside the temple itself,” Narayana Swamy says. 

The tenth and eleventh days do not witness grand processions. However, the huvina karaga (flower karaga) is taken out of the Sri Dharamrayana Swamy Temple in the morning for a procession. The ceremony ends with a ritual sacrifice and vanotstava in the evening. On day 11, the flag that was hoisted on the first day of celebrations is brought down, to mark the conclusion of the festival. 

“The temple was built during the reign of the Ganga Dynasty. This time, our prayers are for the pandemic to leave the world,” Narayana Swamy adds.