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It is Bangalore's oldest festival

B.S. Ramesh

Dharamarayaswamy Temple Karaga traces its roots to the Mahabharata

— Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

SAFETY FIRST:The police have tightened security for the Dharmarayaswamy Temple Karaga festival in Bangalore.

BANGALORE: It is one of the oldest community festivals celebrated in Bangalore and kicks off towards midnight, going around the old areas of Bangalore, on Monday.

Known as the Bangalore Karaga, it traces its roots to the Mahabharata. In Bangalore, the first recorded Karaga festival was held five centuries ago. Initially, Karaga started off as a festival of the Thigala community. The members of this community had migrated to Bangalore from Tamil Nadu and settled at the old petes of Bangalore.

One of the unique features of the festival is that it is led by men called Veerakumaras. There are around 5,000 Veerakumaras and more than 3,800 are expected to participate this year, the festival's organising secretary, C. Narayanaswamy, told The Hindu.

He says that Karaga celebrates the spirit of Shakti Devi, who is none other than Draupadi. Shakti Devi, he says, set up an army of soldiers and called them Veerakumaras, who defeated the Asuras (demon). When Veerakumaras asked her to stay back, she promised that she would come back every year on the first full moon of the first month of the Hindu calendar.

The Karaga commences from the Dharmarayaswamy temple and goes around the old areas of Bangalore before returning to the temple. The festival starts with the flag-hoisting ceremony on the night of Shukla Saptami, the seventh day of the bright half of Chaitra, the first month in the Hindu calendar.

Former Mayor P.R. Ramesh, who has been actively involved in the festivities, says two days before the Karaga procession, the Kumbha or the holy pot, called the “Hasi Karaga”, is made from the sediment of the Sampangiramnagar tank near Corporation Circle. This pot is later installed in a mantapa on the banks of the tank before being taken to the temple.

Karaga refers to a floral mud pot which is carried by a male dressed as a female. This year the Karaga will be carried by Lokesh. This is the third year in a row that Lokesh will be carrying the Karaga. Before him, Abhimanyu carried the Karaga nine times.

The Karaga leaves the temple located on OTC Road at Thigalarapet and goes around Cubbonpet, Ganigarapet, Avenue Road, Akkipet, Balepet, Kilari Road and Nagarthpet. The festival's secular nature can be gauged by the fact that just before sunrise the Karaga procession halts before the Dargah-e-Shariff of Hazrat Tawakal Mastan, an 18th century Muslim saint.

Legend has it that Mastan was injured when he went to watch the Karaga procession. The temple archaks then applied kumkum (vermilion) on Mastan's wounds. The saint then prayed to Shakti Devi that the procession should halt at his dargah (grave) after his death. This tradition has continued for years now, giving the festival its secular flavour.

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