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DILIGENT:Karaga-bearer H.C. Lokesh, accompanied by Veerakumaras, outside the Dharmarayaswamy temple in Bangalore in the early hours of Tuesday.
BANGALORE: Brandishing swords, hundreds of bare-chested men accompany the Karaga-bearer on his rounds all night. Striking themselves on the chest nine times with the sword, these bearers, known as Veerakumaras, belong to the Tigala community.
The Veerakumaras, who have been part of the Karaga tradition ever since it started in Bangalore five centuries ago, accompanied this year's Karaga bearer, H.C. Lokesh, during the perambulation of the Old City areas in the early hours of Tuesday.
They usually join the procession as soon as it leaves the Dharmarayaswamy temple after midnight. Such is their standing that they had been vested with the right to execute the Karaga-bearer if he drops the sacred cargo. But such a thing has never happened, says P.R. Ramesh, former Mayor and a prominent member of the community.
The Veerakumaras are chosen three days before the Karaga procession. But being one is not easy, points out C. Narayanaswamy, organising secretary of the Karaga Festival Committee. Those selected have to take deeksha from the Dharmarayaswamy temple and once anointed, they have to choose abstinence to participate in the festivities. Several wear a red cloth to show their devotion to the deity, Shakti. In fact, most of the Veerakumaras are from families which have taken a vow before Shakti Devi, the presiding deity of the Karaga festivities. These families nominate a male member as a Veerakumara as a token of gratitude for problems resolved.
One of the most unnerving events is fire walking, which falls on the ninth day of the Karaga. The Veerkumaras walk around the fire, brandishing their swords and then run barefoot on the burning embers.
Mr. Narayanaswamy says a Veerakumaras is disqualified from joining the Karaga procession if the sword striking their chest draws blood. This shows he has not been true to the rituals and therefore has been punished.
The band of Veerakumaras keeps increasing every year. Mr. Narayanaswamy estimated more than 3,500 of them attended this year's Karaga.
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