The unique Karaga festival held annually is a procession that meanders through the heart of old Bangalore city, carrying the special jasmine decked earthen pot, visiting many temples on the way and returning back to the Dharmaraya temple before sunrise. Karagameans jasmine-decked earthen pot (that is, Kalasa which means Crown). Devotees believe that the holy pot stands for Draupadi, who is considered an incarnation of Adi-Shakti. Different communities of Vanhikula Kshatriyas worship Draupadi as their sacred deity. This centuries old tradition is one of the important events in the city’s religious calendar and is revived year after year by the Tigalas or the Vanhikula Kshatriyas in the City.
Karaga begins when there are nine days left for poornima in the month of April. The Karaga bearer and the Veera
kumaras who participate, maintain purity on all these days. It starts with the hoisting of the sacred flag (Dwajaarohan) in front of theDharmaraya temple followed byDeepaarathi Utsav, Hasi Karaga, Pongalu Seve, Hoovina-Karaga, Vasanthostava, and Gaavu Seve.On the sixth day Draupadi is worshipped by the Tigalas. Later, around midnight, the sacred pot is installed under a red umbrella at the nearby Sampangi tank. Devotees believe that an object of infinite power lies hidden in the bed of this tank.
The religious volunteers called Veerakumaras sit around guarding the pots, which is surrounded by swords. On the seventh day this “Hasi” Karaga is
brought and placed at the temple. On the final day in the evening, religious celebrations systematically take place at Dharmaraya temple.Finally, on the full moon night, during the Chaitra Poornima(normally every April, chaitra) of the Hindu calendar, the Hoovina Karaga, cone shaped pot (Kalasa), decorated with Jasmine garlands which completely cover the upper half of the priest’s face.
The priest who carries the Karagacomes dancing out of the temple at around 12:30 am, surrounded by hundreds of sword-wieldingVeerakumaras chanting ‘Govinda Govinda’. It passes through the Karaga’s capital Thigalarpet,Gopalakrishna Swamy Temple, Anjaneya Swamy Temple in Ulsoorpet, Prasanna Gangadareshwara Temple in Nagarthpet,Byraveshwara Temple in Siddannagalli, Ramanjaneya Seva Mandali in Cubbonpet, Makkalla Basavanna Gudi, Kote Anjaneya Swamy Temple on Avenue Road, Doddapet, K.R. Market, Ranasinghpet, Akkipet, Aralepet, Haji Mastan Tawakkal Darga in Cottonpet, Annamma Temple, Balepet, Chickpet, Sunakalpet, Killary Road and reaches the Anjaneya Temple at Mysore Bank Circle around 5 am. At Haji Mastan Tawakkal Darga, around 3:30 am, the Karaga procession visits the tomb to invoke the blessings of the great saint. After it goes around the tomb thrice, the Muslim priest garlands the Karaga-bearer. Before sunrise it goes back to Dharmaraya Swamy Templethrough Chowdeshwari Temple on the Avenue Road.
The Karaga was introduced to Bangalore two centuries ago by Tamilians who migrated to the erstwhile State of Mysore from North Arcot District in Tamil Nadu when they were offered better facilities by the then ruler Haider Ali. The local inhabitants called these migrants Tigalas; but they call themselves Vanhikula Kshatriyas. It is the dedicated services of these people with their expert gardening skills that made Bangalore the Garden City with landmarks like Lalbagh and Cubbon Park.
Lost year, thousands of devotees from the city, neighbouring districts, and from Tamil Nadu gathered to witness this very popular event on April 8. Houses displayed intricaterangolis to welcome the procession and people standing on both sides of the road offered flowers, coconuts and lemons to the Karaga bearer. And how did the festival begin? Legend has it that when the Pandavas wonDraupadi, during exile, Draupadi had put the Kalasa on her head. So the Karaga festival is celebrated in memory of the joyous occasion. It is also said to be a celebration of the victory of good over evil, symbolized by the killing of the demonThimirasura by Adi Shakti.
Carpentry contractor M Abhimanyu carried the Karaga for the fifth time lost year. The Karaga carrying pujari must be married. He ties his wife’s ‘Mangalasutra’ before performing the rituals. His wife remains at home and is not allowed to see her husband till he completes the religious formalities and returns to the main temple. He wears black bangles. Draped in a yellow sari and a long sleeved blouse, he is treated like a woman to symbolizeDraupadi. The person carrying the Karaga should be alert, as he has to balance the holy pot on his head. It is believed that if the holy pot falls off the head of the priest who is carrying the Karaga,his head is chopped off. But till today this mishap has not happened. In one hand he carries the sacred stick and in the other a dagger. Nobody is allowed to touch him. After undergoing the rituals, the Veerakumaras bow down before the Karaga.
Dharmaraya Swamy Temple is an imposing piece of architecture situated at Thigalarapet. Lord Krishna, the Pandavarulers and Draupadi are worshipped at the temple. There is a small temple for Draupadi close to the Dharmaraya temple. TheKaraga procession also visits the tomb of Muslim saint Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Shah Suharwardi, popularly known as the“Tawakkal Mastan Saab Dargah” This attractive green shrine draws many pilgrims, both Muslim and others. Sufism and theBhakti movement have brought conflicting groups closer. Both Sufis and Saints preached universal brotherhood. So this is the only Karaga festival in Bangalore which truly represents the composite Indian culture and helps in encouraging communal harmony.