A sacred trace and a crossing of boundaries – the Bengaluru karaga as an example of a geographic enactment of ritual.
The Mahābhāratam is one of the two great Indian epics. The story of the Mahabharatam is very complex and there are many versions of it. It is a treasure trove of stories.
People from many groups claim their lineages from stories in this epic.
Among them are a community of vaishnavas (worshipers of Vishnu) called the Tigala (pronounced THI-ga-la).
Tigalas and Bangalore Geography
Tigalas were (and many still are) horticulturists. They moved from areas that are now parts of Tamil Nadu and settled in Bangalore. Here, they settled around the many tanks and lakes that abounded. (Tanks are water bodies built by humans, lakes are natural) and practised their horticulture. They cultivated fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc. for Bengaluru and nearby areas.
The central part of Bengaluru’s Tigala population is called Tigalara peytey ( proncounced “pay-tay“; Tigalas’ market). Based on their heritage story, they built temples to Draupadī and Dharmarāya (another name for Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pāndava brothers in the Mahābhāratam). The most important of these temples are in Tigalara-peytey (links to pictures below).
Karaga, the Tigala festival
Every year, the Tigalas celebrate a festival called Karaga. The story of the Karaga is also rooted in the Mahabharatam.
Draupadii is the community deity of the Vahnikula kshatriyas (of whom Tigalas are a part). The Karaga is an annual celebration of her as the “ideal woman” and of “woman-power” (Mother Goddess). The karaga is a pot on which is a floral cone. This cone is taken in procession from the historic Dharmaraya Temple in the Tigalara-peytey area of the old City, through the night.
Throughout the night there is worship offered to the Karaga along its route. At the Dharmaraya temple location, people continuously sing devotional hymns, someone tells mythological stories, and leads the people in their group singing and chanting. A large number of people wait at the temple for the Karaga’s return.
The karaga returns to the Temple in the morning. Much dancing and singing happens at this point. Worship is offered at the temple. Many rituals are performed and the festival is brought to an end.
Throughout the period of the festival, cooked rice mixed with various spices are offered to people free of cost.
Some elements of the Geography of the Karaga
All human actions have a geography connection. This includes rituals and worship.
Taking a deity in procession is an old custom in India among many religions. The route that the deity takes is made sacred by its movement on that route. This is the sacred trace. The sacred route is physically temporary — it happens only while the procession is going on. Once the procession is over, people are expected to remember that the route is sacred. This is a way of internalizing a sacred mental map.
The Karaga visits a Muslim shrine (a dargah) on its route. Hindus and Muslims enthusiastically participate in this ritual. This interaction among them is very important because people of both religions have traditionally occupied that part of the city for generations. Friendly co-existence is important when people of different cultures share geographic space closely. Such rituals bring about social interactions that are symbolic — here the interactions are an expression of the shared interest that both cultures have. It is in both their interests to maintain friendship. The religious rituals symbolically reinforce this inter-relationship.
Of late, some groups have been objecting to the dargah visit. This is a political move that does not understand the traditionally mutually beneficial relationships.The Tigalara-peytey is no longer exclusively or even predominantly Tigala. It is a mix of many religions, trades, and activities. However, the Dharmaraya temple is the center of this area.
The movement of the Karaga in the streets is important in another way too. It brings people of the Tigala community (and others as well) into a common place to participate in the festival in different ways. Such practices are common in cultures around the world. This is important to build camaraderie within the group (in this case, Tigalas), and among groups (in this case, among Hindus and Muslims).
Group cohesion is built in another way also. The cooked rice, given free to anyone who wants some, is sponsored by various local merchants and other families. These acts of public service promote cooperation among people. They also support the Karaga festival by taking care of the people attending so they don’t have to leave the festival to go home because they feel hungry.
The Karaga is a representative of the deity in the temple. The icon in the temple is fixed permanently. By taking a “copy” of the icon in the streets, the deity is brought to the people at their own doorstep. When people see the deity, the deity also sees them. This is considered to be a form of blessing from the divine.
Here are things you can do …
- Read this very fascinating and well-written study of the Bengaluru karaga.
- View videos of Karaga on YouTube.
- Read up about the Karaga in Bengaluru and other locations.
- Think of religious processions in your local area or elsewhere in the world. Find out and reflect on these points:
- What are those processions like?
- What is the meaning of the rituals involved?
- What are the elements of Geography in those processions?
- Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Original posting: 23 April 2008.
Updated: 8 April 2022
- Updated / added external links.
- Corrected minor typos.
- Updated some statements.
- Added images and videos.
Featured image: Dharmaraya Swamy Temple, Bengaluru. Source. [Accessed: 8 April 2022]