Friday, April 10, 2009

Bangalore Karaga-Mapping the Mallige


My work has been closely connected to nature in the urban context. I am concerned about its fragile ecosystem surviving amidst the global climb of the cyber city. While my work is prompted by concerns related to Bangalore and how I occupy it, my images seek the local amidst the global city sensibility. It is a search for an identity. I wish to continue this search by working with the idea of horticulture and the role it has played in the migration of people, seeds and species. I would like to record topographical details of the city seen as a map, the location and design of public parks, specifically the history of Lalbagh and Cubbon Park and the transformation of the sacred and the civic. I wish to draw from urban studies, cultural geography, sociology and anthropology. I wish to study the performative aspects of ritual Karaga as the largest urban carnival as a point of departure to seek an identity for the self and the city.

My overarching interest is in cultural landscape studies, an emergent and change in landscape and urban planning as a field concerned with the history, form, and meaning of ordinary built environments, particularly in Bangalore. I study the ways in which people have used space like parks, lakes, public gardens to articulate social relations and to derive cultural meaning.

I saw a vinyl poster of politicians who I didn’t recognize welcoming every one to this city festival. I wondered how I had witnessed many Bangalore Habbas that hardly represented this special community and the ritual dance of Karaga? Very few of my friends who had migrated to the city and made it their home were interested in the city’s history and local cultural context. I was witnessing a carnival that was a proud reclamation about identity of gardeners, who fashioned this city’s landscape. The glitz of the city lights had dimmed their significance of the vernacular identity and they could reclaim it for a night.

How does a city retains it’s identity amidst the global flux? Can Bangalore claim an identity that can define it’s origins as a “garden City”? And what was my role in If there is one ritual that establish this identity, it is the annual festival of Karaga celebrated on Chitra Poornima,the full moon night of spring by a small but significant community called the Vahnikula Kshathriyas or Thigalas.It was here that I came to discover this community, to recollect from memory the spaces, rituals that were part of my childhood. The location was the old Dharmaraja temple in Thigalrapete literally in the heart of the city. These by lanes are clogged with unplanned urban sprawl, chaotic one ways, cow sheds, weaving factories all coexisting in the pete area. I could only drive a bike or safely walk. My pace was slower as I was lost in the maze of people waiting for the Karaga, the anticipation was tense, the religious fervor was in the air. I was very suspect of organized religion but believed in the strength of spirituality and faith.

Bangalore’s original geographical boundaries originate here, the circumbulations of the Karga defines the pete from the cantonment. The Sampangi tank near Cubbon Park is an important water body were the Karaga originates. It is here that the man who carries the karga ritually bathes. This festival establishes the sthalapurana of civic areas and its original identity- the karaga Jatre.

My references from art history and cultural theory described Karaga as originally a Dravidian festival celebrating Adishakthi-the mother goddess cult that is prevalent in southern India. Like all minor tradition it has been overpowered by the Aryan and Bramanical tradition. The local myth is connected to the more popular Mahabharatha. Draupadhi the heroine is seen as a manifestation of the mother godess- Adishakthi and is icon graphically related to fire and Shakthi.This folk form that originated in villages of Tamil nadu as Karagatam is a form of worshipping Mariamman for good health and rain. It has evolved into the present form in Bangalore as a classical form with rich patronage of wealthy farmers and landowners who belong to the community. The most primordial form of shakthi worship is in the form of a an earthen pot-kalasha or poorna kumbha the pot of plenty. This is ritually decorated like a shikara with decorative ornaments like golden chathri, auspicious vaishnava symbols like the shanku,chakra,and patakas-flags.The human becomes divine, man transforms into goddess by night. The urbanspace becomes a sacred space. The karaga is balanced on the head and karaga bearer is reborn from the fire of consciousness and is transformed beyond gender

The other interesting reference is to gender differences as superficial physical forms

This gender transformation is the most fascinating part of this festival and originates in many performing arts. The karaga carrier undergoes a physical and psychological transformation, the profane human become divine and sacred trough the ritual vratha, he practices abstinence and is away from his family. In the process of transformation he wears his wife’s mangal sutra, turmeric dyed sari and is clean shaven. The human body becomes the moving shrine, the karaga is guarded by the valorous veerakumara, men with bare chests and swords are the signs of masculinity. They display their valor by holding swords and striking it against their bare chests. they are guardians to the goddess. They accompany the Karaga and guard it through the route, displaying their strength by barging through the crowds, pushing people in the way and making space for movement of the Karga. And these veerakumars are supposed to behead the karaga carrier if he fails to balance it.

The cross-dressing has interesting references in the Mahabharatha, the valorous Arjuna transforms into Brihanala. Gender metamorphosis is common in Hindu purans

Although women watch the spectacle and carry decorated arathis adorned with jasmine, frangipani and gulmohar ,flowers that have blossomed in the season in the local Cubbon Park. The Karga jatre is closely linked to the local gymnasium called Gardemane or akada and plays an important part of the Jatre. The rehearsals and training of the body to carry the karaga happens here. The community is very hierarchal and patriarchal and perform individual duties as part of their hereditary lineage’s had lost touch with many relatives who invited me for many family functions, I had politely avoided them. Now was the time to visit them to understand my roots and the culture of the city that I belong, beyond the vast and uniform concept of globalization the local was more rooted, authentic andI wish to locate myself and my work as a visual artist and an historian here on terra firma.

This vernacular Jatre transformed the cultural landscape/geography of the city. The participation of all communities and the transformation of the busy streets into an urban carnival. As I walked on the night of Karage one can see vendors of eatables, fruit, flowers, toys, tattoos artists, astrologers, and many more. The locals from different parts of Bangalore and other districts converge for this all night carnival. The shops that sell computer spare parts and electronic goods do

I later visited the sufi shrine in Cubbonpete,a sacred sufi shrine of Dargah-e-Shariff of Harzart Takwal Mastan,an 18 centurry sufi saint,who was hurt during a Karga procession and was healed by the Temple priest, after his death he wished that the Karaga procession stopped over at the dargha. This was a secular gesture that fostered faiths beyond religion, and is one of the few instances of inter religious interactions in the city. In these times when conversations and gestures of faith can bring people to trust one another. There were many from different faiths that belived that the taveez tied in this shrine warded the evil eye. I was moved by photographs of the karaga being offered flowers and arthi by the Muslim priest at the darga and welcomed with sprinkling of rose water. In our age of suspicion and fundamentalism and very few instances of inter-religious dialogue continue to survive.. The syncritic ritual of the Karaga can be traced to the close social connections with the local muslims and the Thigala community. The Darogas- official gardeners of Hyder Ali and Tippu sultan collaborated in the horticultural enterprise of cultivating Lalbagh. This was also a period of the local sufi saint Mastan Saheb. As traders of local farm produce in the Krishnrajendra market and the local fruit and flower mandis are muslims and locals there has to be a close affinity with the community. The shrine is significant for hindus who believe in the sufi’s power to ward of evil and protect children.

The cult of Draupadhi thrived in the by lanes that sold soft ware for the computer industry. The identity of silicon valley. IT and BT capital. The city corporation offices were round the corner, the locals desired clean roads, foot paths and civic eminites that bogged our existence. But when my grand mother had mention that the silver Jubilee park and the vicinity was a an orchard I listen with amazement. The rural landscape had transformed from landscape to real estate. The city grew aimlessly through modernization and development that was unprecedented and unplanned. The farming Tigalas were most effected as they moved to greener pastures in the out skirts of the city, around lakes and tanks to cultivate flowers and vegetables. They were loosing out there farmland to city developers and real estate sharks. The only way to reclaim the city was through rituals that connected them to timeless mythology of the Mahabharatha and make Drupadhi their goddesses through myth, masquerade they evoked the goddess to come home as they waited with arathis and lemons to be blessed by the godesss of fire, they occupied and reclaimed the land that belonged to the community and gave the city who once upon a time gave it its identity but was soon lost.

I waited in the by lanes to catch the magical moment when the karaga appeared through the river of people, she stopped to dance in one corner, stood to bless waiting people.The sight of women ,sleepy children men from all walks of life waited with folded hands with jasmine flowers to sprinkle from terraces as the karga made its way in all its pomp and splendor. the veerkumars pushed and made way as the trumpets announced the uncharted walk. There was a human barricade to protect the goddess in this frenzy of people who pushed and pulled. Suddenly the white shikara appeared in the crowd, people strained to catch a glimpse from the maddening crownds. Trumpets, counches and bells were reaching a crescendo, it rained white jasmine as the karage brushed past me in the crowd my hair stood on end and it took my breadth away. I was feeling the frenzy in my pulse I was lost as myth, memory, past and present collapsed in the aura of a man who was a goddesses for the night and soon it was morning and another day.

Suresh Jayaram


šђℜí said...

Thanks Suresh Jayaram.Your blog could also be helpful for me karaga wiki page..

dominic said...

Hi, Suresh Jayaram,
Thanks for the blog. Yes, I agree with your project. In fact the reality of the Thigala community is saddening. Though culture is still a ray of hope to tame the reins of modernity, yet they are devoid of the political representation.

Just now i am working in Bangalore University Kolar PG Centre as Associate professor. Since I am also part and parcel of the community, I would like to receive information and like to participate in the discussions.

Unknown said...

This is the article to necter the essence of bangalore religious flaw and I’ve read through the memory of the place I belong to.I am placed now in UK (Scottland) appeahently the place which as lost its religious appeal,I did made an effort reading An Axe to Grind, but than I intend to read the rest of it(wonderfull Photo's!). these thoughts as brought to where they are now. Though bangalore urbanished fictional location, the town and the people seem very real.
I belong to Thigala Community and the article is Awesome!Cherished the memories of yester years.
Aware that Karaga 2010 is around the corner (30th March'2010).

I Congratulate Suresh Jayaram!
Good going and wish you all the best.

Manu Ramakrishna

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