Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Once Upon a Time, Long, Long Ago....

Dharmarayana Temple, near SP Road, the old Pete area

An old woman with matted hair and several dozen copper and bronze bangles. Was thrilled about her pictures and blessed us for taking them. :-)

I had thought blue doors that were supposed to protect the house from the evil eye was a Middle Eastern idea. But all across the countryside, I have, for long, been coming across blue doors.

Part of the chariot's decor

I loved how these women are chatting, framed so beautifully by white walls and 'panche' or a kind of sarong hung out to dry, dipped in turmeric, a sort of purifying procedure.

Remember that time somewhere back in those days of the innocence of childhood when a fair was the most awaited event of the year? Well, I used to have those days once. It seems like it was one of those 'once upon a time, long, long ago...' kind of memories. There is a temple in Madikeri, Muttappa Devasthana, where there is an annual fair, complete with people walking on a bed of red hot coals, spirits descending on to a man's body, cheap plastic toys, balloons, bangles, masala puffed rice, sweets and chips and candy to eat, to the sound of drums in the background, a misty night and the cold January breeze and the crush of hundreds of people.

It was a standard event for me, every year. Our maids would get off early from work to go to the fair, armed with a ten or a twenty rupee note to eat and buy toys for their children with. My parents and I would go later into the night and stay for an hour or two. I rarely stayed for the walking on coal event, Appa would have got impatient by then and the crowd, a lot drunk and rowdish. But before then, I would most definitely have pulled out my hand from the warmth of a thick shawl and a sweater and got the bangle seller to slip some down my wrist. Glass bangles in black were what you would mostly buy at this fair.

Some days ago, it was all of an evening of deja-vu at Bengaluru Karaga, one of the oldest and most popular festivals in Bangalore. A karaga is essentially a man who has taken a vow carry in procession an idol of a God/Goddess without touching it. It is considered fatal if the karaga falls or if the man touches it. He can keep it down only inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. We have these in Madikeri as well, just before Dasara.

The festival has a beautiful history that the temple treasurer narrated to me. All the names and the dates promptly flew out of my head. The festival, estimated now to be thousands of years old, has a man assume the role of Draupadi from the Mahabharatha and take out the idol in procession along the old city parts, mainly around what used to be Kempegowda's (the founder of Bangalore) fort. Till the festival is over, his wife is deemed to be a widow. The customs are rather secretive. This man wears bangles in a ceremony and then after several prayers, is left alone. It is said that the karaga, elaborately decorated with jasmine flowers, comes up on the man's head alomst magically and he then takes out on an all night long procession.

The Bengaluru Karaga is celebrated by both the Hindus and the Muslims. The procession, that starts after midnight, begins at Dharmarayana Temple, (one of the few temples of the eldest of the Pandavas; also one of the rare places where you are allowed to take pictures of the idol) goes to a dargha and around the old Pete area.

I was to cover the festival. Having never seen it before, I offered to go. Best friend Manju and I covered the preparations. And I regretted that all I had was my sad E71 camera phone. As expected, there was a riot of colour, flowers and lights and huge chariots. I did not get to see the karaga, all the history I write here is what I heard.

The temple had this lovely smell. Now, I cannot describe it. Have you ever been to a place where it smells of thousands of years of tradition and faith and whether you believe it or not, you are drawn by the sheer number of those who do believe? I cannot draw the smell out in words, you have to visit a busy temple during a festival to understand. There is the smell of incense and flowers and the aarthi and the smoke from the fire and camphor. Add to that the hundreds of people talking softly, conversations and prayers and chanting of the mantras underlying the lovely tingle of the temple bells, once loud, sometimes a soft ring, so filled with faith.

We sit there for a while, I aim the camera here and there, atop the gopura where they are tying the flowers, a boy riding atop a stone painted elephant (memories of me again, a long time ago), a woman in a blue saree against a white stone wall, children getting in every one's way, old priests, angry at the crowds, giving out holy water, jostling crowds, a coy couple, hand-in-hand, at a distance, two kids, silhouetted against the setting sun, flying a kite.

We walk out and talk to the temple trustee. The chariots are being decorated. There is an old woman with matted hair that we take a lot of pictures of. She blesses us and is delighted looking at the pictures on the camera. Crowds begin to mill around everywhere, we are an oddity there, like a wrong stroke of paint in that traditional painting.

It is a fair out on the roads. Hawkers call out the wares, many are laying out the toys and the snacks for the night ahead. I buy a few cane trays. We head out and I spot the bangle seller, I simply have to go there. On the next mat is laid out several village snacks, seasoned puffed rice and little sugar balls and peanuts. The white sugar balls remind me of a snack granny used to buy me every time she went to a fair in her mother's village. It is a walk down the ages again for me. Was that Bangalore that evening?

Balloons and noise and drums and snacks and toys and colour and colourful people. Fairs and festivals and faith. That old familiarity. There are still times when I feel I have not travelled too far from who I was, once upon a time, long, long ago....

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