India is a land of unique and exquisite festivals, dating back centuries ahead, uplifting the rich traditions and culture of the country and its people. One such oldest festival occurs every year in Bengaluru, the capital city of Karnataka – the Karaga Shaktiyotsava. It is an auspicious and holy festival, celebrated as per the beliefs of the Hindu mythological events and stories.
During the Karaga festival, the devotees worship the Parvathi and the Adiparashakti form of Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. As per the epic Mahabharata, it is believed that the Pandavas were under the cast of a demon called Thimirasura. To protect them, Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, entrusted power on Draupadi to marry the Pandavas and attain the state of Devi Shakthi. Under her, an army of soldiers called Veerakumaras was created. She fought and defeated the demon along with her soldiers. The soldiers requested her to stay with them as a mark of respect and devotion. Draupadi promised to return every year once. Her return to the Veerakumaras is celebrated in an 11 day-long festival on the first full moon of the 1st month as per the Hindu calendar being followed in Indian religious customs.
What is a Karaga?
The Karaga is essentially a pot, considered as holy for the festival. The pot has a floral cone, a pyramid structure adorned with flowers. A Karaga carrier places the pot on his head and balances it without touching it. At midnight, the pot is carried from the Dharmaraya Swamy temple via a huge procession of devotees and worshippers. The crowd hums in devotional songs and hymns to seek their blessings from the Devi and offer their prayers.
The festival is the tradition of the Thigala community who believes in the eternal and divine strength of Draupadi. The Veerakumaras and the Karaga carrier can only belong to their clan, empowered to conduct all the rituals. Celebrated for almost as old as 800 years, the customs and traditions are followed in the same way every year.
Karaga Shaktiyotsava commences with a flag hoisting ceremony at the temple courtyard. The ceremony is known as Dhwajarohana in the colloquial language. A yellow coloured flag hoisted on a bamboo pole marks the beginning of the festival.
All the rituals are performed by the priest, the Veerakumaras belonging to the hereditary Thigala families. The Karaga carrier is considered as a representation of the Goddess and needs to be dressed like a female. The Veerakumaras accompany the carrier, carrying swords representing the soldiers of Draupadi.
The key attraction of the festival is the Aarathi Utsava wherein the Goddess is worshipped with an aura of lights. It is performed by the womenfolk who decorate a vessel with flowers, incense sticks, rice and then they place a lamp inside it for the Aaarathi. The menfolk in turn performs the traditional martial and warfare arts inside the temple premises.
Interesting Facts about the Festival
The Karaga carrier requires special skill to balance the pot in his head and it is considered unholy to drop it on the floor. Hence the person is selected from the community after proper verification of his dedication and skill.
The Veerakumaras perform heroic acts to display their respect for Shakthi Devi. They beat the swords on their bare chests and chant the religious hymns in a loud voice. It is believed that the soldiers possess a unique skill of bearing the sword hits without any injury. By performing this incredible ritual, they arise the power and energy of the Goddess among mankind.
The sacred pot is called Hasi Karaga and is created with the sediments from the traditional Sampangi Tank. On the 8th day of the festival, the pot is carried from the Shakti Peeta, present near the tank, to the temple. It is placed at the main sanctum of the temple for worship.
On the 9th day of the festival, 7 chariots are decorated with flowers and colourful clothes for a huge procession around the temple. It is mainly arranged to perform the marriage ceremony of Draupadi and Arjuna.
The devotees and the worshippers belief in the strength and power of Draupadi. They consider her as the symbol of woman empowerment. Her eternal blessings are considered to be a boon for humanity.
The festival occurs during the months of March and April every year. It is an elaborate festival celebrated with great dedication by the Thigala community members for years.