The annual Karaga festival — which began on Monday night and concludes on April 17 — is one of Bangalore’s oldest festivals that is an intrinsic part of the city’s cultural identity. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) now sponsors the festivities, identifying it as a “civic festival”. But has Karaga truly evolved into a civic festival that involves diverse sections of the city?
A look at the festivities and patterns of participation show that Karaga has remained an affair restricted to a small pocket, while the city has expanded over the last two decades and the city’s demography has changed radically.
The Karaga festival was indeed once a civic festival in the old Bangalore town amid the four towers erected by its founder, Kempegowda, essentially the old Pete area. A look at the route that the Karaga procession takes shows how the festival bound the town into a single unit, involving all sections of the people.
Significantly, the Karaga makes a stop at Hazrath Tawakkul Mastan Dargah in Cottonpet.
“The old Pete area then had artisans and craftsmen who formed that eco-system that patronised the Karaga festival as their own,” says A.R. Vasavi, senior sociologist from the city who is presently Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. As the city witnessed rapid urbanisation, the old Pete area has become just one small part of the city. She observes that unlike in Mysore, the old areas here lost their socio-cultural and political significance over time.
Janaki Nair, Professor, Centre of Historical Studies, Jawaharalal Nehru University, New Delhi, who has worked extensively on the history of the city, says the city was characterised by deep spatial and linguistic divisions. She says the Karaga has failed to evoke any cultural association with the “English part of the city.”
Ms. Nair observes that even within the Kannada world of the city, the Karaga festival was always limited both geographically and in terms of deep-rooted caste and class associations. “The festival is highly ritualised and is associated with the Tigala community to a large extent. It is a subaltern culture that does not draw the upper classes and castes of the city,” she says.
There are also concerns that attempts to make Karaga more accessible to a wider section of society, could turn Karaga into a touristy affair, leading to its uniqueness being lost.
Comparing Karaga to Mysore Dasara, Ms. Nair said Dasara was promoted to be a tourist affair by the rulers. She says that though Karaga has failed to involve a wider section of society, its uniqueness and the subaltern nature of the experience was its strength and it should be preserved. Ms. Vasavi concurs: “Karaga has to be rediscovered and reclaimed as a cultural artefact of the city and its subaltern nature celebrated.”