syncretic culture | Karnataka

In a small Bengaluru village, Hindus invoke Babaiah on Muharram breaking barriers of faith

Muharram being observed at Vajarahalli in Bengaluru.

Muharram being observed at Vajarahalli in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: SHARATH SRIVATSA

From Saturday night till early Tuesday morning, a large fire pit (konda) was at the centre of activities at Vajarahalli, a South Bengaluru village with a population of about 2,000 people, now consumed by the modernity of Greater Bengaluru.

Braving rains, hundreds of residents, most of them Hindus, observed Moharram, a tradition that dates back several generations.

As Chand Pir (the ‘Muzawar’ from nearby Gottigere) led the rituals, villagers gathered around the ‘Konda’ to witness the ‘Panja’ or the ‘Hastha’ carried by the Hindus, who dance to percussion instruments that reverberate in the narrow bylanes of the village where traditional mud structures have given way to modern concrete homes.

Babaiah invoked

Babaiah, the revered deity here, has been invoked every year during Muharram, observed to mourn the death of Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed, in the battle of Karbala.

Muharram being observed at Vajarahalli in Bengaluru.

Muharram being observed at Vajarahalli in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: SHARATH SRIVATSA

After visiting the local Maramma temple, the ‘Panjas’ are carried around the village by men who, the locals believe, are “possessed”. The entourage visits every home, receiving flowers, puffed rice, sugar, and roasted gram as offerings.

Women bring panaka (juice) in decorated kalashas as an offering that is distributed later. “There are no elaborate offerings. If their vows are fulfilled, devotees can offer whatever they can. Some vow to offer silver,” says octogenarian S. Krishnappa.

Fire ritual

Past midnight, the crowds swell, as devotees of Babaiah flock to Vajarahalli (on Kanakapura Road) to seek his blessings and watch the locals cross the fire pit amid the thunderous beats of drums.

Interestingly, after a similar ritual in neighbouring Doddakallsandra, about a kilometre away, the deities from there arrive at Vajarahalli on the second morning. This is reciprocated by the deities of Vajarahalli on the third morning.

“This marks the reciprocal relationship between the two villages that were once separated only by lush green fields,” says 97-year old Malle Bhyrappa, a resident of Doddakallsandra. He has been carrying the ‘Panja’ for 80 years now and carried it on Sunday night too.

Those carrying it must have a strict discipline, and stay away from all indulgences in the preceding week, he says.

With the village traditions being consumed by modernity, Muharamm observation of this kind is also challenged. In some places, it is not observed any more.

“Youngsters take a keen interest. Even if they fail to turn up at the village deity’s festival, they will not miss Muharram as Babaiah remains our beloved and revered deity,” Suresh Babu, another resident of Vajarahalli, said.

Villagers in Vajarahalli, who claim the Babaiah tradition during Muharram to be more than 300 years old, say there is no written record, and the tradition has passed on orally.

Other villages

In South Bengaluru, similar traditions are seen in Kaggalipura and Anjanapura too. While reverence for Babaiah spreads across Bengaluru, Kolar, Tumakuru, and Ananthpur, it is more widespread in North Karnataka. The deity there is referred to as “Peerala Devaru.”

Many local flavours

Scholar Rahmath Tarikere, who has researched and authored a book on Muharram observances, said that the tradition came to this region during the reign of the Bahmani rulers and received royal patronage.

“After royalty, the tradition then seeped down to the community and people, irrespective of their sect, observed it. The tradition further morphed into a local tradition with regional uniqueness,” he said.

He said Muharram has localised flavour to a tradition. “There are bilingual songs in Kannada and Telugu and trilingual songs in Kannada, Telugu, and Urdu. Of about 2,000 Muharram singers in Karnataka now, about 50% of them are Hindus,” he said.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2022 5:12:49 pm |