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For those who only know the festivities associated with welcoming the New Year on the eve, Bangalore has a New Year eve festival with a difference -Karaga which happens around the Tamil New year. It s one of the oldest festivals of Karnataka – it is mainly celebrated by the Tigalas, the Tamil-speaking community of Southern Karnataka at the 800 year old Dharmarayaswamy temple in Nagarathpet… About 5 lakhs people participate in the annual karaga festival where people pray for good health and prosperity.

The nine-day long Karaga festival and its rituals have their links to the epic Mahabharatha and specially celebrate Draupathi for emerging so strong after all the hardship she endures in the epic story – the vastrapaharana and the death of all her sons in the war. The karaga is a metal pot with a tall floral arrangement on top which a carrier expertly balances on his head all the way through a 15 km long procession starting from and ending in the Dharmarayaswamy temple in Nagarathpet.

The carrier is a priest dressed in female attire leads a spectacular procession to the accompaniment of dazzling swordplay by a number of dhoti-clad, bare-chested Thigalars called veerakumaras. The carrier follows strict rituals and is in a state of trance even as he dances through the entire stretch. Tradition has it that if the carrier stumbles on his way, the veerakumaras can execute him! The contents of the pot have remained a secret down these centuries. It is believed that trying to unravel the secret will result in trouble. The procession goes through the oldest parts of the city via cubbonpet, Ganigarapet, Avenue Road, Akkipet, balepet, Kilari road, Nagarathpet and surrounding old areas of Bangalore.

A unique feature of the Karaga is the unbroken tradition of visiting the tomb of an 18th century Muslim saint Twakkal mastan every year – The story goes that during Tawakkal’s time, one particular year, the person carrying the Karaga stopped at Tawakkal Mastan Dargah and asked for his blessings so that Karaga would not fall off his head. Tawakkal blessed him and asked him to utter “Din, Din”. The tradition continues to this day and the Karaga-carriers visit the dargah three days prior to the Karaga puja begins. On the day of the Karaga too he goes around the dargah thrice -he walks the first round, goes around on his knees on the second, and dances around the dargah on the third.
Another interesting custom is that the carrier wears the mangalsutra and bangles of his wife who stays at home and does not see him or the procession.
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