Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hulisandra festival (ಜಾತ್ರೆ) after two decades

Doothraya and Kenchraya

Hulisandra is my mother's native village. It is a very small secluded village situated off state highway (SH) 19 in Turvekere taluk of Tumkur district of Karnataka. It is about 140 Kms from the city of Bangalore. One can reach Hulisandra by road via Tumkur and Gubbi or via Kunigal, Yediyur and turuvekere. By train, the closest railway station is Banasandra. Hulisandra is about 5 kms by road from the Banasandra railway station.

The last time i went to Hulisandra was in 2006. It was a casual visit with parents. However, the last time i saw the village's annual festival, locally called jaatre (ಜಾತ್ರೆ) was in the year 1992 or 1993.

I do not have much memory about Hulisandra or my maternal grandparents. Since i was born and raised in Bangalore, i do not even remember going to Hulisandra for more than 2 or 3 times. Also,my maternal grandparents left the village long long back. So there were hardly any opportunities for me to go there. 

For the last few years, in an effort to reconnect with the native, my maternal aunts have decided to participate every year in the village's annual festival, Jaatre (ಜಾತ್ರೆ). They are participating by feeding the gathering (ಅನ್ನದಾನ ) on the first day of the festival. This is done every year in remembrance of my maternal grandfather. 
So for the last few years, my aunts and cousins have been going to the village for the festival. I was never interested in joining them. 

My only memory of the festival (Jaatre) was that of the Chama dancing aggressively and people walking on the Konda (Hot coal). I think i was  9 or 10 years old when i saw the jaatre for the first time. I clearly remember that i was very scared after seeing the Chamas.  

It was only a few days back that i was reminded of the jaatre again. My cousin Aravind called me to ask if i would be interested in joining them to the jaatre this year. Since there was a shortage of transport as well, i could take my car so that all of us (Aunts and cousins) could travel comfortably. Since i am always looking for an opportunity to get out of this polluted city, i readily accepted the invitation. 

This year the jaatre was scheduled between 27 and 29 of March. Since our family's Annadana (feeding) programme was on the first day, we decided to go there on the 27. My aunts left in the morning in Arvind's car to make necessary arrangements. 

Myself, Aravind and another cousin of mine Karthik left home at 8:00 PM. We were joined by one of Karthik's friends Shibha. 
Since we were running late, another set of cousins Adithya, Anjali, Ashok and my maternal grandmother left an hour before us. 

We took the road via tumkur and Gubbi. Since we were hungry, we stopped at the cafe coffee day near tumkur for some snacks. We left Tumkur by 9:30 PM and we were at Hulisandra by 11:00 PM.

Route to Hulisandra from Tumkur

Goddess Lakshmi at Hulisandra 
The main deity of the place is goddess "Lakshmi". For some strange reason, the goddess is called "ಕೊಲ್ಹಾಪುರದ ಲಕ್ಷ್ಮಿ " , That is Lakshmi of Kolhapur. Kolhapur is more than 500 Kms from Hulisandra. So there is no plausible story on how the goddess is named after Kolhapur Lakshmi. However, one story told by the locals is that many many years back, a lady was spotted near the lake in this village. On inquiry of who she was, she told the villagers that she is the Lakshmi of Kolhapur and that she would be staying in the village henceforth.

The festival had not yet started by the time we reached there. The first day's festival is called "Konda" (ಕೊಂಡ). Konda is a layer of hot coal freshly made by burning firewood. Devotees walk barefoot on it. It is customary for the Basava (bull) to take the first walk, followed by the Kalashagithi (young girl who carries the kalasha). Finally the devotees walk on the Konda. The second day is called "Teru"(ತೇರು). This is the procession of God in a manually drawn chariot on the streets of the village. In the morning, the Brahmins pull the chariot and in the night, the other castes pull the chariot. The third day is called "Bai beega"(ಬಾಯಿ ಬೀಗ ). Here people who have made wishes (ಹರಿಕೆ ) will lock their mouth with a pin in case their wishes are granted. This is an old absurd practice. I was told that this is being stopped now. But still some dogmatic groups are involved in this practice. The last day is called "Madalakki"(ಮಡಲಕ್ಕಿ) where people dressed like gods visit individual houses and receive the offerings made to them. 

We went there for only the first day. The first days's festivities starts at 11:30 in the night and goes up to 4 AM. Konda is the last activity which starts at about 3 AM and finishes by 4 AM. Before the Konda , the Uthsava moorthi (Idols of goddess Lakshmi and Ranganatha) is taken on procession on the streets of the village. Each idol is carried by four people. Anybody can carry this. My cousins Aravind and Adithya carried it for about an hour.   
My aunts asked me to carry it as well but i did not. 

From 11:30 in the night to about 2:00 AM, the god is taken in procession on the streets of the village (There are only three streets). The procession is accompanied by a set of drums, the kalashagithi (The young girl, yet to mature , who carries the kalasha), the hogala battaru (A man who keeps praising the goddess at regular intervals) and the Chamas.   Chamas are two people dressed in a tribal attire believed to be sons of goddess Lakshmi. They are called "Doothraya"(ದೂಥರಾಯ) and "Kencharaya"(ಕೆಂಚರಾಯ). Doothraya wears the brown mask while Kenchraya wears the red mask. They dance to the beat of the drum in front of the goddess for almost 3 hours. 

On demand, the people who carry the goddess Lakshmi on their shoulders visit individual houses in the village. The chamas and the drums accompany them. It is a tradition that the Kalashagithi visits the house followed by the chamas and then the goddess. 

The chamas dance vigorously for almost three hours. It requires a lot of energy to do that. Earlier, i was told that only two people (One for Dootharaya and the other for Kencharaya) dance for the entire duration. However, of late it has become a practice to change midway. 

The last time i saw the chama was way back in 1992 or 1993. I was very scared of their looks. They were dancing very vigorously with weapons in the hand. Back then, the atmosphere was intense and the gathering was huge. 
However, this time all that was missing. The percussion which accompanied the procession was pretty lousy.The energy levels of the chamas were not really high. However it was good to see them again after almost two decades. 

After the procession on the streets, there will be a small break when the drummers and the chamas take a breather for about 10 minutes. In the break, a bull (Basava) is decorated with flowers and drums, locally called "Nagari". From here, the Basava leads the procession all the way till the temple. Two drums are tied on either side of the Bull. Two strong men take charge on beating this drum till the end of the day. Once in a way ,hands are changed. Me and my cousins tried our hand at beating the drum for about 20 minutes cumulatively. 

The last hour before the "Konda" has relatively high energy levels. Two additional drums are added. A group of women carrying flowers and lamps on their head join the procession. They are either the women of the village or of neighboring villages. So now the convoy is lead by the bull, followed by the Kalashagithi, the Chamas, The goddess and the women with lamps on their head. It is a colourful sight. 

The convoy reaches the Konda by 3:00 AM. After the rituals associated with the konda is completed by the local priest, the bull takes the first walk. The bull is followed by the Kalashagithhi. Since, the Kalashagitthi is a young girl, few people just carry her so that her feet does not touch the hot coal. The Kalashagitthi is followed by the Chamas, the goddess (People carrying on their shoulders), the women with lamps on their heads. Finally the konda is thrown open for the general public. 
There is no compulsion and any desiring individual can walk on it. Roughly 50 percent of the crowd dare walking on that. None of us except my cousin Aravind dared walking on that.

Sunrise near Gubbi
The festivities end by about 4:00 AM. We headed back to our cars by 3:45 AM walking in the pitch dark mud roads of Hulisandra. We took a nap in the car till 5:30 AM. We started back to Bangalore by 5:45 AM. After a round of sunrise photography at Gubbi and a coffee break at Tumkur , we reached Bangalore by 9 :30 AM. 

Though i have personal reservations on some of the practices followed in these regions, from academic perspective, it is good to see and understand these cultures and practices. It was nice to visit a village after two decades equipped with a good camera and more importantly equipped with a better mindset of appreciating people, cultures, practices, tribes and places. 

Some pictures of the trip are here


  1. brilliant post sunil! and very impressive somas (or chamas? first time i heard someone call them that) more information on the ritual would be greatly appreciated!

  2. brilliant post sunil! and very impressive somas (or chamas? first time i heard someone call them that) more information on the ritual would be greatly appreciated!

  3. Thank you very much Sunil for gathering lot of information about hulisandra and there festival. Even my aunty belongs to same village and I use to attend the festival every year but past form 2 years I am missing this, since they are constricting new temple for goddess Lakshmi.