It was a full moon night. Darkness had fallen and the lamps in the village had spluttered out long ago. Tired farmers slept deeply, weary from day long labour in the fields.
The big bull pawed the ground impatiently. He gathered speed as he moved and crashed through the fields, destroying the harvest in his wake.Then just like before, he disappeared into the night like a shadow.
The distressed villagers sent a heartfelt prayer up to the heavens the next morning and offered the Lord Basava their first crop in return for his favours. That night the bull did not return. Instead, the jubilant villagers found an idol of the Lord lying nearby.
Multiple versions have it that the idol gradually started to grow larger in size much to the amazement of the villagers and around 1537, Kempegowda I built a temple on top of a nearby hillock and dedicated it to the `Dodda Basava’. Since then, farmers from surrounding villages as far as the Tamil Nadu border gather here annually to offer their first harvest to the Lord who watches over this rural festival from the Bull Temple high up on the hill.
Over time the fields of Sunkenahalli village gave way to a new extension called Basavanagudi which was created just after the Great Bangalore Plague of 1898. But the festival endured and went on to become a much anticipated event in Bangalore’s annual calendar.
As I walk up the road from the Ramakrishna Ashram towards the Bull Temple I am gradually swallowed up by a ground nut eating-buying swarm of people. While farmers from Tamil Nadu jostle with those from Karnataka for vantage positions near the Bull Temple, the Basavanagudi I know has disappeared and in its place is a colourful, chaotic village `jathre‘. Bangalore’s rural origins have reclaimed the city for their own, even if it is for only three days
But this transformation of the city from a physical urban space to an imagined horticultural one is not a new phenomena. Every year, the Karaga procession reclaims the traditional horticultural spaces of the Tigala community within the crowded Pettah area. Elsewhere, flower festooned chariots from other temples rumble in for the Poo Pallakki ( Car Flower Festival ) to celebrate the celestial marriage of Someshwara with the doe eyed Kamakshi in and outside the precincts of the Someshwara temple in Ulsoor, which was once a jackfruit grove.
On the day of Kartika Somawara each year, the Kadlekai Parishe re-imagines Basavanagudi’s urban identity into a symbolic representation of the areas agricultural past. City dwellers are active participants in this metamorphosis as they taste, bargain and buy boiled, roasted and raw groundnuts that are so fresh they still have mud clinging to them. But the crowds offering the first harvest to the Lord and the price of groundnuts have both increased over the years and alongside the omniscient parrots are fortune telling plastic robots from China.
There’s a lot to take in at the Parishe – kitchy handpainted clay dolls and balloons in eye popping hues. Crisp tapioca chips, neon pink `sakkre’ candy and boiled ground nuts garnished with green chillies and lemon. Pushy `aunties’ with goodie baskets who shop furiously. Parrots predicting good fortune. Rangoli stencils to buy for the front door. All set against a cacophony of whistles and wooden flutes, shouts of greeting, bargaining and the heightened collective energy of a traditional street festival.
For those who have grown up in the area, the Parishe has many happy childhood memories of colour and chaos alongside feelings of community and connectivity that have long since disappeared from our lives. As Bangalore grew, many villages around it were pulled into the city boundaries – Mavalli, Dasarahalli, Yediyur, Adugodi, Koramangala… the list is endless. But as each village dissolved silently into a larger urban cesspool and offered up its traditional aralikatte on the altar of development, the symbolic connections attached to these spaces endured. Which is why every now and then our roads are blocked by unexpected pandals. Cars wait in traffic beside a Grama Devatha in her chariot, dressed in all her fiery splendour and loudspeakers draped with fairy lights keep us awake till dawn. It’s just a village coming to life in the heart of the city. For a little while.
The Kadlekai Parishe is more than just a harvest festival. It is a significant part of Bangalore’s living history. Something that we could never hope to find in a mall.
The Kadlekai Parishe is usually held on Kartika Somawara each year, at the Bull Temple in Basavanagudi, on Bull Temple Road.
More pictures of the Parishe :