Flowers for Kamakshi

There’s a Goddess stuck on 10th Street in Jogupalaya. Her `poo palakki’ (flower palanquin) is a little larger than the narrow street so she’s in a bit of a fix. Its already 4 am and despite being up all night, there is much to do before before she makes it to the ancient Someshwara Temple nearby. Like her, over a hundred minor Gods and Goddesses have left their local shrines and rolled into this part of Ulsoor to witness the divine union between Goddess Kamakshamba and Lord Someshwara. On the way, they will also surveytheir locality, bless people and make sure that all is well. She needs to keep up or she will get left behind.

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Her dark kohl rimmed eyes sparkle with irritation and her diamond nose pin flashes. Not for nothing has she dressed in her finest silk, worn her precious jewels and decked herself out in fragrant flowers.  Before she can manifest her displeasure, her attendants are quick to respond. They deftly manoeuvre her around so she travels down the lane sideways and is soon where the brightly dressed women wait to meet her with oil lamps, kum kum (vermilion powder) and flowers.

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She is not alone. Around her, young men dance frantically to the steady beat of loud kettle drums. Children roll along little chariots decorated with flowers. Women cluster below, lifting their babies up to her for blessings. Men stand in the street with hands folded and eyes closed, asking for favours. All along the street, doors have been thrown open to welcome her in.

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The `pallakki’ is a much awaited annual event and crowds throng the streets to watch the Gods go by in all their glory. Gold and silver foil, marigolds (chenda huvu), chrysanthamum (sevanthige), crossandra (kanambara), roses and jasmine (mallige) buds have been fashioned by pallakki designers into elaborate backdrops that will bloom all night. Reinforcements are on standby so one wilting bud can be quickly replaced with a fresh one. The area has been transformed into the site of a marriage celebration.

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The other deities follow patiently in their own flower palanquins. The guest list is impressive. But while Sri Guttee Munishwara Swami, Sri Devi Pilakku Mariamman from Cambridge Layout and Shree Pandurangaswamy from KK Street have arrived in the traditional painted wood chariots, others sail past in Matadors and on Massey Ferguson tractors. Spluttering kerosene operated generators trail behind. The ancient reconstructs itself to find a place in the modern metropolis.

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Despite maintaining this age old sacred, social and spatial practise, present day Ulsoor has very little left of its historical connections.  Experts say that the name Halasuru could be derived from the Kannada word for jackfruit-Halasina Hannu, as Ulsoor is said to have been a large jackfruit grove near the thirty three villages that existed in the ancient Halasuru hobli. While each village was eventually absorbed into the large mass of Bangalore Urban, it retained its rural antecedents and presiding deity.

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Also in the vicinity are the age old temples dedicated to Subramanya Swamy and the Ulsoor Grama Devatha (village deity), Goddess  Kempamma who was also the Kula Devatha (family deity) of the Kempegowda clan. Legend has it that Giddegowda, son of the first Yelahanka Nadaprabhu, Jayagowda (1413-1433) prayed to Goddess Kempamma for an heir and pledged that his son would be named after her. Accordingly, Kempananjegowda was born to him and was succeeded by (Hiriya)Kempegowda I who became a Palegar of the Vijayanagar king. Pleased with his unwavering allegiance, Achutaraya granted him 12 hoblis of which Halasuru was one. The Kempegowda dynasty went on to establish the new settlement of Bangalore and build forts, tanks, temples, gardens and groves. Though the Someshwara Temple is said to have Chola origins, it has extensions built by both Kempegowda I and II and is one of the oldest temples in Bangalore.

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Dawn breaks over the city skyline and the drums beats get louder as the chariot procession slowly rumbles past quaint little row houses towards the Someshwara Temple where they converge into one large, noisy, colourful mass. Holy water is sprayed, devotees are dusted with Margosa (neem) and `bilva’ leaves. Vermillion is applied on foreheads.Pavement stalls sell bangles, balloons and trinkets while children squeal with excitement on the merry go round. But the celebration now has a new backdrop looming high above this village festival. Silhouetted against the emerging turquoise sky is the modern Ulsoor Metro station which, like the dynamic urban cityscape, has been embraced and incorporated into this traditional scenography.

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Inside her large swan shaped chariot, Kamakshi (eyes filled with desire) sits facing a mirror. Called Kamakhya in the east, she is also one of the Tripura Sundari’s and an incarnation of Parvati. Her myth is connected with that of the hapless God of Love, Kama who was burnt to ashes by Shiva’s third eye so she is often depicted holding symbols associated with him-the sugarcane bow, flower  arrows and a parrot, with her foot on the Sri Chakra and a moon near her head. Kamakshi’s colour is one of heightened emotions and procreation-red. But now, she waits like a demure maiden to take the ascetic Shiva as her husband. She has won him after years of penance and sacrifice during which she makes a `lingam’ out of sand and prays incessantly to marry the great Lord who finally grants her this wish.

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The theme of marriage is also carved along the walls of the sanctum sanctorum within the Someshwara Temple where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, supervised by Lord Brahma and Vishnu is seen. Also in the wedding procession are the Sapta Rishis, the twelve Adityas and eleven Rudras who watch while her father, King Himalaya performs the Kanyadaan.

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The drum beats intensify and bright flowers scent the morning air but all eyes are on Shiva, Lord Someshwara, Bhairava, Virabhadra, Sundareshwara, who stands arrogantly in his chariot under the Metro station. He is wise to the ways of the world, unresponsive even. It holds no appeal for him. But he is unaware of the workings of his heart.

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 “She is Shakti, personification of energy…she is the world Shiva shuts himself  from. She will stir love in his heart, make him open his eyes and be part of worldly life. Love will connect the divine inside with the divine outside. The yearning and union that follow will validate all of existence”- Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik. Sitting in her fragrant jasmine poo pallakki, Kamakshamba smiles. This knowledge is nothing new for her. She has known this truth since the world was formed. She is a Goddess, and a woman after all.

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Find it

The Someshwara Temple is next to the Ulsoor Metro Station, near MG Road, Bangalore. The `Poo Pallakki’ is an all night event, from about midnight -9 am. It is usually held in the month of May and is dated according to the Hindu calendar.

Scenes from the Pallakki

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the Pallakki

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