The expanded City of Bengaluru has incorporated within itself a large number of villages which are undergoing rapid change and are yet rural in many respects. One such village is Doddagubbi in Bangalore East Taluk which has an ancient Someshwara Temple built during Hoysala times. It also has a temple dedicated to Madduramma which held a jatra or religious procession on 10th April attended by me. According to the people of Doddagubbi, earlier the jatra used to be held over seven days, now it is reduced to four.
The village goddess festival of Doddagubbi in peri-urban Bengaluru
As I experienced it, the jatra was a people’s festival in which they were personally and wholeheartedly involved.
A jatra is a religious festival which is annually conducted in the villages of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It is an intrinsic part of village life in these states. The highlight of the jatra is the procession of the idol through the streets of the village. In a typically Hindu expression of religious fervour and pageantry, the idols, which are magnificently decorated in vibrant colours, are carried aloft by devotees or drawn on chariots. Bystanders line the route of the procession, standing with hands folded in an ardent gesture of faith and devotion to the idol. It is as if the temple has come out onto the streets of the village!
The idol of Madduramma is lodged in a small temple built for the goddess and her six sisters about 125 years ago by the present pujari's great grandfather. During a visit to Huskur in Anekal taluk to attend a cattle fair, he had visited the Madduramma temple there, renowned for its jatra and while there, he had experienced the appearance of the goddess in the 'bottu' (vermilion mark) on the forehead of his wife. When he returned to Doddagubbi, he set up a small shrine in his house and started worshipping the goddess. The present temple, said the pujari, was built on land donated by a Muslim villager when his horse miraculously recovered from a sickness. Interestingly, the priest is a dalit, pointing to the integration of the dalits into the religious life of the village.
Contributions came from the neighbouring villages in both cash and kind. The idol of Madduramma, made of panchaloha (the five-metal alloys of sacred significance used for making Hindu temple idols) and gold, was contributed by Kalkere while Doddamma and Kattemaramma emerged from a lake and were installed. Pillekamma began to be worshipped around the time of the plague in Bangalore in 1904 and she also finds a place in this temple. The idol of Saveramma was contributed by the villagers of Shivarapatna in Malur Taluk who are famous as sculptors of Hindu gods and goddesses. Saplamma came from the nearby village of Kothanur and Elemandamma is the local goddess of Dodda Gubbi.
Thus, the temple houses the idols of seven goddesses draped in the finest attire of colourful silk sarees and adorned with flowers and is a magnificent sight to behold. While female deities predominate, there is also a small brass male idol of Siriraya who is regarded as the son of Madduramma. When the goddess is taken out in procession, Siriraya precedes her as a sort of bodyguard.
The primary role of the goddesses is to protect the villagers from diseases. Indeed, Pillekamma got her name from the plague of 1904! People come from as far away as Hoskote and Bagalur to seek the protection of Madduramma, especially for their children, and they have tremendous faith in the efficacy of praying to the goddess. The annual jatra of the goddess takes place in April and I witnessed this faith from close quarters. More than a sense of awe and respect, I noticed that there is a great deal of love and affection for the goddess, seen in the manner in which they touch the idol and then bring their fingers to their forehead and lips in a gesture of fondness and intimacy.
On the first day of the jatra, the eldest sister of the goddesses, Doddamma, is bedecked with white flowers; she is then covered in a blue cloth and taken out in procession through the village streets to the village tank. She is preceded by Siriraya and the procession continues amidst the beating of drums and much fanfare through the village while people line the streets and do obeisance to the deity. The young men who lead the procession have an honorific role to play that will bring them religious merit. Their enthusiasm was palpable to the onlookers as they rolled out the red carpet and beat the drums for Doddamma's procession to pass through.
Finally, Doddamma and Siriraya reached the Doddagubbi Lake where they rested with their devotees while the priest went down to bathe. When he returned, a goat or two were sacrificed to the goddess and the blue sheath was removed to reveal Doddamma in her floral splendour. She was then carried back to her temple abode. The priest now became an oracle of the goddess and predicted good and bad tidings for the coming year, including information regarding the onset of rains and the crops to be planted.
The jatra is an occasion for family members to get together; sisters visit their brothers' homes, and there is much feasting and bonhomie. The houses have received a coat of paint prior to the festival and look clean and tidy. The day of the procession is observed strictly as a vegetarian day and on the next day, non-vegetarian meals are cooked.
On the third day of the jatra, various vows which had been undertaken by individuals are carried out such as hook-swinging, walking on hot coals, etc. but this custom is no longer followed, perhaps due to urban influences. After all, Doddagubbi is in the city and not far from the Kempegowda International Airport!
On the last day, there was a big fair at Doddagubbi. Small shops were set up, selling a variety of articles from utensils to hairclips. The temple and all the goddesses were now extravagantly bedecked with flowers and it was a splendid sight to behold! People thronged the temple for a last glimpse of their goddesses. Outside, Siriraya was seated under a tree while children under the age of five were taken for a joy-ride around him, in the manner of a make-shift merry-go-round. They were then taken to Siriraya to receive his blessings. A simple meal was given by the temple authorities to all the people who attended the fair.
Participation of the people came in various forms. One could wrap a shawl or a handkerchief around Siriraya or give Madduramma a coconut and flowers or even a goat. Alternatively, one could distribute free drinks of jaggery and lime juice to the people. One could touch and feel the goddesses and Siriraya, giving a sense of intimacy of the people with their idols. As I experienced it, the jatra was a people's festival in which they were personally and wholeheartedly involved.