The Bull Temple at Basavanagudi burst into a festive spirit yesterday, the last Monday of Karthika Maasa. In the colourful atmosphere one not only saw Laksha Deepotsava (lighting of one lakh lamps), but also lakhs of people going nuts.
One of the city’s oldest and unusual fairs, Kadlekai Parishe (Groundnut fair) began yesterday in and around the Bull Temple. The whole stretch from Ramakrishna Mutt till Kamath Bugle Rock was blocked for traffic. All you could find were sellers, buyers and predominantly heaps of groundnuts all across the street. There were colourful crowds who thronged the ancient temple to pray, buy groundnuts or any of the myriad objects for sale, soak in the atmosphere and, possibly, all of the above.
The line of flickering oil lanterns; the tall heaps of Kadlekai spread out on cement bags; carts of Khara, colourful Battas and Channas; the warm steam from the cooking Kadlekai; the mud and glass toys; books, charts and posters for children and elders; balloons in various colours, shapes and sizes; Churumuri, Chaat and Dose carts – once again the beginning of Kadlekai Parishe fused in life and excitement in Bangalore, as hordes of people were seen ambling down the street to have a look at what this year’s fair had in store for them. Considering that gorging on raw groundnuts can give you the mother of all indigestions, I saw a few enterprising jaggery sellers (as well as puffed rice vendors) who had set up shop.
The chief attraction was, of course, the large number of groundnut vendors displaying their ware all over the place. A whole lot of groundnut varieties from villages and districts around Bangalore were available. They sold the nuts ranging from Rs 10 a Seru and cooked ones for Rs 12. I got to know from a few vendors that some of them hailed from Dharmapuri, a district in Tamil Nadu adjoining Bangalore district. There were a few from Mavalli, Sunkenahalli, Hosahalli and a few from Andhra too.
Apart from the Kadlekai vendors, there were sellers of all sorts of items, ranging from plastic and wooden toys, mehendi patterns, jewellery and sweets to miniature models of dining tables and inflated aeroplanes. One could even know the future for as less as Rs.5 at the parishe! Kids freaked out in the joy rides and merry-go-rounds. My son looked really happy seeing those flying tops and balloons. I think he even enjoyed munching a few nuts with us.
There is a story behind this unusual festival. It is said that the groundnut farmers were stumped (and angered, no doubt) by someone who was feasting on their precious crop at night time. They assumed it was the handiwork of thieves and decided to catch them red-handed. Sure enough, one alert farmer heard the rustling of vegetation. However, the night was pitch black and he could not see a thing. Even so, he swung his crowbar and brought it on what he assumed a thief. It turned out to be a bull, which fell down dead, and turned into a stone even as the crowbar lay impaled in its body. It was too late the farmers learned that the bull used to come to the fields on full moon nights to not only help itself, but also to keep watch, and that the bull was the sacred Basava himself, Lord Shiva’s mount. Come the next full moon and no bull appeared. The farmer who killed the bull consulted his comrades and decided to atone for his sin by constructing a temple around the stone bull. When the construction was half-complete, the farmers were aghast to see that the bull kept growing, towering over the surrounding walls. Every time the farmers raised the walls, the bull simply became bigger.
This continued till one night, the farmer who had struck down the bull had a dream in which Lord Shiva directed him to retrieve a trident buried in the earth in front of the bull and affix it on to its forehead. The farmer was also instructed to tell the others that their first groundnut harvest should be offered to the shrine every year. They complied, and the bull stopped growing. The ritual continues to this day.
Legend also has it that Bangalore’s founder, Kempe Gowda, after hearing of the incident, turned up in disguise at Basavanagudi and asked the farmers who they were propitiating. On being told it was Basavanna who had looked after them all these years and had ensured that their crops got good rains, Kempe Gowda also offered his obeisance to the deity. That night he had a dream about a treasure. He had to disinter it and build a temple in its place. He complied. This was in 1537. Another version has it that Kempe Gowda, while under the captivity of the Vijayanagar ruler, Sadashivaraya, was fascinated by Hampi’s architecture. On being released, he came down south to found Bangalore, and had the temple built on similar lines. (Trivia: according to geologists, the river Arkavati once flowed where the Bull Temple stands now. It changed course following an earthquake. The huge boulders in the area substantiate this conclusion.)
A few old timers were chatting amongst themselves about the Kadlekai Parishe in their times. Certainly, this fair offers a sense of nostalgia, the thought of yesteryears when life was all about the basics and festivals all about their values and simplicity.
Today is the last day of Kadlekai Parishe.