Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Maari Jaatre [ last part of the five ]

Maari jaatre in Sagara is held once in three years. It is a fortnight long festivities in honour of the town deity - Maarikamba, mother who slays all evil. Maari is worshiped by all castes of Hindus and hence the festival gets the support of one and all in the neighbouring hundreds of villages. Since it is election year, quite a few ticket aspirants seem to have let the money flow freely so that they could get as much publicity as possible during the jaatre. Hoardings and banners were seen as far as in Shimogga. Although all castes worship the deity, they way they do it different. On the first day of the jaatre, it is the brahmins who do the pooja in the form of elaborate rituals involving some Yajnas and Homas. Very few men known as purohits do the pooja on behalf of all other brahmins. On the subsequent days the other castes do their poojas. Their pooja is more broad based unlike the brahmins. Until recently there was the custom of sacrificing a kona (male buffalo). This year following intense objection from the animal rights organization, it has been toned down a bit. Now only some blood is drawn by doing a small incision. The kona lives to see another day and its stature raises - almost divinity. Usually most of such fairs end with a grand cart pulling ceremony - usually on the last day. However, since we visited the jaatre in the middle of it, we would not know how it is done in Sagara. All these rituals are done in morning and evenings are exclusively for making merry.

In front of the temple there is a stage. Every day, renowned artistes of Karnataka perform for a couple of hours. On Friday, it was the turn famous light music singer MD Pallavi to entertain us. Just when we arrived there, she started the ever so popular "elli jaarito manavu...." We listened to her complete the song... But since the inflow of people to the event was far greater than the number of seats provided, we had to just move on. At the corner of the street, the same was being projected on a huge screen. There was live relay of this through out Sagara on a local cable network. Technology rocks. After the famous artistes, it is the turn of the local talents to show off. School children, and enthusiastic housewives form a handy pool of talents. Add to the natural excitement the anxiety of being on TV... we get a lot of comedy and amidst all that, some really useful exposure for genuine talent.

On one side of the stage was the queue to give offerings to Maarikamba. The queue was running into at least a thousand people. Each one had one set of Hannu-Kai material. It is the traditional offering to the deity consisting of - A coconut, couple of bananas, flowers - usually chrysanthemum or varieties of dahlia, incense sticks, camphor, a packet of Kumkum (vermilion) and turmeric. The coconut is cracked open in front of the deity. Cocunut water forms the base for theertha after being offerered to hte goddess. The banana's skin is peeled just a little as if to make believe that Maari accepted the fruits. Camphor and incense sticks are lighted and circled clockwise in front of the goddess. This is to please Maari with the good scent. After all these, flowers are circled around every thing that is offered and hurled at the feet of the goddess. That completes the offering for one worshiper. The archakas (people who perform the above ritual) are so efficient that the queue of thousand people does not seem stuck at all. After the offering procedure, the Hannu-Kai material becomes prasadam.

The jaatre perimeter starts almost a kilometer from the temple. Vehicles are not allowed in this area - thank fully so. The sheer amount of people simply amazed me. Most of them, like us, were not keen on buying anything - just watching and waiting for anything to catch their eye. The whole road was lined with merchant stalls from all over the country on one side. On the other side of the road are the foodie carts - Bhelpuri, masalapuri, gobi manchurian, churmuri, dosa, chilli bhajji, jilebi, masala papad and what not... Mind you... all these are out side the food court which officially hosts countless other stalls.

So many people, so many conversations happening at the same time... What is a jaatre without whistles and children running around blowing them? whistles and horns of various kinds form the base noise of the jaatre. We bought a dozen of them for each one of our team in Bangalore ;-). Then there is melodious flute by the flute merchant. I know I will not be able to re-create the melody if I bought one. In spite of craving for one, I stayed away. Then there are the cloth merchants calling for people to visiting their stalls - "3 trousers for a hundred", "2 tee for fifty"... "limited stock left"... "only in this jaatre"... and so on. The ice-cream carts (such a permanent fixture in jaatres) were not going to stay quite either... vanila, pista, strawberry, chocolate, "3 cups for ten rupees", "cone for five rupees", "come and taste it, pay only if you like"... The loud speaker every now and then reminds people to be aware of their children and other valuable belongings. Every now and then a Bhadrappa or a Chandre Gowda is requested to come to the information center because their beloved wives have lost track of them (probably they were engrossed in trying out the imitation jewelry too long). I bet the husbands are giving each others a hi-five and eating Davanagere Benne dose together. After a while a little boy went on to report its parents were missing. Amidst all these, I closely followed Vinaya and Sneha making sure I never lose sight of them. I knew how to get back to Vinaya's house... But my geography went for toss under all those disco lights. Every direction looked the same as the other.

I will try an describe some of the stalls to the best of my understanding. The most famous stalls (no surprises there) were those selling toys - all kinds of them. Cheap plastic ones from china have swarmed the market. Cars, buses, trucks, guns, water guns, canon shots, mobile phones and anything that can be made of plastic could be found there - seriously, even chairs, buckets, mugs and other house hold items. I even picked up a Rubick's puzzle for 20 bucks. Haggling is the order of the day. Items can be usually bought at half the initial offer price. Next most popular item for sale was jewelry - imitation of course. For villagers (most of who are BPL) who get to see them once in three years - the excitement is as good as seeing the real ones. Ladies of the house usually get a jaatre grant from the patriarch of the family. Add the year long savings (form rounding off expenses) to it and they have a tidy sum to blown away during the festivities. They use this very judiciously to get all the girls of the family all the decorations they need until the next fair - nail polish, ear-rings, neck-laces, bangles, hair-band, ribbons, fancy clips, bracelets, anklets... Next attraction for the ladies was the guy selling Mehendi stickers, rangoli stencils and other day-to-day items that sell cheaper during the fair. Like always, women start buying even if they do not need it - in the name of "anticipating the future need".

Another item that was popular was the miss-universe beauty crowns. Ah! which little girl can walk away from one? Just like the boys find it very hard to go past the mask guy selling spider-man, bat-man, clown, chucky masks. Women however get glued to the stalls that sell kitchen-ware. Dining sets, coffee-sets, plates, soup-bowls, and a whole lot of other china-ware. China-ware now refers to that they are all "Made-in-china" not that they are "made of porcelain". The handle-with-care tag is now replaced with for-rough-use because are cheap. The college students swarm the poster vendors to pickup portraits of their idols. MS Dhoni seems to be the flavour of the season closely followed by SRK. There were no takers for the posters of Gandhi, or Bose - partly because they are out of fashion, and partly because the painter did a shoddy job. Gandhi was seen laughing as if he just heard a new sardarji joke.

Since there were so many stalls selling boys toys, the doll makers for the little girls did not want to stay behind. Fairies and fancy hats were sold exclusively for the girls. There was one stall just meant for key-chains. Pretty fancy ones. There was the ever popular smiling buddha, the "I love You" heart shaped ones, the cricket bat ones... One could even personalize them by writing names on the key chains. Lastly, the bags... How many bags does one person need? I fail to understand the logic behind such huge collection of bags. There were at least a couple of stores with tens of thousands of bags in each one of them. Are they banking on people shopping beyond their estimated carrying capacity and there by buying more bags? or are the people of Sagara are simply of the "bag loving" kind (- multi baggers)?

The next stop was the food court. There was separate area ear-marked for food vendors. Just like the Bangalore malls, one could buy from any vendors and get it to a common place to eat. Just that the prices were only a fraction of what they would cost in Bangalore. Since Vinaya's mother had fed us really well before we left for the jaatre, the food court failed to attract us. There were a couple of sweetmeat stalls that were selling the signature bendu-battasu-sakkare kaadi. This is a permanent fixture in any fair all across Karnataka. All are made from sugar and some flour - thereby hugely popular with the kids and those with a kid-like heart. Sakkare kaddi means sugar stick... and that is exactly what it is. There is another variety that has a khara kaddi (something like a chakkli), or fried channa dal in the middle. Those are popular among adults since they are not overly sweet.

What fair can be complete without high excitement rides. We took a ride on the huge giant-wheel. It has about 12 cars each capable of seating 4 people. However, no body would be comfortable if more than 2 sat in them. Its costs a nominal Rs25/- per ride. It started out slow and only later slowly picked some speed. I kept praying that the kid in the car above mine did not throw up. He closed his eyes out of fear during the second turn and did not open untill we were done ;-) From the top of the wheel, one could see real the extent of jaatre... the maari gudi, the mout ka kua, and a sky view of all other rides. Only after we got down did we come to know about the accident that happened the previous day at the giant wheel. One of the cars had come off... and two people plummeted to the ground. One did not survive the fall and other was critically injured... The wheel owners had eloped immediately, fearing being lynched by any mob. The wheel was grounded for a day and let to be operational only after a thorough inspection. But how much confidence can one put on these inspections? Had we known this earlier, we may have not ventured on the ride. Truly, ignorance is bliss. Other rides were tora-tora, various merry-go-rounds, trains and so on... net result of all of them would only be cerebral dis-orientation... There was this mout-ka-kua where motor cyclists would dare to ride (and perform antics) on the walls of artificial well. They defy the gravitational force by countering it by the centrifugal force. That is how fast they must be. Since there was a long queue for it and limited excitement for us (all three of engineers who knew the laws of physics) we let it pass.

The fair did not show any signs of winding down at all... but my legs had started to hurt. We had to head back home for dinner. Every night there would be a Yakshagana (folk drama enacting stories from mythology, very famous in coastal and malanad Karnataka) at the Gandhi maidana (= gound). People wander the streets of the fair till midnight and then proceed towards the Yakshagana stage. Typically that lasts till day break next day. Then they catch buses to their respective villages and go home looking to come back in the evening.

One thing was glaringly apparent. No matter what a person worries about at other times, he is oblivious to all such matters at the jaatre. Happiness quotient in a jaatre shoots through the roof. Clearly, you don't need money to be happy.

I may have just one more post if Vinaya reminds me of some thing that I have missed ;-)


Srikanth said...

PK -

Very well written.

Jaatre kannu mundhe kaTTida haage ide..

Shubha said...

nice... its been a long time since i have been to one... what did your colleagues say for the whistles you got them... or are youregretting your action now? ;)