I had heard a lot about the Mylara jaatre (village fair) from my aunts and grandmom. For a long time, I had thought Mylara was a fictitious place since it appears in the Kannada proverb "Konkana sutti Mylarakke hogodu" which roughly translates to "beating around the bush to make a point".
This time around, I happened to make it to the jaatre and could see another proverb in action - "jana marulo jaatre marulo" meaning "What/who is crazy? The people or the crowd".
My brother had tried visiting last year but did a U-turn after looking at the lakhs of people gathered for what is called Karanika (prophecy). He warned me about the crowds, but I saw an opportunity to take some colorful pictures. What I did not anticipate was the need for a long-range lens to capture the rustic innocence of the village folk.
I do not want to sound like an NRI or a foreigner visiting India, but I was truly stunned by the reactions of the people to a woman 'press reporter' - that was what I was promoted to as I stood on a water tank with a SLR camera in hand and a "photographer's cap" on my head. My dad watched in disbelief as he could not prevent me from climbing onto the water tank. People always want to say 'you cannot climb this', 'you should not do that' because they are limited by their own capabilities and thinking - whether it is a 10 ft water tank or a 10,000 ft mountain. I decided enough is enough, and with help from a bunch of guys, happily perched myself on top of the water tank from where I could get a panoramic view of the curious event that was to follow.
Every year, lakhs of devotees of Mylaralingeshwara (one of Lord Shiva various forms) visit this place called Mylara
(in Bellary district of Karnataka) on an annual piligrimage. People from north and central Karnataka come in tractors, bullock carts, buses and various other vehicles that are artistically decorated. It is amazing to see so many people united in one wholistic and simple belief. It is believed that whatever is pronounced by a lead Gorappa (a clan in North Karnataka)
during the Karnika turns out to be true.
The person who pronounces the prophecy fasts for 9 days and then on the day of the Karnika (which falls on Bharatha Poornima in Maagha month), climbs a 15 ft oil-smeared pole as if he is climbing a coconut tree and then says whatever God wishes to say through him. This time it was said "Muttina raashi, Kashta pattu, sukha pattitale parakh" which translates to "Heap of pearls (refering to the people), work hard and reap the benefit, thus is the prophecy". Once this is said, he falls off the pole. Just before the prophecy is pronounced, the Gorappa orders for silence and the huge gathering obediently follows his order. After the event, junior Gorappas are available for detailed interpretation of the prophecy.
The guys who gave me space on the water tank filled me with interesting tit-bits about the event and ensured that I did not miss capturing any interesting incident. They also gave me some complimentary buttermilk. In return, I need to send them their pictures that I took, by snail mail. I had assumed that everyone who went to college had access to the internet - I believe most of them do have, on their phones. Anyway, I finally get an opportunity to return a stranger's favor of sending pictures of our family outing long ago when we couldn't afford a camera.
Many more people waved, smiled and requested that their photographs be taken - I gladly obliged all of them with a big smile on my face too. Then, it was time to get down from my position and I almost did a Gorappa act by trying to jump off the tank as I have always had this problem since childhood, of climbing onto rooftops but too scared to get down. Finally, my uncle and dad helped me get down the conventional way.
We camped overnight in some beneficiary's farm and had yummy dinner that included chilli bajjis. The local farmers consider it a privilege to be able to give up part of their farms for the event. A good night's rest under coconut trees and a full moon and we were ready to start the second leg of the tour. The next morning, I watched as everyone (including oxen and tractors) took a dip in the Tunga Bhadra river before heading out to the village of Mylara where the main temple is situated. While my family went to say Hi to God, I opted to take more pictures of the people at the fair.
I couldn't believe as some people followed me and called out to me to have their pictures taken!
My day was made as this T-shirt aptly captures what I felt for being given an opportunity to experience this madness!
That was not all. On the way back, my aunt and grandmom entertained us with interesting stories about Lord Mylaralingeshwara. One story goes like this. Lord Mylaralingeshwara lends money to Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupathi for his marriage, but Lord V fails to return on time. When Lord M asks for the money to be returned, Lord V says that he will return it when the tamarind tree bears fruit. And believe it or not, all the tamarind trees near the temple of Lord M apparently do not bear fruit!! I would like to believe that there is some scientific reason behind this, but the story is very cleverly formed. Lord V surely maintains his reputation of being cunning!
Another story is a sweet one. Supposedly, Lord M accompanies all the people who comes to visit him till Harihara (on the way to Davanagere) to say bye to them. People thank Him for accompanying them till there, visit the temple at Harihara and then head back to their homes.
It is interesting to note that people not only give a human form to God but human character as well!
The way I saw the entire event with all the associated beliefs and stories is that it gives the people something to hold onto through the thick and thin of life, something to have fun and something to give back to society.