The young and handsome Hariprasad, a correspondent with the recently launched TV 9 channel, says that Sankranthi is celebrated with much more gusto in Mangalore and its surrounding villages on the west coast. The highlight is the breathtaking Kambla – racing a pair of buffaloes through a 200 meter stretch of slush. Villagers participate as if it’s the Olympics because of the enormous respect the winners get to earn and keep for the rest of the year. “Only in villages do you see the real fervour of this festival”, Hariprasad says. I tell him that Mangalore is too far from Bangalore for me to investigate—a journey of at least ten hours. “Why don’t you go to Magadi?” he suggests. “Only 40 kilometers. They don’t have the kambla but you can watch the ritual of cattle jumping over fire.”
An hour later I am in a bus hurtling down a road that descends and descends and winds and winds. The scene outside is eminently suitable for filming an Indian version of McKenna’s Gold: hamlets, banyan trees, ravines and valleys. Armies of coconut trees give way to legions of betel nut trees. We pass the dusty towns of Sunkadakatte and Taverekere—telling reminders of how more and more verdant lands are being mauled to make way for humans. The horizon is a jagged chain of hills shrouded in mist; it’s as if Nature is defending what little secrets it has left farther from humanity. We approach Magadi and a motorcycle ridden by three laughing boys overtakes our bus. Our bus in turn overtakes a trailer bursting with men and women, all grinning and waving. Perhaps rural India, which accommodates 70% of our billion strong population and subsists on the atrocious sum of $ 20 a month, simmers with an optimism that has escaped the urban media.
The man beside me is bearded and gaunt, quite like young Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More. He has been chattering on his cell phone endlessly. When at last he pockets the instrument, I ask him if he is from Magadi. He nods but doesn’t look me in the eye. I tell him I want to see how Sankranthi is celebrated in a Magadi home. “Ranganathaswamy Temple is the place to see”, he says and clams up. Perhaps he’s apprehensive that any more talk would make him obligated to invite me home.
Magadi Bus Terminus is awash with vendors of sugarcanes, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Shops and restaurants cram the periphery—it’s all like a village impatient to become a city. I head to a line of ramshackle auto rickshaws outside the terminus.
“Where to?” asks the khaki clad man in the first three-wheeler. The journey is bumpy but short and Ranganathaswamy Temple is a sprawling edifice of stonewalls and towers. Multicoloured carvings of gods and goddesses look down on me with a benign muteness, as though I am a hopelessly perplexed mortal. Opposite the entrance is a square pit where a few women, decked in new saris and jewels, are propitiating stone idols. It’s the preliminary ritual before entering the temple. But apart from them and a few more in the temple courtyard, there aren’t many pilgrims around. Am I late?
I hurry up the broad steps towards the sanctum sanctorum. The smell of incense is thick, the floor is cool beneath my soles and the ceiling is low. Lord Ranganathaswamy is decorated in flowers and jewels as though he is the most eligible bachelor around. A lion’s head on his crown makes him even more majestic. A priest commences the aarti or honouring with fire and sacred verses. I bow my head and pray for my little girl’s welfare.
Ramesh continues his revelation on the spirit of this Indian summer festival in the Jan/Feb issue of LivingNow – Ed
Ramesh Avadhani lives in Bangalore and writes for a few magazines in Australia, USA, and Europe. He loves wild life and long walks
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