When four goddesses walk around Mavalli, the heart of Bengaluru

In early June, the village of Mavalli, close to Lalbagh, was witness to Ooru Habba. Celebrated once in three years, the festival is a call to invoke the blessings of the resident deity, Mariamma. Here are some snapshots from this year’s edition of the festival.


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Legend has it that Chamundeshwari (of Mysore) once came through Mavalli. It was then a mango forest with few houses. She sought shelter under one of the trees and proclaimed that she would protect the land, if the village-folk allowed her to reside there. The people obliged, and to this day, she continues to reside at the Bisilu Maramma temple. Interestingly, she is also said to have said that she prefers to be under the sun without any overhead shelter; and it is for this reason, she is referred to as Bisilu or Veyil (sunlight) Maramma. 

Once every three years, the village of Mavalli in Bangalore witnesses a huge gathering of over a lakh people. The people, locals as well as residents who have long since moved out of the city, are devotees who congregate together for the Ooru Habba, which is celebrated to invoke the blessings of the resident deity, Mariamma.

This year, between June 8th and 11th, the streets of Mavalli in Bangalore thronged with people who had gathered to celebrate Ooru Habba. Ooru Habba, which translates to festival of the village, goes back a long way, to more than 300 years (800 years even, according to one gentleman). It is celebrated to invoke the blessings and protection of Mariamma. When Bangalore was ravaged by plague in the late 1800s, Mariamma temples began cropping up in various villages in the area, to appease the plague deity.

Architect Kiran Keswani explains in a paper on Tree Worship in Urban Space,  “The village of Mavalli was guarded by four goddesses at its outer periphery. Although the village has now become a part of the city, the shrines housing the four goddesses continue to exist and to be worshipped.”

Unlike many temple festivals which are celebrated annually, the Ooru Habba is celebrated only once in three years. Many years ago, the people living in the area were not very well-off, and employment opportunities were few. Any celebration requires a significant amount of funding. It was to give people and the temple enough time to gather resources to celebrate in a relatively grand manner that the festival was scheduled once in three years. Gopalakrishna, a director of the Grama Seva Sangha Trust that manages the temple says that there have been times where it was celebrated just once in five years.

During the Ooru Habba, the four goddesses, Durgamma, Dodda Maramma (Bisilu Maramma), Chikka Maramma and Sathyamma, who are sisters, are taken out together in a procession around the periphery of the neighbourhood. The processions moves along Papaiah street, Susheela road, the Lalbagh Fort road and the Krumbiegel road which define the extent of the Mavalli village

To determine the dates on which the Ooru Habba will be celebrated, the priests from the four temples meet. This typically happens after Ugadi. Once the dates are set, the four of them set out from street to street with sticks in hand. Like town criers of yore, they announce the dates and invite the village folk.  

The Ooru Habba initially brought together the people from over 11 villages in the area. Over time, six villages started celebrating their own festivals, with the villages of Dodda Mavalli, Chikka Mavalli, Dandepalya, Sathyammanavattara and Chinappapalya continuing to celebrate the Ooru Habba. What is interesting is that caste and community does not play a part here – the festival is open to all members of the neighbourhood.  

On the first day of the Ooru Habba, tradition has it that a goat be sacrificed, and the blood of the goat be cooked with rice. Three people from the temple that hosts the grama devatha (village goddess) then walk from street to street, dispersing the rice on the streets, chanting “Bali, bali”. People are not allowed to watch them when this happens. Earlier this year, the Animal Welfare Board of India and the Vishwa Kalyan Prani Mandali, had called for a ban on animals sacrifice in temples, which the court upheld as per the Karnataka Prevention of Animal Sacrifice act, 1954;  so this time around, a pumpkin was sacrificed instead!

Once this is  done, preparations begin for the agni kunda puja. The four idols are decorated with flowers and carried through the streets. Durgamma, Sathyamma and Dodda Maramma are carried down Susheela Road, where they meet Chikka Maramma. They make their way to the Dodda Maramma temple for the agni kunda puja. Alongside the procession, there is music, dance and other entertainment for devotees. Performers deck up in traditional attire, and the performances include dollu kunitha, kil kuthire, huli vesha, karagattam and oyilattam. Tamte vaathya (drums) and nadaswara are played by musicians.

The agni kunda is a pit filled with hot coals which people walk on. Hot coals burn through the night and the priests from the four temples walk over the coals. They are followed by those who have renounced speech by ‘bai beega’ – locking the mouth by piercing a thin silver spear through the cheeks. Once they cross the fire, the priests remove the beega.

The womenfolk also carry the thambittu aarthi or maavizhakku (a lamp made from a dough of rice powder and jaggery). These lamps are also decorated with flowers and leaves. Carrying their lamps, the women walk over the coals to offer their respects to the goddesses. Once this is done, the devotees go home. The meal for that day comprises of meat, typically chicken or mutton. 

Gopalakrishna is also the resident priest at the helm of the Ooru Habba celebrations. He explains that the rituals are not performed by brahmin priests as animals used to be sacrificed. He adds that the priests who conduct the Ooru Habba ceremonies are meat-eaters, and are referred to as ‘pandaram’. He recounts, “I used to be the assistant to the previous pujari; the gante pujari (the one who rings the bell). The earlier priest, Rudrappa, conducted the pujas for many years. On one edition of the Ooru Habba, he was feeling particularly exhausted and couldn’t cross the fire. He sat besides the agni kunda (fire pit), and turned to me and said, “From now on, it is your responsibility to do this.” Since then I’ve been conducting the puja here for the Ooru Habba, and for Ugadi”.

On the fourth and final morning of the habba, a puja is performed for the goddesses at their respective temples. At the Dodda Maramma temple, devotees gather together to watch the goddess being placed on the tall swing that hangs in the centre of the courtyard. They also participate in a game that involves hitting a coconut strung from a wire.

For the final procession, the goddesses are once again decked up in finery, even grander than that of the previous days, and carried to the Boga Nanjundeshwara Easwaran temple near Minerva circle. From here, they proceed to the grama devatha, whose idol is fashioned out of clay and installed in a spot located opposite Mavalli mosque. The spot, a short distance away from the Dodda Maramma temple, belongs to the temple, and has been rented out to a timber merchant. Every Ooru Habba, it is used by the temple for the festivities.

The grama devatha is then carried to the lake at Lalbagh. Only after she is out of sight, can the four goddesses return to their temples. Eight days later, on June 16th, a maru puja was performed at the Dodda Maramma temple to give thanks to all the devotees who patronised the Ooru Habba. This also acts as the closure of the Ooru Habba.

Don’t fret if you have missed out on this edition of the Ooru Habba. The festival of the village will take place once again three years from now. Even for those of you who are not religiously inclined, the people, the procession and the performances are truly a sight to behold. As VL Raja, a member of the 24 Mane Telungu Chettiyar Sangha, a Tamil-speaking community originally from Andhra Pradesh, puts it, “It is difficult to describe what you can see and experience. Two eyes are not sufficient; even a thousand eyes will not be enough.”

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