On a dusty summer afternoon, a drum gently begins to beat, inviting the village into the temple courtyard. In a scene reminiscent of a story from William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives, locals gather around, waiting for the ‘chosen men’ to bring the village deity out of the temple and into the crowd. If you are here in the middle of all this colour and chaos, your body won’t be able to resist the rising crescendo of what the drum does next. Don’t fight it, folks.
Approximately two weeks after Ugadi or Kannadiga New Year, villages in and around the Malnad districts celebrate Suggi Habba, the custom of giving thanks to the village deity at the end of the harvest season. It’s a time of reverence and revelry, with most festivities stretching over 12 days.
The final days, when the idol is paraded around the cluster of villages, is when the Habba is open to the public. On the days preceding that, every village follows different rituals, but first, everyone congregates at the main temple in the evening. Shreedev Hulikere from the Hulikere village believes that this is a chance to love thy neighbour. “This has always been an occasion to celebrate the prosperity of our villages together and to foster stronger relationships. Everyone from that ooru will be present and participate.”
Last year, we had (har)vested interests, as we drove into Sakleshpur’s Devaldkere taluk. In line with a tradition passed on from generations, the man carrying the idol is believed to be an incarnate of God, and walks over coal as a show of strength while others join in. We’re all caught up in the frenzy too, just not enough to walk on embers. And so we skip away from the temple into the locality to see families visiting each other, discussing the estimated rainfall of the coming season over cups of frothy filter coffee with the authority of bookies. Every house replicates a menu that serves Malnad gems like kadabu, shevige and kaihalu to go with the famed Malnad hospitality. Take your pick – you can’t go wrong.
You may be an outsider, but you can dance and eat and join in the story-telling.
We’re told that every family and village has a variation of the Suggi Habba. In Avathi, four villages come together for an all-night celebration of Nalkooramma, literally translated as the ‘mother of four villages’. Leading up to the main festival, youngsters in the community gather at the temple to perform the Kol Huiyodu, a traditional dance form with sticks. In Bilagali,the idol is bathed in a stream and then decorated to be placed on a swing at the stroke of midnight. The Kattrumane Habba is a vegetarian affair, so leaf eaters, head here.
Depending on whether you like food, stories or dancing, pick your village party to crash. The best way to witness the Suggi Habba though, is to get invited, easily done if you’ve checked into a homestay at an estate nearby (ask your host how). But if you are in the vicinity, feel free to drive into the plantations and rest assured, you will be welcomed. Habbahabba!
Getting there: Chikamaglur & Sakleshpur towns are both a five-hour drive from Bangalore on NH 75. The Avathi, Joladal & Kattrumane Habba is on April 24. Devaldkere Habba is on 28 and the Daradahalli and Bankal Habba is on May 1.
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