Posted in development, rural, sanskritization, thigalas

The Thigalas of the Hills

_MG_8977HaleKote is a small hamlet of Durgadahalli in Devarayanadurga, located 20kms off Tumkur, Karnataka. There are about 60 families, most of the members happen to be descendants of three large families. They speak Kannada.

HaleKote is a homogeneous village with its entire population belonging to a single caste – Thigalas. But some of them, for instance, Naggamma ajji would claim that they were not originally Thigalas.

The origin of the true Thigalas themselves has been highly debated through time.

A search on Wikipedia reveals that it was King Hyder Ali who encouraged and brought the Thigalas to Bangalore so that they could plan and construct Lal Bhag – the mighty flower garden of Bangalore.

In another article published by ‘The Hindu’, Niranjana Ramesh states that Thigalas were responsible for the popular inscriptions on the walls of the Begur Temple. She goes to claim that it is a sadly less known fact that these inscriptions were carefully carved out by the Christian community of Thigalas who resided there more than four centuries ago. In due time, it was Tipu Sultan who brought the Thigalas to Bangalore, who eventually became responsible in transforming Bangalore into – The Garden City.

On the contrary, some believe that it was Kempe Gowda, the feudatory ruler of the Vijayanagara Empire, who led the Thigalas into Bangalore. Kempe Gowda established Bangalore as his capital and got the Thigalas to help him convert the city into a city of flowers.

One thing in common amongst all Thigalas that came into Bangalore city was that, they all spoke Kannada interlaced with a slight mix of Tamil.

The most factual record of the Thigalas so far is that, a Karnataka state government order issued in 1994 that all Thigalas were a sect of Backward Hindu Caste. Although it was only in 2001 that the residents of HaleKote were included into the Indian caste system by casting them off as Thigalas.

So where do the Thigalas of HaleKote come from?

Some of the people I met in HaleKote vividly recall their grandfathers and granduncles being hunters. They also recall of hearing stories of being descendants of people of the hills, the tribals. They told me that their ancestors lived on the hills and hunted for food. The only reason why they would occasionally come down had been for water, which a mighty well at the bottom of the hill provided. Today, they live at the foot of same Devarayanadurga hills. In due time, Bangalore became the Silicon Valley of India and got inundated with people from across the world. With the city getting crowded and land becoming scarce, it was no surprise that the government soon began looking at expanding the city. Tumkur became one of the first targets under this expansion project. Between the years of the founding of Siddaganga Institute of Technology in 1963 and the later laying of Nice Road in 2014, regions in and around Tumkur began getting much more accessible and developed. During these years of development in Bangalore, urban invasion forced the tribals to come down from the hills. These tribals transformed from food gatherers to food growers. Thus, they got engulfed into the Hindu system as Thigalas of HaleKote. Thigalas, the flower and vegetable reapers.

It has only been about 60-70 years since they have made their way downhill and settled down as villagers and already, they are faced with the enticements of the city of Bangalore. Most villages in India face this enticement today. But this luring of the city has happened after years of living as villagers rooted in their own unique culture for long enough. And this forming of a deep rooted identity is what the Thigalas of HaleKote unfortunately have not had the time for. While some Thigalas of HaleKote today work as carpenters, plumbers, painters, or even in different companies in the city of Tumkur, most of the population are largely agriculturalists. But even through this process of change and adoption of various occupations other than just farming, a large part of Thigalas still hold on to various tribal practices. For example – hunting; some of the Thigalas still go up the hills and hunt for animals and birds.  Hence, it is probably right to say they are stuck in a labyrinth. Not necessarily in an uncomfortable one but still a labyrinth.

By far their transient transition from tribals to villagers has been consistent and smooth. But although they have been casted off as Thigalas they still remain a distinct sect because of their tribal lineage. For example, villagers of HaleKote, after coming down from the hills, worship Goddess Maramma. Maramma is said to be an incarnation of Draupadi and most Thigalas around the country worship her. But HaleKote has personified Maramma and represented her in the form of a large stone deity whose features are ill-defined. This is in contrast to most Goddess’s in the Hindu culture, who have explicit physical features. The reason for this physical ambiguity can be attributed to the fact that the Thigalas of HaleKote, as tribals mostly worshipped stones and trees as it was these forces of nature that guarded and protected them and hence it made sense to pay homage to them.

When I asked Nagamma ajji, the second eldest woman of HaleKote, of the story of the origin of Thigalas, she had a rather interesting tale. This is what she told me:

“One day when Shiva and Parvathi were sitting together, Shiva began to feel very hungry and requested Parvathi to prepare a meal for him. When Parvathi entered the kitchen, she found to her dismay that there were no vegetables to cook. On complaining about this to Shiva, Shiva thought for a while and requested her to give him seven days’ time. It was in those seven auspicious days that Shiva created the Thigalas. He asked us to grow vegetables and become the source of life to him and Parvathi.”

I believe that the Thigalas are at a very interesting phase. A phase that we don’t very often get to witness at such a rapid rate. Although, residents of HaleKote truly believe their identity to be that of Thigalas, there is no doubt that the evidence of their tribal background still (consciously or unconsciously) transude into their lives. It would be fascinating to watch the direction of the growth of these vegetable and flower growers. As much as they hold on to their Hindu identity, the question still remains if – Will the Thigalas of HaleKote rise to a day when they manage to fully and thoroughly sanskritize themselves into the Hindu system and find their place in it? Or will they eventually carve out their own distinct niche that sets them apart from the other Thigalas?