By Avinash Singh
A royal Bash! A rare and exquisite display of regal jewellery and apparel! A riot of colour and pageantry! A mammoth procession of richly caparisoned elephants with golden howdas, palanquins, silver coaches, camels, chestnut horses, majestic tableaux, dance troupes and troops in ceremonial uniforms presenting the gun salute! The pomp and show conjuring up visions of a glorious past and rituals – the hallmark of traditions of yore! Combine this with the magnificent setting of exotic palaces and temples reflecting Puranic connections. This is Mysore Dussehra better known as Mysuru Dasara! A spectacle seen to be believed.....!
For ten joyous days in the month of October, the seat of Wodeyars, 140 kms South of Bengaluru, dons a bridal look! The avenues and boulevards are festooned. Illuminations at the main palace and other historic buildings turn Mysore (Mysuru) into fairyland after dusk. Each day adds to the excitement and evenings keep spilling with concerts, competitions of various hues, food festival, rural sports, wrestling, yoga, photo exhibitions, film shows, street festival, heritage walks involving who’s who of the country. Venues ranging from every corner, bazaar of the city, temples, Banni Mantapa and three Mahals – the main Palace, Jagan Mohan Palace and Lalitha Mahal.
A torchlight parade, fireworks, craft exhibitions, poetry recital and theatre are the other highlights this bonanza of festivity. For nine days of navratras, each day reflecting a new avatar of Goddess Durga), the Banni tree and the State arms are worshipped, before the curtain comes down on the celebrations with a procession that brings alive the resplendent culture of the maharajas who ruled Mysore (Mysuru) through the centuries. Before each Dasara (this is how Kannadigas address Dusehhra), the ornate golden throne of Wodeyar rulers, cast out of 208 kg of pure shining metal is put on display. The throne is believed to be centuries old. According to one belief it originated in the age of Mahabharata.
For millions of Indians, Vijayadashmi symbolises the victory of the good over evil. But each region has its variations. In Kullu it is celebrated for seven days after the Vijayadashmi, to mark the installation of idol of Lord Raghunath on the throne of Raja Jagat Singh, a 17th century ruler, for penance. Celebrations in rest of the North symbolise the triumph of Lord Rama over Ravana heralding a quick run-through of the chapters of Hindu mythology in form of Ramlilas, in West Bengal and neighbouring states, it’s time to pay obeisance to Goddess Durga. While in Gujarat and part of Rajasthan the occasion is commemorated with Garba dances (now catching up in the rest of the country) in the South, Karnataka in particular ‘Dasara’ coincides with Ayudha Puja, and depicts the victory of Goddess Chamudeshwari over devil Mahisa. Name Mysore (Mysuru) is the short of Mahisasura.
There are also claims that ‘Dasara’ has been as old as Treta Yuga, and it was observed as the day when Pandavas retrieving their weapons from the Banni tree fought and defeated Kauravas. The same tree is worshipped even todayas the source of power and wealth.
The current practice of ‘Dasara’ festivities date back to the times of Vijayanagra Empire at Hampi in 14th century! There are records of King Krishnadevaraya (remember the stories of Tenali Rama) parading his forces and armaments during the Ayudha Puja, the day after ‘Dasara’. The tradition shifted to Srirangapatna when the last Vijayanagara ruler handed over the charge of Mysore to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, towards the end of 16th century. The elegance and splendour carried on during the time of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. The present day Mysore Palace has been the venue of concerts, recitals and other competitions since 1912.
Most of the State sponsored competitive eventsare over by the seveth day. And then starts the three days bash where spotlight shifts to Royalty. On Durga Asthami there is Lakshmi Puja, followed by Chandihoma (sacrifice in the honour of Goddess Chandi known as Chamundadeshwari). Naomi is the Ayudha Puja daywhen the King (now the scion of the family) goes to the Banni Mantapa (Mandap) and brings back the leaves for wealth after worshiping the arms, armaments, elephants and horses in unmatched splendour.
When this reporter first visited the Mysore Dasara in the 1990s the festivities conducted by the Government were chaired by long time Parliamentarian and the scion of the family Srikantadatta Narsimha Raja Wodeyar. Watching this heavyweight in his ceremonial appearance on the 208 kg gold throne (howda) and riding at the head of the Royal Procession was a treat to watch. The rituals today are headed by Yaduveera Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar, the young ruler born in 1992 and adopted in 2015.
Part II to follow