The splendours of the royal Mysore Dasara

CULTURE, MYSORE

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Anita Rao Kashi

Anita Rao Kashi is a freelance travel and food writer based in Bangalore. After nearly 12 years with The Times of India in Bangalore,she went freelance in Jan 2006 to write about travel and food. Her stories have appeared in such publications as Lonely Planet Magazine India, National Geographic Magazine India, Economic Times, Jetwings, Femina, Tiger Tales, Silkwinds, Bangalore Mirror, The Star of Malaysia etc. Apart from writing for various national and international magazines, newspapers and websites, as well blogging on travel and food, she has worked on travel and food guides.


There’s pomp and show, music and dance, fun and frolic, gaiety and above all, royalty—Mysore Dussehra is all this and much more. Dasara (referred to as Dussehra and Navratri in other parts of the country) enjoys a unique status of a state festival in Karnataka (Nada Habba, meaning festival of the state or land), being celebrated in every household. And nowhere else is it manifested as a public celebration on such a large scale and with such grandeur as in Mysore.

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Dussehra in Mysore through the ages
The tradition of Mysore Dasara goes back at least 500 years, though it originated and continued over the years in a form very different from what it is today. It was originally a religious festival, which embraced shades of art, heritage and culture during the rule of the early Vijayanagara kings in an effort to protect Hindu customs and traditions from the tyranny of Muslim invaders. From 1136 to 1565 AD, as the kingdom prospered and the kings patronised literature, art, architecture, music and dance, Dasara also began to get royal patronage.

Meanwhile, the Wadiyars of Mysore, who were feudatories of the Vijayanagara kingdom, declared independence in the second half of the 16th century. However, in order to stay in the good books of the Vijayanagara kings, Dasara tradition was continued and given an added impetus and royal treatment. The first recorded history of a grand Dasara celebration goes back to 1610 in Srirangapatna. Such was the reputation of the festivities that these continued even during the reign of Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan.

When the British defeated Tipu and handed over the kingdom to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III in 1799, the celebrations got even bigger. For the first time, the concept of durbar (royal assembly) was introduced, a vestige of the Mughal Empire. However, it was during the rule of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV that the celebrations became grand and people started marking the date of the festival on their calendar. The royal procession, with the king seated in a golden howdah (carriage) atop a decorated elephant, was the highlight of the celebration. After independence, the festival lost a bit of its grandeur but regained its glory over the last few decades. It is now a huge tourist magnet, attracting visitors from near and far, and is almost synonymous with Mysore.


The royal routine
Dasara is as much a martial celebration as it is a religious one. Vijayadashami (the last day of Dasara) is a celebration of the victory of good over evil and has references in both Ramayana and Mahabharata. In Ramayana, it is on this day that Lord Rama came home victorious from his Sri Lankan sojourn. In Mahabharata, it is mentioned that Arjuna retrieved his hidden weapons from the Banni tree (Shami tree) on this day, after the end of the exile period of the Pandavas. And this is probably the reason behind the culmination of the procession or Jamboo Savari at the Banni Mantapa. The Mysore kings are said to have even begun many of their war expeditions on this day, preceded by nine days of worship, because of its auspicious significance.

Goddess Chamundeshwari or Durga in various avatars is worshipped on all the days of the Navratri festival. On the first day, the king begins with a ceremonial bath and worships the goddess at the palace. A sacred band is tied on his wrist to signify the onset of the festival. The Navagrahas, the kalasha and the throne are also worshipped. The goddess is worshipped every day with chants and music. In the evenings, a ceremonial durbar is held, where a royal march is organised and people sing songs praising the king. On the last day, i.e. Vijayadashami, the king participates in the Jamboo Savari.


Music, dance and drama
Among many things that Mysore Dasara is famous for, performing arts is the highlight. With the Mysore Palace as the backdrop, and thousands of lights giving it a bejewelled appearance, some of the country’s finest performers enthral audiences during the celebration. Performances include mostly classical music and dance, which attract crowds of people every evening. Besides, there are interesting performances at other places as well such as the Jaganmohan Palace, Town Hall, Veena Sheshanna Bhavan and Kalamandir. There’s a mix of classical and folk performances, including Harikathe, Kamsale Pada, Gamaka, Yakshagana and puppet shows. At Rangayana, a 9-day drama fest is organised.

Dasara sports meet
Dasara sports meet is a prestigious platform, wherein field and track events as well as team competitions are organised at Chamundi Vihar Stadium. There are usual competitions, such as basketball, volleyball, athletics, cycling, badminton, table tennis, kho kho, kabaddi, karate and many others. And then there are some unique competitions, such as climbing the steps up Chamundi Hills to reach the Chamundeshwari Temple.

Wrestling
Wrestling in Mysore boasts a long past with royal patronage. A few of the kings have been avid wrestlers themselves, and the ‘garadi mane’ (wrestling house) tradition itself is an ancient one. Though these houses are now on the decline, there are still many left. The Dasara competition is so popular among the wrestling fraternity that wrestlers from many parts of the country arrive to participate in it. The event is held at D. Devaraj Urs Multipurpose Stadium.

Dasara kite festival
Kites of all sizes, shapes and colours fly high in the sky at Doddakere Maidana during this festival. Though a late entrant in the Dasara celebrations, it has become extremely popular so much so that participants not only from the state but from outside too take part to exhibit their kite-flying prowess.


Yuva Dasara
If there is one thing that has catapulted Mysore Dasara from a show of splendour to a rocking ten-day extravaganza, it is Yuva Dasara. It is like a college fest, held at the Manasagangotri campus, allowing students to showcase their talents with each evening ending with a spectacular show. From traditional dance and music to pop, from classical to western, from young to old, there’s everything. Indian rock stars have performed here to sell-out crowds, who are known to have even braved rains to listen to the country’s hottest stars.

Jamboo Savari and Torch Light Parade
Mysore Dasara culminates with a bang with Jamboo Savari (or Dasara procession of elephants). Marking the last day of the ten-day festival or Vijayadashami, the procession starts in the afternoon from the palace and ends at Banni Mantapa, covering around 4 kilometres.

A twenty-one gun salute marks the start of the procession from the palace gates and moves through the streets of Mysore. It is led by bedecked and caparisoned elephants, including a veteran that carries a 750 kg golden howdah in which is placed the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari. The elephants are followed by soldiers in ceremonial clothes, the famous mounted police with their swords and lances, and marching bands. Behind the elephants and the men in uniform are traditional dancers and entertainers, performing on the go. There are drummers, giant puppets, NCC cadets, Scouts and Guides, folk dancers and musicians, floats, tableaux and a variety of performers who entertain the crowds.

After the procession enters Banni Mantapa, a small puja is performed under the Banni tree. Following this, a spectacular Torch Light Parade by the police personnel is held at the stadium, along with stunning acrobatic feats by the motorbike team, equestrian shows and other daredevil acts.


Dasara Exhibition
No visit to Mysore during Dasara is complete without attending the Dasara Exhibition. The name is somewhat a misnomer. Exhibitors from all over the country participate in the exhibit, making it much like a grand fair. It was started as an industrial and agricultural exhibition but has expanded considerably over the years. It is organised at the Doddakere Maidana by Karnataka Exhibition Authority for promoting industrial and corporate business. This exhibition features stalls by government departments, public and private sector industries and leading business establishments. Visitors get to witness a variety of things, ranging from handloom, handicrafts, utility items and artefacts to home and cottage industries, artists and artisans showcasing their skills and wares at the exhibit. There are even rides and fun activities for children, a large food court, plays and music as well as a little dancing fountain.

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Other events
Dasara is much about variety and giving people an all-round experience. From poetry reading to flower shows to food festival, there’s something for people to do all day, every day. The Kavi Goshti (poetry reading) held at the Jaganmohan Palace is a platform for established as well as budding bards to exhibit their talent. The food festival organised within the premises of Town Hall is a culinary sojourn that takes visitors to different parts of the state through various cuisines and even outside it! The flower show at Curzon Park showcases amazing flora of the region, including floral rangoli and even vegetable carvings. The air show at Banni Mantapa provides a glimpse of some of the best flying machines while the pet animals show at Kuppanna Park is a favourite with animal lovers who parade their pets proudly. The Film Festival organised at four of the city’s theatres provide a ‘reel’ treat of Kannada cinema.

With so many interesting things to see and do in Mysore during Dasara, locals and tourists have an incredible time in the city.
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