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The Mysuru Dasara: A grand celebration of traditions, heritage and glory

The world-famous Mysuru Dasara is not just a celebration of a Hindu festival, but rather a mix of a cultural, spiritual and religious carnival making it one of the greatest national events annually.

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The grandeur of the Mysuru Dasara has successfully captured the reminiscence of India’s rich cultural and civilizational heritage. The 10-day Mysuru Dasara celebration is one of those few Indian celebrations which has reached a global audience, attracting millions of tourists from around the world making it one of India’s most extravagantly celebrated festivals.

The annual Mysuru Dasara centres around the ten days from Pratipada to Dashami in the Shukla Paksha of the month of Ashwin, as per the Hindu calendar, which goes on for next nine days and before reaching a splendid end on Vijayadashmi, the 10th day of the festival.

However, behind all these grandeur, celebration, lights and the colours, the Mysuru Dasara celebrations have a long history that glorifies the triumph of truth and virtue over evil.

The History:

The city of Mysuru, which served as the capital of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore between 1399 and 1956 is a shortened form of Mahishasurana Uru, which translates to the town to which the Buffalo demon -Mahishasura lived.

According to Hindu mythology, the wicked buffalo demon Mahishasura declared war against the gods. However, the gods found that they could not fight the demon as he was blessed with a boon that had granted him that no man or god could ever kill him. To bring an end to Mahishasura’s terror, the gods decided to invoke Chamundeshwari, the warrior goddess who is also referred to as Durga, who charged into battle on a tiger. After nine whole days of battling the demon, the goddess finally slew him on the tenth day – Vijayadashami.

As the legend goes, Vijayadashami denotes the victory of good over evil and was the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura.

To mark this symbolic victory of good over evil, the city of Mysuru has been holding grand Dussehra celebrations for over four centuries, possibly more. The history of Dasara celebrations in Mysuru goes back to as far back as the 15th century. Italian explorer and merchant Niccoli de Conti, who had visited Vijayanagara in the early 1400s, mentions the greatness of Dussehra celebrations.

As the Vijayanagara Empire weakened before disintegrating completely and the Deccan Sultanate grew stronger, the celebrations ceased for a while.

Grand Mysuru Dasara procession, image courtesy: GQ India

The grand Mysore Dasara celebrations marked its re-entry after the rise of the Wodeyar Royal Family, the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore. The Wodeyars, who were the vassals of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1399 onwards, rose to power to be an independent kingdom in 1565.

The Wodeyars initially tried to retain the goodwill of the Vijayanagara empire and continued the traditions started by them. Raja Wodeyar, the founder of the Mysore kingdom, started the Navaratri festivities in order to celebrate his independence and declared that the days be observed with devotion and splendour. Initially, the Dasara was celebrated in their stronghold Srirangapatna, a town near Mysore city, later continued uninterrupted even after the annexation of Mysore state by Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan’s rule between 1761 and 1799.

Later, when Mysore State was restored by the British to Mummadi or the third Krishnaraja Wodeyar in 1799, the capital was shifted to Mysore city from Srirangapatna and the Navaratri festivities began to be performed with greater magnificence in the new capital. The special durbar was introduced for the Europeans and direct participation by the common masses begun.

The legacy continues:

Since 1610, the traditions have been preserved and carried by respective Wodeyar kings. The festival became a tradition of the royal household and reached its zenith during the rule of statesman Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar from 1902-1940 AD.

The royal durbar, the procession of royal elephants with the king seated in the majestic golden howdah known as ‘Ambari’ followed by his ministers, administrators, the royal staff and the military continued till it came to an end with the end of British rule and the integration of princely states to the Indian Union in 1947.

The Wodeyar Kings’ procession depicted in paintings of the Mysuru Palace. image courtesy: The Hindu

However, Jaya Chamarajendra Wodeyar, the last crowned king of the Wodeyar kingdom tried to revive the tradition in his personal capacity after a few years, but the old appeal was missing. After the annexation and reorganisation of states and upon the death of Jaya Chamarajendra Wadiyar in 1974, the tradition again suffered a setback and Mysuru almost lost its unique festival until the Government of Karnataka decided to celebrate it as a state festival or ‘Naada Habba’ with few modifications in the Dasara celebrations.

The modern Mysuru Dasara:

With the Government of Karnataka celebrating the Mysuru Dasara as the ‘Naada Habba’, the spectacle has now become a state event. The Mysuru Dasara is now part of two ceremonies, one carried out by the royal household and the other being the public celebrations carried out by the state with all the pomp and grandeur.

The Dasara palace ceremonies are largely a private affair of the royal family, witnessed by a select audience. Clad in royal attire and traditional headgear, the head or “custodian” of the erstwhile ruling family of the Kingdom of Mysore, ascend the golden throne and receives symbolic obeisance from the public.

The present scion of the Wadiyar dynasty, Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar holding the special Durbar during Dasara, image via Deccan Chronicle

During Dasara, the sight of brightly illuminated Mysuru Palace and the entire city is one of the most vital features of the celebrations. Various cultural and religious programs highlighting the dance, music and culture of the state of Karnataka are performed in front of the illuminated Palace.

Every year, the Dasara celebrations begin with a pooja performed to the Goddess Chamundeshwari atop the Chamundi Hills in the presence of the Wodeyar royal couple, Ministers and other high-ranking officials in the Government of Karnataka, and other invitees.

One of the biggest attractions is the wrestling tournament which is held during the Dasara, involving wrestlers from across the country, attracts a sizable audience. The other attractions of the festival include Dasara exhibition which starts during the Dasara and continues for around two months.

The conclusion of the Dasara celebrations is marked by a colourful Dasara procession, popularly known as Jambo Savari. The pomp and glory of this event have popularized the Mysore Dasara world over. The main attraction of the Dasara procession is the golden idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari which is carried in a golden howdah or ‘Ambari’ weighing over 750 kg on top of an elephant. Earlier, before the country’s independence, the practice was that the king himself would lead the procession seated upon Golden howdah on the royal elephant back.

Procession during Mysuru Dasara, image via Deccan Chronicle

The Dasara procession also includes colourful tableaux created by different states and organisations. Musical bands, folk dancers, decorated elephants, horses and camels also form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and ends at Bannimantap where the Banni tree is worshipped.

The culminating program of the Mysuru Dasara festivities is the Panjina Kavayatthu or torch-light parade held on a grand note at the Bannimantap grounds on the outskirts of the city.

The world-famous Mysuru Dasara is not just a celebration of a Hindu festival, but rather a mix of a cultural, spiritual and religious carnival making it one of the greatest national events annually. The sheer scale and magnificence of the festival is unparalleled and hardly matched by any other cultural ceremony of the country.

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