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Mysore's date with Dasara

Sreekantswamy B ,Oct 16, 2012

HERITAGE

Now & then The first batch of six Dasara elephants, led by howdah elephant Balarama , on its arrival at the Mysore palace. (DH Photo/ Prashanth H G)                                                       (Below) ‘Jamboo savari’ with the then Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, Yuvaraja Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wodeyar and Prince Jayachamaraja Wodeyar in the howdah. (Photo courtesy: ‘Mysooru Noorinnooru Varshagala Hinde’ by P V Nanja raja Urs)

Over the decades, the nature of Dasara celebrations has changed. Withdrawal of the privy purse to the then Maharaja meant that Dasara became ‘Nada Habba’, a people’s festival. Drought years made a dent in the expenditure and extravaganza. The socio-economic and political atmosphere in the State has invariably dictated how Dasara is celebrated, observes Sreekantswamy B .

Starting today, the City of Palaces wakes up to its 402nd edition of Dasara celebrations. It will be a season of non-stop festivities with a melange of attractions and culminates on October 24, Vijayadashami (the day good triumphs over evil). Vijayadashami is also the day the much-awaited spectacle of the year, jamboo savari, is held.

An elephant carrying a 750-kg golden howdah ambles along with 11 other jumbos till Bannimantap, the point where the jamboo savari culminates. The celebrations are steeped in history and date back to the time of the Vijayanagar empire.

This tradition was later followed by the Wodeyars, the erstwhile rulers of Mysore. From 1971, the year Dasara became a government affair, till date, the celebrations have undergone many changes. Tableaux with different themes that started from small numbers have now been restricted to 33 (30 from an equal number of districts alone). The City is magically transformed into a sea of lights, with all prominent junctions being illuminated. A sight to behold.

A simple affair


However, this year, the government has decided to make it a ‘simple Dasara’, owing to the severe drought in the State. The district administration, which also holds the reins of the Dasara High Power Committee with the deputy commissioner as special officer, has decided to do away with certain entertainment-related events like the Yuva Dasara to slash expenditure.

The rituals involving prayers to Goddess Chamundeshwari will however be continued. Going by available records, this is not the first time that austerity measures have been initiated for Dasara. Way back in 1816, when Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was the ruler, the then Mysore kingdom experienced severe famine. Echanur Kumar, a journalist and historian told Spectrum that the administration decided to cut down on unnecessary expenditure, without compromising on the rituals involved to celebrate the festival.

Similarly, the years 1983 and 1992, the tenure of late chief ministers Ramakrishna Hegde and S Bangarappa respectively, saw austere celebrations. Needless to mention, the State was reeling under drought on both occasions. Historian Prof P V Nanjaraja Urs recalls the jamboo savari being restricted to the precincts of the palace, for reasons of drought once in later years too.

Traditionally speaking

The story behind the Wodeyars replicating Vijayanagar-style Navaratri celebrations is interesting. Raja Wodeyar defeated Srirangaraya, the samantha (governor) representing Vijayanagar rulers in Srirangapatna in 1610. The year also witnessed grand Dasara celebrations by the Wodeyars with a golden howdah, elephants, a grand army show, lancers on horseback, all in place.

The credit of shifting the celebrations to Mysore after the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799 must go to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. According to tradition, the king is at the forefront of the puja. Soon after mangala snana (bath), the king worships Lord Ganesha and Goddess Chamundeshwari, and wears a kankana (a sacred piece of cloth tied to the right wrist and worn till Navaratri is complete).

C K Venkataramaiah in his book, ‘Aalida Mahaswamiyavaru’, a biography of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (first published in 1941 and for the second time in 2011 by Kannada and Culture Department) describes Navaratri celebrations as follows: “The Maharaja (Nalwadi) accompanied by the yuvaraja (prince) and his brother Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wodeyar and nephew Jayachamaraja Wodeyar walk into the durbar hall at 10 am.

The Maharaja is welcomed by the sardars (bodyguards). He is followed by a member of a royal family holding pattada katthi (royal sword). Members of the royal family, the dewan, palace officers, praja pramukhs (heads among civilians), dharmadhikarigalu (administrators), musicians, priests among several high ranking nobles wait for the arrival of the Maharaja. The Maharaja performs various rituals...It is only then the Maharaja ascends the throne with the help of sardars.” The illumination of the palace coincided with the Maharaja ascending the throne and soliders and people outside celebrating the occasion.

The durbar culminated with the rendition of ‘Kayo sri gowri sri karuna lahari...’, the anthem of the then Mysore State, still rendered during the private durbar of royal scion Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar.

Dasara of ‘68

Echanur Kumar whose memory of Dasara in the year 1968 is still fresh says that the State was then on the cusp of modernisation. In addition to the existing attractions, the focus was on new attractions like that of drills performed by the Army Cadet Corps (ACC), National Cadet Corps (NCC), and a part of Mysore infantry during the jamboo savari.

What made it a real celebration was the discipline, he point out. Unlike now, the route of jamboo savari was Doddapete (Ashoka road), via Irwin road, followed by a right turn at Sayyaji Rao road near Government Ayurvedic Hospital Circle and culminating at Bannimantap. There are records to say that, for some years, the procession passed through Ashoka road without any deviations up to Bannimantap via Dr Rajkumar Circle.

“It was a delight to watch the Maharaja inside the golden howdah, and prominent citizens at key places, in front of Devaraja Market on Sayyaji Rao road and just after Government Ayurvedic Hospital, waiting to offer a huge basket of Mysore mallige to the Maharaja. The attendants used to lift the basket with a pole up to the Maharaja who would touch the same in reverence. When it was thought that Ashoka road was too small to accommodate the crowd on either sides, the road was widened, but it was still found to be too small in later years. During such road widening works, the route was changed to Sayyaji Rao road passing through Elgin fountain (now K R Circle).”

Points out P V Nanjaraja Urs, “When the Central government decided to withdraw the privy purse of the Maharaja in 1970, the then Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar became a commoner. He placed the pattada katthi (royal sword) on the throne, instead of ascending the same. He continued with the same till his death in 1974. The last time he ascended the throne was in 1969.”

A group of like-minded and concerned citizens, Jayadevaraja Urs, industrialist F K Irani of Ideal Jawa fame and local body president B C Lingaiah, decided to continue with the celebrations in 1970. They created a replica of the golden howdah, but in wood and placed the idol of Bhuvaneshwari inside and took out a procession from Oval Grounds to Kote Anjaneya Swamy temple in the north gate of the Palace. In the subsequent year, a delegation of concerned citizens apprised the then chief minister D Devaraja Urs of the significance of the festival and succeeded in making the same a government affair. It was in 1971 that Dasara was started with government sponsorship. 

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