People's festival no more?

CULTURE

People's festival no more?

Naada Habba....: Once the people’s festival, Dasara today is a govt-sponsored event. File Photo

It is that time of the year again. Come September 19, and the Dasara celebrations kickstart across the country, albeit in a variety of avatars. If it is Durga pooja in the East, the festival is celebrated in Central India as Ramaleela where the effigy of Ravana is burnt. Down south, it is observed as Navaratri. However, Dasara in Mysore has great significance because it represents the continuity of the seven century-old tradition from the days of the Vijayanagar empire.

A number of foreign travellers who visited Hampi, the capital of the magnificent Vijayanagar empire, have documented Dasara celebrations there.

Continuing in the Vijayanagar tradition
After the fall of the Vijayanagar empire, Raja Wodeyar in 1610 inaugurated the festival on the lines of the Vijayanagar festivities, at Srirangapatna. After the fall of Tipu Sultan, the Wodeyars shifted to Mysore and continued the tradition. This lasted till 1970 when there was de-recognition of the princely order.

Dasara is popularly known as Naada Habba (people’s festival) thanks to the involvement of Mysoreans in this ten-day festival. The pomp and gaiety of this festival reached its pinnacle during the days of rulers of Mysore as people from all over the country visited this city to be a part of the festival.

Dasara celebrations would not have reached the magnificent proportions of today, if not for the Wodeyars. Being able successors of the Vijayanagar kingdom, the Wodeyars further popularised this festival. Because Chamundeshwari was the presiding deity of the Mysore kings, Navaratri festival which marks the slaying of evil forces by Kali or Durga, an avatar of Chamundeshwari, the rulers took a keen interest in continuing this rich tradition.

After the princely rule came to an end in the country, the State government took upon itself the responsibility of conducting Dasara festivities every year. The Wodeyars did not undertake any promotional activity to invite people to Mysore. People thronged the city as a mark of respect to the kings who contributed a lot towards the overall development of the State in general and Mysore city in particular.

Just another cultural event
Today, though, it is a different story. Now the government spends crores of rupees on this festival. An exclusive website is in place, and the spin doctors are busy giving the festivities a new twist every year. Still, the crowds don’t seem to match up to the proportions of yore. What people are witnessing today is a ‘government sponsored cultural event’ that is celebrated once a year as a formality. The festival is just another ‘show piece’ to attract tourists.

Even Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the scion of the Mysore Royal family, has made clear his disappointment over the manner of Dasara celebrations. He has stopped watching the jamboo savari for the last so many years, the Wodeyar has pointed out. He feels that the government has “diluted” the concept of this festival and has made it a “lacklustre event”.

Like Wodeyar, there are thousands of Mysoreans who have witnessed the grandeur of Dasara during the days of the Maharajas but have now stopped watching for the simple reason that the Dasara of yesteryears pales in comparison with the present one.

Post-1970, for one decade, some private organisations conducted the festival but it was revived on a grand scale in 1980 when R Gundu Rao was the chief minister. Because the festivities are conducted by the State government, the nature of the Dasara procession has also changed. Instead of the Maharaja going in procession, an idol of  Chamundeshwari is placed in a golden howdah and taken in procession on the last date of Dasara, the Vijayadashami day.

Has Dasara lost its sheen?
The question often being asked is whether Dasara has lost its sheen. The oldtimers who have been witness to Dasara during the days of Maharajas naturally tend to romanticise the festival. It is true that the Maharajas who were held in great esteem were greeted by bystanders along the procession route reverentially.

Today, there is a series of cultural events alongside the procession. Apart from the music festival, the other important events which attract huge crowds are the flower show, doll show, film show, sports, adventure sports, air show, yuva dasara, food mela and competitions in various arts.

Senior historian’s perspective
P V Nanjaraje Urs, noted historian and authority on the Wodeyar dynasty, openly admits that grandeur of Dasara festival during the days of the Maharajas is missing now. In those days too, there were people who were opposed to royalty, but they still held the Maharajas in awe because of their service to the general public. Hitherto, it was a people’s festival and now it is a show of politicians.

Urs, who has seen 30 Jamboo Savaris including those of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, the last ruler of the princely state of Mysore, said people took to painting their houses during Dasara and participating in all programmes organised by the Palace on all ten days voluntarily.

The city’s wealthy were known to organise free meals for all those people who came to Mysore to witness the festival, in a number of choultries. That sense of involvement seems to be missing today. Namma Maharajaru and Namma Habba are not terms that are used any longer. “With this, Dasara has become just an annual jamboree. It lost its sanctity once the State government took up the responsibility of organising this festival,” explains Urs.

Urs recalls that in those days, the ‘fouji’ from Hyderabad, and erstwhile Madras and Bombay visited Mysore during Dasara in their colourful attire and assembled in front of the Gombe thotti. It used to be a feast for the eyes to see the troops enter the Palace premises with their respective bands. To see them, people from neighbouring districts would assemble at the Palace grounds in advance. Subsequently, they marched on the thoroughfares of the City before leaving for their respective destinations.

State guests, royal frills...
The Wodeyars used to invite the Maharajas of Delhi, Kolkata, Rajasthan and other states to watch Dasara festivities. The State guests were housed in a palace adjacent to the Chamundi Vihar, the Lalitha Mahal Palace or the Government Guest House. Each Maharaja was spared a car and two to three palace staff to take care of them. The huzur secretary used to extend invitation to VVIPs, British officers and others as per the advice of the Maharaja for the private durbar held during Dasara festival, recalls Urs.

That era of elaborate rituals and reverence are now passe, but, in place is a cultural event sans the frills that come with royalty.

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