Recording royal heritage

Former Director General of Police S Krishnamurthy is no newbie author, having already published 32 books and filmed several documentaries too. His latest labour of love on Karnataka’s mounted police, band and orchestra, released recently, which comes just in time for the famed Dasara, is certainly the most fiercely cherished duty of the policemen on horseback and their musician companions.

Mysore’s mounted police began as His Highness The Mysore Maharaja’s Mounted Bodyguards. After Independence, they were attached to the Mysore State Police, later the Karnataka State Armed Police (KARP). Today, they are headquartered in a heritage building which, the author tells us, is believed to have been modelled after a Bavarian palace.

The band similarly owes its existence to the Wodeyars. It goes back to 1885, to the reign of Chamarajendra Wodeyar. The Wodeyars invited European musicians to train the 150 bandsmen in western classical music and light music. Likewise, instruments for the band were carefully selected from around the world. The effort paid off and the Mysore Palace Band became extremely popular during their appearances at events in the palace. After Independence, they, too, were made part of the Mysore State Police. Later, the band was renamed the Karnataka State Government Band. Though their number has come down to about 40, they continue to scintillate and are especially popular during the Dasara pageant.

If Western classical and light music were the forte of the band, the Mysore Palace Orchestra excelled in both Hindustani and Carnatic. As part of their tradition of supporting music and the arts, the Wodeyars had the novel idea of a band that would play Indian classical music, especially the compositions of Mysore’s many famous musicians. Thus was born the orchestra, which was equipped with both indigenous instruments, like the veena, and western ones, like the saxophone. The Wodeyars took a personal interest in this endeavour: along with photos of other exhibits in the KARP museum, the author includes some letters written from the palace attesting to this fact. Today, this orchestra is known as the Karnataka State Government Orchestra.

One of the most interesting sections comes towards the end of the book where the author gives us factoids and anecdotes about the mounted police and the band. Who knew that the Jaya Marthanda Gate of the Mysore Palace is actually named after a horse of the same name? You can see a picture of the horse in the KARP museum. We learn that horses from the mounted police have even featured on the silver screen and were used in the blockbuster Sholay, besides other movies. As for the band, it has played live music in many films including David Lean’s A Passage to India.

The highlight of the book is undoubtedly its spread of 200 or so photographs. The three photographers — Ritesh K, D’Souza and Krishnamurthy himself — have an unerring eye for symmetry and proportion, thanks to which they are able to capture the harmony and beauty of something even as mundane as stables. The book also has a sprinkling of archival photographs, including that of Lord Hardinge with the Maharaja of Mysore in 1913, both on horseback of course, and of Chamaraja Wodeyar astride a beautiful white horse.

There is something inherently old-worldly about a policeman mounted on horseback and Krishnamurthy well captures this in the book. Through both its spare text and its photographs, the book succeeds in bringing alive the anachronistic charm of these three police units.

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