From 'Royal' Dasara to people’s festival

Howdah elephant Arjuna carrying Goddess Chamundi along with Kaveri and Mary at Amba Vilas Palace. Photo courtesy: DH, The Royal City by TP Issar

The transformation and evolution of the royal Dasara into people’s Dasara or Naada Habba has an element of Kannada activism and also the love and devotion of the people of the city towards their erstwhile Maharaja and his dynasty.

Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, the last ruler of the erstwhile Mysuru state, conducted his last Dasara in public, in 1969. In 1970, Navaratri was to begin on October 1 and Vijayadashami was slated for October 10. Preparations were on full swing in the Mysuru Palace for a grand Dasara celebration since the first week of August, with the onset of Shravana month. However, by Ganesha Chaturthi (September 4, 1970), the enthusiasm faded as the President passed an order to abolish his Privy Purse and also all royal titles.


Royal Dasara before 1970, in which the king mounted the howdah for the procession. Photo courtesy: DH, The Royal City by TP Issar

Abolition

In 1970, the motion to abolish Privy Purses and titles was brought before the Parliament. It was passed in the Lok Sabha, but failed by one vote in the Rajya Sabha. However, on September 6, 1970, the President, the late V V Giri, passed an order that all rulers cease to be recognised as rulers of the former States. This resulted in the stoppage of Privy Purses and discontinuance of privileges. The former royals won a case in the Supreme Court against the Union government. But, it was proposed again before the Parliament in 1971, and was successfully passed as the 26th Amendment to the Constitution.

P V Nanjaraja Urs, a retired professor, a writer and also a relative of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, said Wadiyar was devastated with the passing of the Presidential order, as he did not have an alternative source of income. “However, Wadiyar accepted the situation and decided to restrict the Dasara celebrations to the Palace premises as a ritual, followed since ages. He said, he was no more a royal, but an ordinary tax-payer. Thus, he stopped ascending the throne during Dasara celebrations, since then. He shifted the rituals to the smaller Amba Vilas Durbar Hall, inside the Palace,” Urs recalled.

The decision of Wadiyar to abstain from celebrating Dasara shocked a section of the people of Mysuru, who had grown up watching the traditional Dasara every year. But, they did not know what to do. Kannada activist and writer Na Nagalingaswamy, who founded Kannada Kranthidala, was an ardent fan, rather a devotee, of Wadiyar. He consulted Nagabushan Tiwari, secretary of Kranthidala, K M Shivashankar and others in Agrahara, and sought the support of others. Nanjaraja Urs, as a college student, was also one among the organisers.


European durbar

First people’s Dasara

Somehow, Nagalingaswamy managed to mobilise some funds and got a sandalwood idol of Chamundeshwari. He borrowed the wooden howdah from the Palace, through some contacts among the staffers. He rented an elephant from the Forest department and mobilised a few folk art troupes to accompany the elephant. The first celebration of people’s Dasara thus started in 1970.

Writer G Satyanarayana, popularly known as Gouri Sathya, said, the initiative of Nagalingaswamy was more of a protest, rather than a procession. His demand was that Jayachamaraja Wadiyar should continue his Jamboo Savari procession.

The procession of an idol of Chamundeshwari, placed in the wooden howdah, carried by an elephant, started from the circle in front of Padma talkies, formerly Prabhudeva Talkies, in Agrahara, and culminated at Ayurveda College Circle on Sayyaji Rao Road. The 101 Ganapathi Temple was constructed later, on the spot, from where the procession started.


Dasara celebrated in 1971

Dasara Committee

After learning about the initiative of Nagalingaswamy, a few philanthropists and VIPs joined to celebrate Dasara in 1971. The core group, lead by D Jayadevaraja Urs, who went on to become MLC and MLA later; included F K Irani, founder of Ideal Jawa, manufacturer of Jawa, Yezdi and Roadking motorbikes; and B C Lingaiah, former Mysuru Municipal Council president. The committee was later expanded to include Sahukar Thimmappa, H Subba Rao of Aravinda Parimala Works, R Vasudeva Murthy of Mahajana Education Society, writer Subramanyaraje Urs (Chaduranga) and others. The committee existed till D Devaraja Urs was chief Minister.

They took out a procession from the Oval Grounds in front of the Crawford Hall, up to the junction of Race Course and Karanji Lake on Lalitha Mahal Road. It was a better show with teams of the Police and NCC marching with the elephant, carrying the wooden howdah, in which the idol of Chamundeshwari was placed. Governor Dharmaveera took the guard of honour on Bannimantapa Torch Light Parade Grounds. Wadiyar also witnessed the parade, as a spectator.

Meanwhile, a separate procession was also taken out by the fans of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, with his portrait from Vani Vilas Market in Agrahara, demanding him to take out the Jamboo Savari.

In 1972, the procession was not held due to drought. It was drought in 1973 also. In 1974 Jayachamaraja Wadiyar died on September 23. However, his fans took out simple processions in 1973 and 1974.

Government chips in

In 1975, Jayadevaraja Urs, who was MLC then, prevailed upon chief minister Devaraja Urs to support them to conduct the Dasara. Thus, the state government sponsored Jamboo Savari for the first time. Devaraja Urs inaugurated the celebrations on the Palace premises in 1975 and 1976 and the golden howdah was borrowed from the Mysuru Palace, then head by Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar. The silver chariot, palanquin, police band, and tableaux were added to the procession, since 1975. There was an image of Bharat Matha in an open jeep, behind the elephant.

Nanjaraja Urs said, when the government started sponsoring the celebration of Naada Habba, an idol of Chamundeshwari was sculpted. “It was in Chola style. In 1990, one H N K Gowda sponsored an idol of Chamundeshwari in the native Hoysala style, which is now being used for the procession,” he said.

There was no Dasara celebration in 1977 due to a students’ agitation. In 1978, then Vice President B D Jatti inaugurated the celebrations, but there was no golden howdah. An idol of Bharat Matha was taken out in a procession. In 1979, Devaraja Urs inaugurated the Dasara celebrations.

Big leap

In 1980, with R Gundu Rao as chief minister, people’s Dasara was taken to the next level. He himself inaugurated the celebration. Besides the procession, Dasara Exhibition was held on Doddakere Maidan, now known as Exhibition Grounds. Music concerts were organised at the Durbar Hall of the Palace, with entry for limited audience.

Under Ramakrishna Hegde as chief minister, who inaugurated the 1983 Dasara, the tradition of inaugurating Dasara celebrations on Padya (first day of the month) of Ashvija, atop the Chamundi Hill, started in 1984. He himself inaugurated the celebration.

In 1986, then Vice President R Venkatraman inaugurated the celebrations atop the Chamundi Hill. Then Animal Husbandry Minister Siddaramaiah inaugurated the Dasara celebration in 1987. The Dasara Exhibition Authority was constituted the same year. Then Governor Venkatasubbaiah inaugurated the celebrations atop the Chamundi Hill in 1988. In 1989, the inauguration returned to the Palace premises. R Venkatraman returned as President to launch the Jamboo Savari in 1990.

Music venue shifted

Only in 1991, a return procession, like the ones taken out by the erstwhile kings from Bannimantapa, was held. While minister K S Nagarathnamma inaugurated the celebrations, S Bangarappa, then CM, launched the Jamboo Savari. The same year, music programmes were shifted from the Durbar Hall to the Palace courtyard to accommodate more people. It was done in view of the safety of the heritage structure also.

Music was extended to other venues like Jaganmohan Palace gradually, to accommodate more artistes, especially those from within the state, to facilitate international and national fame musicians to perform on the Palace premises.

In 1997 and 2002, there was no Dasara celebration, due to drought and due to kidnap of actor Dr Rajkumar by forest brigand Veerappan respectively. However, in 1997, MLA S A Ramdas, then a first-time MLA, organised a the Dasara, by mobilising funds from the people and also voluntary participation of artistes.

Gajapayana re-introduced

Gajapayana, the journey of Dasara elephants to Mysuru city, to participate in Dasara celebrations, started in 1998 at Veeranahosahalli when A H Vishwanath was district in-charge minister in S M Krishna-led government. Earlier, the Wadiyar kings used to go to the forest to invite the caretakers of elephants — mahouts and kavadis — and also the elephants, to come and participate in the Dasara festivities. The venue of Gajapayana was changed to Nagapura Tribal Rehabilitation Centre over the years. Again, on the advise of Vishwanath, the venue was changed to Veeranahosahalli, in 2018.


Dasara Gajapayana begins from Nagapura

New additions

When Shobha Karandlaje was district incharge minister, Dasara became more elaborate, with the advent of Mahila Dasara, Yoga Dasara, Dasara Darshana for rural people and Aahara Mela, in 2008.

Now, Dasara events are held in a total of 21 venues. While a prominent person from the society is invited to inaugurate the Dasara celebrations atop the Chamundi Hill, on Padya, the chief minister offers Nandi Dwaja puja and offers floral tributes to the idol of Chamundeshwari in the golden howdah, during Jamboo Savari on Vijayadashami. The governor graces the Torch Light Parade at Bannimantapa, the same evening.

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