|The 10-day Dasara festival in Mysore is a rare blend of the ancient and the modern.|
Jamboo Savari, the grand procession on Vijayadasami in 2007
MYSORE comes alive in all its glory at Dasara time. This year’s celebrations will be from September 30 to October 9 and will culminate, as usual, in a procession on Vijayadasami day to underline the victory of good over evil. Called “Naada Habba” or State festival, Dasara in Mysore has metamorphosed into a rare blend of the religious and the secular. The festivities have assumed the character of a carnival in which the modern mix with the ancient, without diluting the religious essence of the events.
In recent years, Dasara has become the fulcrum of activities to promote Mysore as a tourist and investment centre. Given the heady cocktail of history, old-world charm and modernity, Mysore represents both continuity and change. And “Brand Mysore” never fails to leave an impression on the minds of investors and tourists.
Dasara, over the years, has come to represent different things for different people. For the connoisseurs of art and culture, it is an opportunity to soak in the glory of classical music and dance; for youngsters, it is time to swing to the music of Indipop stars at the Yuva Dasara (Dasara for Youth) events; for heritage enthusiasts, it is an opportunity to take a tonga ride or feast on the beauty of Mysore’s historical buildings; and for stakeholders in tourism, the mega event helps market Mysore as a hot destination for domestic and international tourists.
Mysore has an incredible mix to become an ideal tourist destination throughout the year – the temple architecture of Somnathpur, the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary; Srirangapatana with its historical legacy; the desert dunes of Talakad at T. Narsipura, not to mention Mysore city itself, which has enough to keep a dedicated tourist occupied for days.
This year, heritage rides, food melas, flower shows, traditional wrestling, classical dance, as well as cultural programmes in front of the illuminated Mysore Palace will entertain revellers. The palace provides the perfect setting for open-air music concerts.
It has seen the likes of Hariprasad Chaurasia, Rajan Sajan Mishra, Lalgudi Jayaraman and the late Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan enthralling crowds. A new concept to be introduced this year is Mahila Dasara, which will highlight the work of self-help groups. The State government, for its part, makes an earnest effort to showcase and project the city of palaces. It has sanctioned Rs.10 crore this year for the celebrations.
The scion of the royal family, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, holding durbar at the Amba Vilas Palace during Dasara 2007
Dasara is believed to have originated as a simple thanksgiving ceremony to Indra for providing timely rains. It acquired complex connotations later such as the triumph of good over evil as symbolised by the killing of the demon-king Ravana by Rama. In Mysore, Dasara and Vijayadasami are also associated with the slaying of the demon Mahishasura by the main deity of the city, Chamundeswari.
The origin of Dasara in Mysore is traced to the celebrations that the Vijayanagar emperors (A.D. 1336 -1565) conducted. During their rule, Dasara became the state festival and was organised on a grand scale. The Wodeyars, who were the feudatories of the Vijayanagar emperors, inherited this tradition, which continues to date.
When the capital shifted from Srirangapatana to Mysore after the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799, the Wodeyars introduced the concept of holding a public durbar during the celebrations. The special durbar that was held exclusively for British nobles and European guests brought fame to the Mysore Dasara.
A glimpse of the Dasara of yore is brought alive in 26 classical murals that adorn the Kalyana Mantapa in the Mysore Palace. These have helped immortalise Dasara. There have been significant changes in the festivities in the post-Independence era.
For instance, the procession on Vijayadasami day earlier had the Maharaja seated in the golden howdah and carried by caparisoned elephants. But after the abolition of the privy purse, the Maharaja was replaced by the idol of goddess Chamundeswari, while the traditional durbar was abolished. From a military affair during the rule of the Maharajas, the procession has now become an occasion to showcase the cultural diversity of the State and the achievements of the State government.
However, tradition has not been supplanted in its entirety. Images of a bygone era unfold in the main palace as the scion of the royal family and former Member of Parliament, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, performs all the religious rituals associated with the festivities, clad in royal robes. On all the 10 days, he goes through a ceremonial bath, worships the family deity in the palace, enters the durbar to the accompaniment of the chanting of mantras, ascends the golden throne and receives tributes from courtiers in what is purely a family affair witnessed by a select audience.