Culture feast

Print edition : October 09, 2009

M.A. SRIRAM

KARNATAKA is all set to host the grand tourism event of the State, the Mysore Dasara (September 19-28). The premium cultural event is a big presence in the Indian tourism calendar. It also attracts a large number of foreign tourists. The event is being promoted as the Nada Habba of the State, meaning that it is the festival in which all residents of Karnataka take great pride.

After the official inauguration, on September 19, at the Chamundeshwari temple on Chamundi Hills on the outskirts of Mysore, the focus will shift to the city, where the illuminated Mysore Palace will hold centre stage for the next 10 days. The Chamundeshwari temple can be reached by a 13-kilometre road or by a thousand steps carved into the hill. The panoramic view from the hilltop of the city, with its many palaces lit up for the festival, is a delightful experience during Dasara.

Dasara celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura (Bandasura, who took the form of a buffalo) who, according to legend, was in Mysore and gave the city its name. The festival is woven around a Puranic story on the killing of Mahishasura and his mates Chanda and Munda by goddess Kali. The fight went on for nine days and nights; on the 10th day, Kali, who came to be known as Chamundeshwari, killed them near a hill, which came to be known as the Chamundi Hills.

The procession in which a caparisoned elephant carries the idol of Chamundeshwari is the grand finale of the Mysore Dasara. A file photograph.-M.A. SRIRAM

The Dasara celebrations usually fall in September/October. There are nine nights of worship (Navaratri); the 10th and concluding day is called Vijayadasami. The origins of this festival are not clear. It is said that the first celebrations of Dasara were held during the time of the Vijayanagara rulers and that Raja Wodeyar I (1578-1617) of Mysore introduced the festival in his kingdom in 1610. The first extant pictorial representations date back to 1648, at the time of Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar. The Wodeyars maintained this grand tradition for 25 generations. Some prominent rulers of the dynasty, apart from Raja Wodeyar, were Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, Chamaraja Wodeyar X, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, the last king before the abolishment of the princely states. Raja Wodeyar is believed to have formulated the elaborate rules on how Navaratri should be celebrated, and he ensured that the nine days were observed with both piety and splendour.

Even in the period between 1761 and 1799, when Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan ruled Mysore from Srirangapatna, the festival was celebrated in a grand way with royal patronage. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1799, the Mysore kingdom was handed over to Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. The capital shifted to Mysore, and Navaratri was celebrated with even greater magnificence. In September 1805, the Maharajas began the practice of holding a special durbar (royal assembly, after the fashion of the Mughal emperors) for important citizens, members of the royal family, Europeans, palace officials, royal priests and the intelligentsia. The common people also participated in the durbar.

The festival became a tradition of the royal household and assumed its most elaborate form during the rule of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV (1902-1940). The grand Mysore Palace, constructed in 1912 in the Indo-Saracenic style, has been a major venue of the festival. The three-storey, symmetrical palace with its beautiful domes and ample courtyard, designed by the English architect Henry Irwin, attracts a large number of visitors. It is decorated with finely designed inlay work of ivory, coloured motifs and imaginatively drawn designs made from jacinth and jasper, carbuncle and amber. Most of the carvings were done by artists from Agra. The teak ceiling has intricate carvings and every door, be it silver, teak or rosewood, depicts the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. Murals vividly capture the royal Dasara procession of caparisoned elephants, horses, courtiers, nobles and soldiers passing out of the palaces main gate and winding its way through the city overlooked by the Chamundi Hills.

Balarama (third from left) and the other elephants that will participate in this years Dasara celebrations being received at the Mysore Palace on August 15.-M.A. SRIRAM

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Veteran musicians such as Veena Seshanna and Bidaram Krishnappa and dancers have performed at the evening durbar. The evening would end in a grand feast at the Government House and Lalitha Mahal. Hindustani musicians such as Barkatulla Khan, Gohar Jan and Fiaz Khan have been specially invited during Dasara by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and presented with khillats (a long-sleeved robe meant) and other gifts. Rabindranath Tagore and Dorabji Tata were among the famous guests of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.

There was also an exclusive English Durbar for the British Resident and other Europeans.

The last Maharaja to sit on the Golden Howdah during the Dasara procession was Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, in 1969. It now carries the idol of Chamundeshwari in the procession.-M.A. SRIRAM

The event that everyone looked forward to was the royal procession on the 10th day, when Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, seated on a golden howdah on a caparisoned elephant, along with his younger brother Yuvaraja Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wodeyar and nephew Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, set forth for the Bannimantap, followed by his troops, the palace band and the Royal Insignia of the Gandabherunda order. Other objects on display would be gun carriages, the state sword, the state elephant, the state horse and the state cow accompanied by the famous elephant chariot and camels. At the Bannimantap, the king worshipped the Banni tree. According to a story in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas used the Banni tree to hide their arms during the year when they lived in disguise. Before any war effort, the Mysore kings traditionally worshipped this tree.

The most significant change in the celebrations now is that the idol of Chamundeshwari has replaced the king in the procession.

There are no longer any soldiers in the procession, either. And though the route of the procession remains more or less unchanged, its focus now is on showcasing the governments achievements.

For the subjects of the Maharaja of Mysore, the event was the highlight of the year, and the streets would be crowded, as they are to this day, with people eager to get a glimpse of their ruler. There were events such as horse races, polo matches and dance performances.

The celebrations begin with the worship of Chamundeshwari at the temple on Chamundi Hills. Here, a file photograph of the preparations under way for the puja, which marks the festivals inauguration.-M.A. SRIRAM

From the early 20th century, a 21-gun salute marks the beginning and the end of the procession. This year, as every year, there will be competitive events at 14 venues in Mysore city. The wrestling match usually attracts thousands of spectators. This year, the Dasara air show, which was introduced four years ago, is expected to draw large crowds. Sarang, the Indian Air Forces helicopter formation display team, which has won several international laurels, will be one of its star attractions. There will also be an Air Warrior Symphony Orchestra at the Mysore Palace, a spectacle of great beauty.

This year, the Nada Habba has introduced a special segment called the Yuva Dasara to attract younger audiences. Singers from outside Karnataka, such as Shreya Ghoshal, Shaan and Kunal Ganjawala, are expected to participate, while Raghu Dikshit, a popular Kannada rock star, will add local colour. Mano Murthy, music director of the hit Kannada film Mungaru Male, and veteran singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam will also perform. Stalwarts such as M. Balamuralikrishna (Carnatic musician), Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (flautist), Jagjit Singh (ghazal singer), M.M. Keervani (music composer), Shubha Mudgal (Hindustani classical musician), Bombay Jayashri (Carnatic musician), Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain (shehnai player) and R.K. Padmanabha (Carnatic musician) will perform at the Palace Sangeethotsava.

The Dasara Committee has made provisions for a Gold Card that tourists can use to gain access to all the events and venues over the 10 days. On the sidelines of the main events at the Mysore Palace, there will be a Dasara exhibition, a film festival, a flower show and a food mela. Events have also been planned in the surrounding towns of H.D. Kote, Hunsur, K.R. Nagar, Nanjangud, Periyapatna and T. Narasipura.

A Mysore-based journalist said: Dasara in Mysore has assumed the hue of a carnival and has come to resemble something of a living heritage, which has evolved over the years from a purely religious tradition frozen in time to a vibrant event that is a blend of the ancient and the modern, depicting both continuity and change. The festival holds an immense appeal for the youth, who see it as a celebration of an ancient tradition.

Subha Mudgal and K.J. Yesudas in concert during the Dasara in 2003.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

For tourists visiting Mysore during Dasara, a tour of the palaces in the city is a rewarding experience. The Mysore Palace is the main draw. The Jaganmohan Palace, built in 1861, should be on the list of any history or architecture enthusiast. Situated close to the Mysore Palace, it was a retreat for the royal family. Now converted into the Chamarajendra Art Gallery, it houses a vast collection of handicraft, paintings and sculptures. The Lalitha Mahal Palace, which many tourists will instantly recognise as the setting for many Hindi and Kannada films, has been converted into a five-star hotel.

There are other attractions too, such as the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) dam and the Chamarajendra zoological gardens. The KRS dam across the Cauvery was built in 1932 when Sir Mirza Ismail was the Dewan of Mysore. The far-sighted Dewan laid out the Brindavan Gardens adjoining the dam. The garden now extends over 60 acres and is laid out in three terraces in the shape of a horseshoe. The musical and dancing fountains in the garden are a major tourist attraction.

The Mysore zoo, founded in 1892, is one of Indias oldest zoos and has 141 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. Its three white tigers draw thousands of curious visitors.

The wrestling event usually draws hundreds of spectators.-M.A. SRIRAM

The Gothic structure of St. Philomenas Church, located in the heart of the city, is visible from far away, its twin spires rising to 165 feet (50 m).

Srirangapatna also draws many tourists. Other major attractions are the Dariya Daulat Bagh, Tipus summer palace; Gumbaz, the tomb of Tipu Sultan; Colonel Baileys dungeon; Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple and Nimishamba temple; and the Jamiya Masjid. The Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks are loacted 80 km and 75 km, respectively, from Mysore.

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