It is festive time when good prevails over evil, but with a twist. Dasara celebrations in Mysore have changed over the years. The festivities are said to date back to the Mahabharata, when the Pandavas hid their weapons under a sami tree (popularly known as banni tree) in the old Mysore region. Now, Dasara in Mysore is not just about worshipping Chamundeshwari (Durga in other places), but also about catering to the large and growing tribe of tourists whose presence generates employment for hundreds of families.
Besides, Nanjaraj Urs, author of a book on the Mysore royal family, says the private durbar has now become only a ritual. Urs, a close associate of the Wodeyar family, said the state guests and the public who took part in the private durbar at Amba Vilas, wore the traditional dress, including the Mysore turban. Palace employees would shower guests with jasmine flowers. Women of Ursu families were offered food during the durbar. But in recent years the royal family has not had guests for the durbar and the public are not allowed to participate.
The private durbar used to be held for about 50 minutes, with either a musical concert or a police band entertaining the guests, according to Urs. Now it has been reduced to 20 minutes of rituals. Priests from 22 temples, including the Sringeri Sharadapeeta, Chamundeshwari temple and the Srikanteshwara temple, used to come personally with prasadam. The scion of the royal family would visit the glass house in the Mysore Palace in traditional attire to seek his mother’s blessing, while the queen would do padapuja after the completion of durbar. Now, the padapuja is done in a verandah attached to Amba Vilas and can be watched by the public.
The Mysore Dasara has its roots in the Vijayanagar Empire. Even today, Navaratri is observed in much the same way as in those days. Raja Wodeyar, a feudatory, continued the celebrations after Vijayanagar fell, in Srirangapatna and Mysore. It was first celebrated in Mysore in 1799 by the five-year-old Krishna Raja Wodeyar III, who rode a decorated horse and offered puja on
Vijayadashmi under a sami tree. It was the highlight of the Mysore royal calendar
until about 40 years ago, with the king leading a procession on an elephant and being offered flowers at Chamaraja circle.
In 1969, the government abolished the princely states and their privy purses. Shocked by the orders, issued a few days before the festival, the Wodeyars offered puja till 1974 by placing a sacred knife on the golden throne. Navaratri became a largely private affair.
In 1977, industrialist F K Irani, Jaya­devaraja Urs, Kenge Gowda and other people of Mysore formed a committee to celebrate Dasara as Naada Habba and took out an idol of Chamundeshwari on a wooden replica of the golden howdah. The Gundu Rao government took over the celebrations, which continued in Amba Vilas. The cultural festival was moved out of the palace for security reasons.
The government’s takeover has resulted in other changes, too, and tourists from across the globe flock to Mysore for Dasara now, and the state has taken advantage to promote other parts of Karnataka. The tourist inflow increased four-fold, and successive governments have established tourism circuits that connected spots such as the Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks, the Biligirigan wildlife sanctuary, and
Belur, Halebeedu and Somnathpura.
The focus on tourism has not, however, taken away from the lure of Dasara in Mysore, with the celebrations promising to
attract many more over the years.
NOTES FROM A TIME OF FORGOTTEN VIOLENCE
It’s a tense vigil for the men near a clearing, their silence in marked contrast to the echoing of drums in the forest.
A noise like thunder reaches them through the sandalwood and teak trees, growing till it begins to sound like an earthquake.
Out of nowhere a herd of tuskers bursts into the clearing, their charging rage changing in an instant to fright, as the earth caves in.
Applause and jubilation electrifies the gathering that is as strange as the event they watch — swarthy muscular tribals, men of royalty and opulence, and a few fair-skinned aliens who wield more power than the kings. Welcome
to the elephant sport of Khedda and the Raj period of Mysore.
Dasara in Mysore has never been just about the present. To celebrate the colours, the pageantry, the ceremonies and the music is to open a living link with a time when the Wodeyars ruled the land. To our eyes it would seem strange, with its princes and viceroys, hunting and exotic man-animal duels.
One of the most colourful figures of this lost age is the Jatti tribal, the Wodeyar’s bodyguard during hunting expeditions. The warrior Jattis were chosen to protect the kings because of their martial arts expertise.
They practised Khedda, the capture of elephants. The number of dignitaries who enjoy the sight is legion, from viceroys and governors general to Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and V V Giri. The wild elephants captured in Khedda were tamed and often took part in the Dasara festivities.
The stage was the Karapura forest, and places across the Kabini and Kapila rivers in Heggadevana Kote from the early 18th century, the time of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar.
The Jattis first tracked the movement of wild elephants. They would dig big pits and cover them with green fodder. Guests were seated in an elevated position or behind a bamboo grove to watch the capture.
The tribals would beat drums and make
loud noises to herd the elephants towards the pits. The elephants, crossing the Kabini, would run into the woods, only to fall into the
pits. The mahouts, who took over from there, would approach on trained elephants and
usually tamed and trained the new ones in a couple of months.
Khedda came to an end when Karapura
forest was submerged during the construction of the Kabini reservoir. Hunting came to
an end after the abolition of kingship and
the withdrawal of the privy purse, according to Nanjaraj Urs.
Maheshwaran, a researcher on the Jattis, says the downfall of the community started when they started to be used as gladiators to fight wild animals during the regime of the king of Mysore, Tipu Sultan.