Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Dasara Procession in Mysore and its history

                                                    The Mysore Dasara

Though Dasara is celebrated allover India, it is Mysore that it is held with the pomp and gaiety that is rarely seen in any other place or country. The famous Mysore Dasara procession or Jumbo Savari or the elephant ride) will commence on Vijayadasahmi, the last day of Dasara. This day signifies the death of Mahishasura at the hands of the Chamundi.
This time Vijayadasami is on Wednesday. This year, the elephant Arjuna, will carry Chamundi atop the Golden Howdah during the Jumbo Savari.
The Jumbo Savari commences from the Mysore Palace and ends at Bani Mantapa. Arjuna will lead the procession comprising of tableau from different districts and military, paramilitary and police units. Almost all television channels in the south broadcast this programme live and the procession always starts around afternoon.
Here is a history of  Dasara celebrations in Mysore.    
The first time the Vijayadashami procession was held in the then Mysore kingdom was way back in 1610 when Raja Wodeyar ruled over Mysore and Srirangapatna areas.
The present day Dasara owes its origin to the Vijayanagar dynasty. The Vijayanagar kings made the Dasara an annual feature and the king took salute from the Mahanavami Dibba which is still seen in Hampi. Sadly, the Dibba or platform is in ruins. The Dasara procession in Hampi attracted lakhs of people and Indian and foreign historians like Peas, and Nuniz have described in detail.
Not only the Dasara but also other Hindu traditions suffered a major setback when the combined armies of Deccan sultans of Bijapur, Bidar, Ahmednagar and Golconda defeated the Vijayanagar army in 1565 (the battle of Talikota) and ravaged Hampi and set fire to almost all the buildings. Today, all that survives are a few temples and structures in what is popularly called the largest open archaeological museum in the world.
After the destruction of Hampi, the capital of  the Vijayanagar kingdom was shifted to Pekukonda ()Andhra Pradesh) and subsequently Chandrigiri (near Tirupathi). The Dasara festivities which had been discontinued for several years in Hampi was once again started by the Wodeyar kings. But the procession was held at Srirangapatna and not Mysore. Please remember that Srirangapatna was the first capital of the Wodeyars before they shifted it to Mysore.
The credit for holding the first Mysore Darasa goes to Raja Wodeyar (1578 to 1617). Chamaraja Wodeyar, the precursor of Raja Wodeyar, had shifted the capital from Mysore to Srirangapatna. (The founder of the Wodeyar dynasty is Yaduraya in 1399. He was a feudatory to the Vijayanagar kings.)
Even today, the Wodeyar Prince, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar keeps up the tradition of his forefathers. The Dasara festivities commence after the Prince and his wife, (Prince Srikantadatta and his wife Princess Pramoda Devi) offer prayers to Goddess Chamundi, who is the Kula Devathe of the Wodeyars and also the guardian of Mysore.
After prayers to Chamundi, the Prince holds a private durbar which is called Khasa Darbar. One of the most unique feature of this programme is the Prince ascending the Golden Throne. (More about the throne in another article to follow soon).
The first Wodeyar to have such a private or Khasa durbar is Krishnaraja Wodeyar 3 in 1805. The members of the royal family and special invitees watch this private durbar.
Another important day at the palace is Mahanavami or Ayudha Pooja. On this day, while the Royals all over India worship the arms and ammunition in their possession, we worship our vehicles, knives and electronic gadgets. On this day, the royal sword of Mysore is taken out and worshipped. It is then taken around in a procession led by the palace elephants, camels and horses.
The dasara procession was led by Jayachaamrajendra Wodeyar till he died. After his death, an idol of Chamundi is placed in the Golden Howdah and the goddess leads the procession.
There are functions and special prayers on all the days of  Dassara such as Saraswathi Pooje  but I have chosen to highlight only the important days. Dasara is the Nada Habba of Karnataka and it is also known as Gombe Habba (the festival of dolls). Almost every household keeps dolls during the ten-day period. Here is a picture of the home made dolls in our house.
The dasara processions held before Independence and till the 1960s drew huge crowds. However, once the State Government stepped in, politics appears to have set in. The procession has lost much of its original lustre. However, as if to compensate for this lacklustre event, other programmes such as dance and music competitions, sports meet, Dasara exhibition are held.
Did you know that Dasara processions or celebrations are held in Bangalore and Madikeri too. In Bangalore, the Dasara is at JC Nagar (which is near Munireddy Palya or near the TV tower)  and it is a time when even Muslims join in the festivities. The Madikeri Dasara too is famous. It has a history of 120 years.  Dasara is held in Srirangapatna also though it is a pale reminder of the earlier days. An interesting point to note is that the Dasara procession in Srirangapatna was held in Srirangapatna even during the period of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan (1761 to 1799).        

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