Sunday, 8 September 2013

This is where Dasara began

An earlier post was about the Dasara elephants and the Dasara celebrations of Mysore. However, what few people know is that today there is no Dasara at the place where the celebrations began.
The place where Dasara began is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and it is fondly called as part of the largest open air museum in the world.
Viewing the magnificent ruins which are spread over several kilometers brings tears to the eyes and the destruction of the once world’s most populous and richest city leaves everyone numb.
The Dasara has its origin here and it is from this place the world got to know of the procession, which today is conducted in Mysore.
When Dasara was being celebrated in this city, Mysore then was unheard of and the Main Palace from which the procession starts was part of the Purugere village.
European travelers and even Indian who frequented the city of Victory or Vijayanagar which today is better known as Hampi found it difficult to describe the Dasara procession. Portuguese travellers Paes and Nuniz were at a loss for words when they were invited by the Vijayanagar Emperors to witness the Dasara procession.
However, the earliest reference to Dasara is by a Persian traveller, Abdul Razzak who was invited by Emperor Devaraya, the second, to witness the festival during 1442-43.
Though there was no Dibba then, we can safely assume that it was  thereabouts that the procession wended its way. The many buildings that Razzak speaks of and the geography seems to speak of the location of the Dibba as the palace complex from where Devaraya watched the procession.
Here is how Razzak speaks of the Dasara then: “The infidels of this country who are endowed with power are fond of displaying their pride, pomp, power and glory in holding every year a stately and magnificent festival which they call Mahanavami”.
He further continues, saying that “The King of Vijayanagara directed that all his nobles and chiefs should assemble at the royal abode from all the provinces of his country which extends for the distance of three or four month's journey. They brought with them a thousand elephants arrayed in armour and adorned with howdahs on which Jugglers (magicians) and throwers of naptha were seated and the foreheads, trunks and ears of the elephants were painted with cinnabar and other pigments. On that beautiful plain were raised enchanting pavilions of two to five stages high on which from top to bottom were painted all kinds of figures that the imagination can conceive of men, wild animals, birds and all kinds of beasts down to flies and ants. All these were painted with exceeding delicacy and taste. Some of these pavilions were so constructed that they revolved and every moment offered a different face to the view”.
Razzak speaks of the entertainment during the festivities saying, “In front of the plain, a nine - storeyed pillared edifice was built, which was of exceeding beauty. The throne of the king was placed on the ninth storey”. Razzak says he was assigned a place in the seventh storey exclusively for himself and his friends. “In the open space were singers who were mostly young girls. They were seated behind a beautiful curtain opposite the king. All of a sudden, the curtain was removed on both sides and the girls began to dance with such grace that the soul was intoxicated with delight. After the dance, there was a display of acrobatics and the crowd enjoyed it. An elephant was made to stand on a wooden plank and dance to the tune of music. This was a great attraction. The King gave away the prizes to young dancing girls and others who took part in various items”.
Razzak says he was particularly impressed by the rituals of the last three days which coincided with Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadashami which showed the culmination of the Dasara.
On the Dasara Durbar, he says, “Every evening King Devaraya held a durbar in which all the feudatories and nobles came and bowed to the King and gave rich tributes of gold coins, ornaments, precious stones and pearls. King Devaraya  smiled and accepted them as if he was doing a great favour and the feudatories felt happy at this gesture”.
Razzak was also taken to the King who enquired about his welfare, his Kingdom and other details and gave him betel leaves and a silk bag containing gold coins and wished him good luck. Razzak was satisfied with this kind gesture of King Devaraya and wrote, “My eyes have not seen a better King than Devaraya”.  
The accounts of Paes who visited Vijayanagar in 1520 when Krishna Deve Raya was the Emperor and Nuniz in 1532 when Achuta Deve Raya was the Emperor and those of other travelers mention that the Emperor sat with his family and other high ranking dignitaries on the Mahanavami Dibba and presided over the entire event.
The Dibba was decorated and the Emperor sat on the highest seat. The Dibba was totally destroyed by the Muslim states of Deccan in 1565.
Today, there are no Dasara celebrations at Mahanavami Dibba. It lies desolate and visitors and pilgrims walk about the elevated platform.
History tells us that Mahanavami Dibba was built by  Krishna Deva Raya to commemorate his victory over Udaygiri, Orissa. His first expedition in 1513 to reconquer Udaygiri had failed and this setback had made the Emperor all the more determined to take Udaygiri.
Sbsequently, the Mahanavami Dibba underwent various changes under the leadership of different kings. Today, the Dibba is 22 feet tall, the upper part 80 feet in length and width each.
When the Dasara festival was first celebrated from here sometime in 1514, various ambassadors, governors and poets from different countries also visited Hampi during the period, which lasted nine days.
Several cultural activities and sports like wrestling or Kusti, sword fighting was held in front of the Dibba. The Army chiefs were felicitated for their bravery. A procession of animals including elephants, camels, horse and cattle was taken out through the important streets of Hampi before it reached the Dibba.
Pujas were also performed for several gods like Durga Devi, Elamma and Hathukayithayamma. The battle of Talikote or Rakasa Tangadi signaled the end of Hampi.
Though the State Government celebrates Hampi Utsava and Purandara Mahotsava, the Dasara is no longer celebrated a the Mahanavami Dibba.

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