Dasara in Mysuru: Then and Now

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Bapu Satyanarayana, born 1932 in Bangalore, retired as Chief Engineer, Ministry of Surface Transport. At present, he is the presiding arbitrator of the Dispute Adjudication Board appointed by the National Highway Authority of India. He lives in Mysore, and enjoys writing for various newspapers and magazines on a variety of subjects, including political and civic issues.

My recollection goes back to the time when I was young, during the late 1930s and 1940s, covering the end of the reign of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who was succeeded by Maharaja Jaya Chamarajendra Wodeyar. Mysore was the capital of the Wodeyar dynasty.

In those days Mysore was not as crowded as now. The whole city had beautiful boulevards, tree lined wide roads and sparkling water bodies. The Kukkarahalli tank was the star attraction. Here, during mornings, youngsters would crowd to learn swimming under guidance from the experts. Read an account of the life around the tank here. http://www.indiaofthepast.org/contribute-memories/read-contributions/life-back-then/53-life-around-kukkarhalli-tank-mysore-in-the-1940s-by-m-p-v-shenoi

Since the majority of the people belonged to the lower income middle class and middle income groups with limited financial resources, everybody walked. Anyhow, most of the places were nearby including the main Devaraja Market for purchase of flowers, fruits and vegetables and other home requirement.

Going by Tonga (Shah Pasand) was a delightful change and a sort of adventure to the children. Read about the Tonga here. http://www.indiaofthepast.org/contribute-memories/read-contributions/life-back-then/100-buddan-sahib-tongawala-by-mpv-shenoi

We had not heard the term ‘filthy rich', as we are hearing today nor the type of poverty that we talk about today, which makes everybody feel guilty for such a situation. Also the type of sickening crimes that are happening today was never heard of. At best it was confined to infrequent news of theft and that too of some modest amount mainly confined to vessels, clothes and silver articles and rarely of gold ornaments.

Visiting the zoo was a pleasurable event. The other attractions of Mysore were the Royal stable of horses, Aane Karoti with elephants, with Mysore Sabu fame playing with elephants, and Vintage cars belonging to the Royal family.

And of course the magnificent Chamundi Hills that conjures up the vision of peace and harmony of people living happily under the benign rule of Maharajas that reminds us of the vestiges of golden era under Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Unlike now, we never heard of caste and religion. All was so peaceful and great friendships prevailed with everybody visiting everybody else during festivals.

Above all, the academic ambience of Mysore lent lustre and inspired many to produce works of lasting fame. It was a genteel place of grace and joy carrying the fragrance of jasmine flower that enveloped the whole atmosphere under the benign presence of Royal patronage.

Dasara Then

It was this environment that the most important ten day festival, Navarathri of Dasara was celebrated. The whole community participated in this with great enthusiasm. We children looked forward to the Jumboo Savari on the last day, when the Maharaja sitting on the Houda (Glittering Throne) in his ceremonial dress on Ambari Aane would go on procession route to worship Banni tree (the original route passed through Ashoka road) on Vijaya Dashmi, viz. the tenth day. Its significance was to celebrate victory of good over evil as symbolised by Devi Chamundeswari killing the demon Mahishasura.

The Maharaja had to go through some strict rituals of not shaving and sleeping on straw bed preceding going for Darshan of Devi Chamundeswari in the temple on Chamundi Hill. Another important function on Chamundi hill was the Theppotsava at Devikere.

As children we were not concerned with its hoary history of beginning of Dasara festival which started during the Vijayanagar empire. But we were told about the significance of worshipping Banni tree. It is believed that Pandavas during their exile kept all their weapons like Bheema's Mace (Gadhe) and Arjuna's bow and arrow, swords etc. before emerging from one year's hiding to subdue the Kauravas in an epic battle lasting 18 days. We were also told about the story of Mahabharata. During this time, goddesses Laksmi, Saraswathi and Durga were worshipped on different days.

On Vijaya Dashmi day, the family would get up early. After bathing, we would wear new clothes. Then, we would walk from the house to the procession route. During the walk, we would hold hands of elders to witness the Jumboo Savari on the procession route.

The various roads leading to procession route would be full of people walking or travelling by Tongas as though the whole of Mysore was walking to witness the grand procession. We had to go early to secure a good and comfortable place, which was invariably on the balcony of some buildings en route to Sayyaji Rao road. The most coveted place was near K.R. Circle.

Sometimes we had to stand on the procession route, and, being children, we had to crane our necks and sometimes elders would haul us up on their shoulders so that we could have a good look. Naturally, for children it was an opportunity to look forward for eating sweets and watch the procession. It was fun to watch with bated breath the colourful procession of marching police with military bands. They were all dressed in various colours of red, yellow and green wearing bright dresses accompanied by people blowing on bugles. Then we would see procession by horses, elephants, camels with colourful dresses moving along with bands playing. There were people in Durbar dress walking as also sitting on the wide platform drawn by elephant.

For children the sight of those scurrying behind the animals trying to gather their droppings from the horse or elephant or camels with help of broom and a pan into a bucket would drive us into peals of laughter. Then we saw people playing Koalata and dances by other troupes and the inevitable clown to make us laugh. Another sight that we children enjoyed was the sight of persons on the stilts.

The most exciting time was when the Maharaja came sitting on the Ambari Aane in full regalia greeting people with folded hands while people threw flowers. It was quite a sight seeing those simple and innocent people from villages, who adored the sight of Maharaja who is considered as the living God for them. They would repeatedly bow and touch their eyes and pat their cheeks which indicated great reverence to the Maharaja. In fact, even now the belief is that one should not directly see the Maharaja. All of us used to bow in reverence for the Maharaja who was held in greatest esteem .The whole environment exuded an atmosphere of grandeur, grace and solemnity and seeing Maharaja we all felt blessed. Maharaja would also hold in his palace a special Darbar where people with ceremonial dress would attend.

I remember three other celebrations in this connection: Saraswathi pooje, Ayudha Pooje and Bombe Habba During Saraswathi pooje we would place religious books and children would be keen to place their school books and pray for Goddess Saraswathi to bestow knowledge. During Ayudha pooje, we would wash and clean instruments or implements of use in the house like knives, hammer, scissors etc., and place them in the Pooja room and worship them with Kunkuma, Haladi and flowers and waving incense sticks in a ceremonial fashion. It was a practice at the end of Navarathri we had to read some portion of all the books.

The most attractive and important ceremony very dear to children was Bombe Habba when various dolls would be placed on tiers and a wide variety of exhibits like creating a park, lawn, etc., depending on the imagination and would exult in making a grand show of it. It would be topped with two wooden dolls - one dressed in colourful saree and other with closed shirt and pants called Pattada Bombe to symbolise Raja and Rani.

This was the time when children, particularly girls, would visit houses of their friends, sometime with their parents to view the exhibition of dolls etc. and partake with sweets or any preparation in their houses. In fact, it was also called children Dasara, and it was fun time to wear different dresses to show off.

Each day of Navaratri different preparations including sweets, etc., would be prepared to distribute to visiting children. Girls were the stars of the show. Little girls would be worshipped as embodiment of Devi.

Another attraction was the Dasara exhibition being held in the quadrangle adjacent to the medical college. It was a comparatively small area but as children we felt excited going round various stalls purchasing small knickknacks like balloons.

My interest was the stall established by my father as Manager of Mysore silk filatures. It was his responsibility to exhibit the product and explain to visitors how silk threads would be drawn out of cocoons. It was a pride for our family, and I still have a photo showing my father and Sri Nagaraaja Rao who later became my teacher in physics in Sarada Vilas College.


My father Sri H. Ramanna, Manager Silk Filatures, sitting with tie, and Sri Nagaraja Rao sitting to his  right. T. Narasipur  1945.

To cap it all was the crowning glory when palace lighting with thousands of lights that cast a spell on all of us and captivating the visitors. There was an atmosphere of gaiety, fun and clean enjoyment unburdened with any care. These are some of my impressions as a youngster.

Dasara now

The passage of time changes all. Naturally, it has also impacted on Dasara celebrations. The present Dasara celebrations is in its 408th year. Originally Dasara was celebrated in Srirangapattana, and shifted to Mysuru when it became the capital. Over time it was celebrated as Nadahabba. Over the years the importance of Royal family dominated by the Maharajas has gradually waned. During earlier times it was Maharaja who rode on the elephant in regalia, now it is replaced by the Idol of Devi Chamundeswari.

The last Maharaja who had the privilege of riding on the Ambari Aane was Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. Then it was the rule by Wodeyars who reigned as Maharajas under monarchy. Now, under democracy, it is the politicians in power who control everything. Now the capital is Bengaluru in a larger state of Karnataka. Mercifully Dasara continues to be celebrated in Mysore as it is inextricably associated with the Mysore palace. With politics dominating who knows there may be some attempt to make some parallel Dasara in Bengaluru where there is something called the Bengaluru palace.

There is still a private Durbar in the Mysuru palace where, like earlier times, the present Royal scion Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar receives the salutations.

Under the rule of Maharajas, Mysore was considered as a model state. Though it was monarchy it was unlike any other because the King was like a father figure and the subjects were very happy. The rule under Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was considered as the golden age of Mysore.

T. N. Srikantaiah, who was a professor in the University of Mysore, wrote in a book (published by his son) Relatives (A collection of light essays) something that puts it succinctly. "In earlier days the citizens prayed for the welfare of the kings. Now in democracy we have to pray for the welfare of the ministers...'" (written on 24.10.1947.)

No doubt the change is in keeping with the change in aspiration and expectation of present generation where outlook and values have gone through a sea change with accent on enjoyment. This is the result of progress and development particularly with communication and technology when distances have shrunk with global cultures sweeping across nations and this can be seen in the way Dasara is celebrated.

The explosion of population and vehicles have cast its negative effect that has robbed it of its soulful experience of its leisurely enjoyment and is replaced by a dilemma of choosing which function to attend when so many different functions are arranged at so many places that quality suffers. While it has retained certain heritages features of the past, many new attractions have become the part of the Dasara .

The new feature is the phenomenon of inauguration of Dasara by eminent personalities by making ceremonial worship to Idol of Chamundeswari at the temple on the Chamundi Hill. Selection was based on political considerations depending upon the ideology of the ruling government and invariably creating controversy while really deserving people of eminence and unimpeachable character would be ignored. However, this year it appears good sense seems to have prevailed when Dr Sudha Murty was selected for inauguration.

With burgeoning modern vehicles of all types affording rapid transport, Tongas which used to be as chief mode of transport has practically disappeared. Now those few remaining Tongas have assumed exclusivity by government patronage and it is converted as decorated royal coach during Dasara time for which hefty sum has to be paid so that people may derive vicarious enjoyment. These few tongas would revert to its sad state of neglect with no takers except providing enjoyment to the children who occasionally visit from abroad to have a ride as a quaint diversion.

Though the ten day Dasara celebrations are conducted with same fervour, politics dominates all functions for it is an opportunity for politicians who have replaced royalty to inaugurate various functions wearing colourful Mysore Peta, which was the symbol of royalty earlier. Now most of the programmes are catered to youth and thus many attractive programmes in various venues are arranged. These are programmes like sports, film festivals dramas and the music programmes and dances in Maharaja's college grounds which draws huge youthful crowds.

In the palace, the programme of music by renowned musicians are arranged as also many cultural shows. Marathon and cycle races with attractive prices are given. Then we have all sorts of competitions to cater to all ages including many cultural activities in the exhibition grounds. Now the exhibition has a permanent venue in the former Doddakere maidan which used to be a big tank earlier. Besides hundreds of stalls selling many attractive wares and textiles, it is also a place where many cultural activities including music are arranged. Everything is on a very large scale costing lots of money.  Several committees are formed to plan and oversee diverse programmes and there is competition to be included in the committees by politicians and their followers.

It is appropriate to say Dasara has become commercialised, with an accent on entertainment and enjoyment. It has metamorphosed by different names like Yuva Dasara, Makkala Dasara, Mahila Dasara, Farmers Dasara, Food Dasara and accordingly programmes get shaped.

One significant change is about security and CCTVs proliferate. It is the age of instant gratification and speed that is shaping our lives with ubiquitous mobile in everybody's hands to take photos and exchange messages and pictures through WhatsApp, etc. Elder generation is content to view the programmes in TV in the quiet of their houses as going out in the tremendous rush and congregation of people is a traumatising experience. While older generation may sometimes feel nostalgic they also slowly falling into the sign of times and accepted the change for they are conscious to gracefully leave the field to the younger generation who shape our future.


© Bapu Satyanarayana 2018

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