''If you haven’t watched Mysore Dasara, you haven’t lived at all.''
The month of September-October calls for a celebration across India in the name of Dasara or Dussehra. The festival is celebrated to commemorate the triumph of the Hindu deity Ram over a demon Ravan, a victory of good over evil and symbolizes a path from darkness to light. Dasara derived from the words, ''Dasha'' meaning 10, and ''Hara '' which means killing, also interprets the meaning of Conquering the ten headed demon and eradicating the 10 sinful qualities in a human. It is a major Hindu festival that revolves around the worship of Goddess Durga and is celebrated for 10 days. The first nine days are called Navratri and successfully culminates on the tenth day which is called the Vijayadashami. The entire nation rejoices in the festival of victory with every state exhibiting its beautiful cultural ethos through Dussehra. While in North India, the victory of Lord Rama is celebrated by re-enacting Ramayana, the other parts of India worship Goddess Durga or Chamundeshwari who crushed a demon called ''Mahishasura''. What’s more, Mysore is one of them.
A quaint little city famous for its cultural heritage, mesmerizing gardens, beautiful and royal palaces, organizes a magnificent 10-day spectacle, the infamous Mysore Dasara. Renowned worldwide, the festivities date back to the 15th century celebrated during the Vijayanagara empire. With the best dancers, singers, musicians, and artisans from around the region, the festival was a grandeur to showcase the rich culture and heritage of the empire by the kings. Many events like archery, kushti or wrestling, were held to portray the strength and might of the military unit and its warriors of the empire. Today, the ruins of the present-day Hampi, a UNESCO world heritage site and the capital of the Vijayanagara dynasty reveals substantial proof of the pomp celebration of the Navaratri.
Hazara Rama Temple. Image Credits: WikiMedia Commons
The Mahanavami Dibba and the Hazara Rama temple in Hampi are the two standing structures displaying the history of Dasara. ''Dibba'' in Kannada translates to ''a high-level platform''. It was the place where the kings of the Vijayanagara empire watched the proceedings like army march past, elephant processions of the Navaratri ceremony. The witnesses date back to the year 1442-43 where a Persian traveler, Abdul Razak, watched the festival during Emperor Devaraya II's rule. Another visitor called Paes visited Vijayanagar during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya in 1520, and further in 1532 Nuniz witnessed Dasara when Achyutadeva Raya ruled the empire. Similarly, the Hazara Rama temple reveals the carvings of the majestic Mahanavami procession. Archers, Wrestlers, chieftains, artisans are several other sculptures that can be seen on the walls of the Hazara Rama temple in Hampi. But when the Vijayanagara empire succumbed to the invasion of the Muslim rulers, the tradition came to an end. Like two sides of the same coin, the ruins of Hampi depict a story of royalty and devastation.
Mahanavami Dibba. Image Credits: WikiMedia Commons
In 1610, the Dasara festival was brought back to life by the Wodeyars of the Mysore Kingdom ruled by Raja Wodeyar I. The world-famous Dasara Habba has its charm, and the festivities are still followed by the present-day king. In Karnataka, the festival has gained cultural significance and it is considered as the State festival- Nada Habba. The festival is based on the story of Goddess Chamundeshwari who manifested nine forms in nine days to defeat a buffalo-headed demon ''Mahishasura''. Present-day Mysore is derived from the name of the demon who is said to have lived in the city. On the 10th day, Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon and rooted herself on top of a hill which is now called the Chamundi hills. The Mahanavami, a colorful tradition brings life, lights, and impeccable grandiosity to the city of Mysore.
Mysore stands on top of the list to visit during the time of Dasara. The 10-day festival concludes with Vijayadashami. Various events around the heritage city of Karnataka, Mysore are conducted over the span of 10 days. What catches the eye is its appearance as splendid as a bride, Mysore gets dressed up for the festival with lights illuminating the entire city attracting tourists from all over the world. On the first day of the Navaratri, Goddess Chamundeshwari on top of the Chamundi hills is worshipped for the overall success of the festival. With an inauguration pooja and her blessings, the auspicious Mahanavami and Vijayadashami are initiated by the royal family.
Image Credits : Google Images
The following days are a showcase of several activities varying from sports, cycling, food mela, Yuva Dasara, heritage tours, wrestling, yoga, film festivals, pet shows celebrating the art and culture of Mysore. The main attraction of the festival is the Mysore Palace whose beauty is enhanced by the touch of over 100,000 light bulbs every day during the Navaratri. The golden throne of the Mysore kingdom is placed in the Durbar hall open to viewers which occurs only during this time is also a notable aspect. The ninth day of the festival, which is held on Navami Tithi, called the Ayudha Pooja, is also an important day during which the royal sword is worshipped and is taken on a procession over elephants, horses, and camels around the palace. Ayudha Pooja in Kannada translates into ''worship of weapons'' is celebrated across Karnataka by revering tools used for daily use to keep one safe when using them.
The final day of the festival, Vijayadashami is the most prominent event which remains etched in one's memory of the Mysore Dasara. The grand Jamboo Savari begins at the elegant Mysore Palace towards the sacred grounds of the Banni Mantapa( Banni tree). As per history, the Pandavas during their exile used to hide their weapons under the Banni tree. Since it is said that the Banni tree protected the weapons, the tradition has been alive during the Vijayanagara empire up until the present time. The idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed in a golden howdah(casket) weighing a staggering 750 kgs. Accompanied by many folk-art performances, music, and majestic horses and camels, the 5km long procession is a sight to behold where bejeweled, decorated mighty elephants carry the idol of Durga across the streets of Mysore before culminating at the Banni mantapa. The curtains are drawn to a close on the final eve of Vijayadashami with a torchlight parade known as Panjina Kavayatthu. The initial purpose of the torchlight parade was to instill courage in the people of the kingdom and to display the military forces under the king. But in recent years, the parade is held to continue the age-old tradition and offers a peek into the history of Mysore Dasara.
Image Credits : Google Images
The 500-year-old tradition had its ups and downs as well. The Dasara celebrations were completely stopped during Tipu Sultan’s term (1782-1799). In the year 1816, the Mysore kingdom experienced a severe famine due to which the festivities were brought to a halt by the ruler Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. Post-independence, when the Mysore Kingdom ruled by Jayachamaraja Wadiyar in 1970, lost its privy purse, the infamous Dasara has skipped again. While 2020 posed a big threat to massive gatherings, the city of Mysore observed a low-key Dasara celebration with restrictions and care. Many events were canceled to curb the spread of Covid-19. Though the festival was held in a simple way to uphold the importance of the tradition, Mysore Dasara will always remain a glory sitting at the apex of the cultural heritage.
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