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Dasara, or Navratri, and Vijayadashmi, celebrated in the months of September-October signify the victory of good over evil. All over India, the festival is marked with elaborate celebrations, theatre performances, dances, and bonfires. In Karnataka, it is celebrated with the iconic elephant procession, or jambu savari.
The history of Dasara begins from the Hindu myth of Chamundeshwari. Shiva is said to have danced a thandava with the body of Shakti in his hands. Vishnu is then said to have fired a chakra and cut Shakti's body into 52 parts. The part where Shakti's hair fell is where the Chamundeshwari temple stands. Chamundeshwari is the incarnation of Durga, who battled Mahishasura, for ten days, and ten nights. The city of Mysore is named after Mahishasura, and means, 'the place of Mahishasura' from the Kannada 'Mahishasurana ooru'.
Crowds throng the streets of Mysore to witness the procession Image source: wikimedia commons
The Wodeyars, the royal family of Mysore, take active part in the Dasara celebrations. The reason for this is the tradition set right from the days they were part of the Vijayanagar Empire. Raja Wodeyar, who was the vassal king of the empire, decided to overthrow the king, Tirumalaraja, who was ill. He then stole the queen's jewels. The angry queen cursed the dynasty with childlessness. This curse is said to be in power even today, as every alternate generation is childless. The current ruler of the Wodeyars, Yaduveera Chamraja Wodeyar is the adopted son of the previous rulers. Raja Wodeyar decided to show his power despite the curse, and began the long tradition of elaborate Dasara celebrations in Mysore, the then capital of the state. Each year, the Wodeyar family performs pujas and hosts a variety of performances during the ten days of the festival. The Dasara festivities are, thus, considered the Nadahabba, or the State festival of Karnataka. The celebrations within the palace are very private, witnessed by only a few of the courtiers. The king sits on a golden throne and is greeted by the people. Music is played the court musicians.
Jambu savari where the elephant carries the golden houda Image source: wikimedia commons
The Government of Karnataka hosts an exhibition during the months of Dasara, and it traditionally lasts for two months. Performances relative to the culture and history of Karnataka are showcased in front of the palace which is brightly lit during this time. Nearly 250 light bulbs are changed every year, to ensure a smooth progress in the celebrations.
On the last day, a statue of Chamundeshwari is placed in a golden houda and carried by elephants in a procession around the city. Earlier, the king would also sit on an elephant and lead the procession, but recently, only the statue is carried. The houda weighs nearly 750 kg. The elephants that carry this houda are specially trained. They are brought to the palace a few weeks before the festivities begin. Many tableaux representing various parts of Kannada history, and stunt riders take part in the procession. The festival concludes with a torch-lighting ceremony outside the city.
Keywords: Dasara, Mysore, jambu savari, Chamundeshwari temple, Wadeyars
Eve Yvonne Maday de Maros, the woman who designed the Param Vir Chakra, was born in 1913 in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was believed that she came to India to understand the country's culture and tradition.
She got to know about India's spiritual and cultural wealth at a very early age through holistic education which she received. Soon, Eve Yvonne fell in love with a Maharashtrian named Vikram Khanolkar, who was a young army officer, and was undergoing training at the Royal Military Academy in the United Kingdom.
Soon, both the persons married, and Eve Yvonne acquired the name Savitribai Khanolkar and shifted to Maharashtra with her husband who by the time became Major General.
Savitribai Khanolkar with husband Major General Vikram Khanolkar.Photo found on Google Images
As Savitribai Khanolkar was already amazed by the rich culture of India, she immersed herself in the study of mythology, traditions, and religious scriptures. Along with this, Savitribai also started indulging herself in the art, music, dance, and linguistics of India.
Parallel to this, India was celebrating its independence from the British rule, and was on its way to remove British legacies and re-establish the country's identity.
This was the time when When Adjutant General Hira Lal Atal was assigned with the task of creating the Indian equivalent of the British Victoria Cross. For this, he took Savitribai in confidence as she had an in-depth knowledge of the nation. Thus, from here began the journey of making the Param Vir Chakra.
The design of Param Vir Chakra was to denote power and sacrifice demonstrated by the soldiers that protected people at the cost of their lives. So, according to Savitribai, nothing could represent in a better way than the great warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji himself. According to the history, the ruler was known for his courage and strategic defence. Hence, his sword 'Bhavani' found a place on the disc, enclosed within the Indian mythical weapon 'Vajra', from both sides. This mythical weapon is believed to be made of a sage's bone in order to kill evil enemies in the name of goodness.
Moreover, the first Param Vir Chakra was awarded on India's first Republic Day celebrated, which was celebrated in 1950, and its recipient was Savitribai's son-in-law's brother, Major Somnath Sharma.
In modern times, many social movements aim to bring reform to the society we live in, on the basis of certain existing patterns. Patriarchy is something that many aim to cleanse our cultures of, to usher in the era of social and gender equality. Despite all these so-called movements, in southern India, certain societies that patronise matriarchy have existed since before India's independence. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country.
Kerala remains separate from the rest of India in many ways. Be it literacy policy, form of government, or cultural practices, this state does not always conform to the ideal that India is known for. Even so with their social structure. Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.
The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country. Image source: wikimedia commons
A male member, who is the close confidante of the matriarch is chosen. He plays a crucial role in representing the male members of his family, and his opinion is highly valued. He is called karavanan. The men reside in separate rooms or in separate houses, and do not interfere in the upbringing of children. Property is also passed down along the lineage of the eldest female. Among the Nairs, matriarchy is more prominently adhered to than the Ezhavas, who have some patrilocal connections.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Their matrilineal descent is known as Aliyasantana.
The story is told of a demon who threatened to destroy a kingdom if the king did not sacrifice his sons, but the king's sister comes forward to offer her children in sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. The demon is touched and does not destroy the city. Since then, the kingdom, or the property is inherited through female lineage.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Image source: wikimedia commons
In the recent past, many of these matriarchal societies have been reduced to matrilineal societies by certain governmental laws. They fall under the patriarchal scheme of the rest of the state but have reserved the right to pass on property and heritage through the female line. In the North east of India, matriarchal dominance is far more resilient than the south.
Keywords: Bunts, Billava, Nair, Ezhava, Aliyasantana, Matrilineal, South India, Karnataka, Kerala
In the recent past, Kalamkari has suddenly gained prominence in the wardrobes of Indian women. Commercial hubs in the city are filled with mannequins posing in kalamkari blouses, or sarees stretching out for yards on hangers.
As the name suggests, 'kalamkari' means 'craft from a pen'. Artisans draw on cloth with a pen, and colour it in with paints. This art form originated from the Mughal era and many of the scenes that artists choose to draw are scenes from Mughal gardens or palaces.
The Mughals were great patrons of art, and were known for their unique painting techniques. They would use a single haired brush to elaborate scenes from battle or from mythology. This technique was adopted by artisans of Hyderabad, who use a tamarind twig to paint cloth.
An artisan drawing with a tamarind twig on cloth with dyes Image source: wikimedia commons
These days, apart from mythology, kalamkari depicts scenes from everyday life too. The face of the Kathakali dancer, a pair of earrings, and the enlightened face of Buddha are some famous designs that people are seen wearing. The colours are usually dark blue, brown, olive green, or deep red.
Kalamkari, a 23-step dye process, is done in two different ways. The Kalahasti art type was a household form, where a brush is used to manually paint in the designs. Srikalahasti is an important center in Andhra Pradesh for this type of art. The Machilipatnam art form involves block painting, where designs are drawn on wooden blocks, dipped in the dye, and pressed on the fabric.
Kalamkari artist using wooden blocks to stamp designs on a sari Image source: wikimedia commons
One of the reasons why this handicraft has suddenly become popular could be due to the sustainable quality of its dyes and fabric. Kalamkari uses natural vegetable dyes and preferably cotton fabric as the base. It has grown as an art form, and in the fashion industry, it is being revered as an indigenous inclusion of heritage on an international platform.
Keywords: Kalamkari, Mughal, Art forms, Block painting, Andhra Pradesh