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Mysore Palace lit up during the Dasara festivities

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


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