Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Traditions of Mysore Dasara

In Mysore, Dussehra is part of a festival celebrating Dasara, which is widely celebrated as Navratri, also called Durga Pooja. Navratri is celebrated in honor of Durga also known as Chamundeshwari, symbol of the divine feminine energy. Legend has it that Durga, after a bout of ten days and nine nights, managed to kill Mahishasura, who created chaos in earth.

So we attended the festivities of Mysore Dasara, where thousands of people from throughout the region attend it. We visited the great palace of the former Maharajas, the pride of Mysore and we attended on Monday in the great procession that closes with pomp Dasara festival.

In the parade, an idol of Durga is covered with flowers and is placed in an imposing golden palanquin resting on the back of an elephant covered with colorful decorations. The procession continues with other elephants all caparisoned with gold and silver, richly caparisoned horses, chariots, symbolizing the attractions of the region, of the royal guards, musicians and dancers from across Karnataka representing the richness and traditions of Indian culture. The former maharajah, riding in his royal attire, closes the parade.

The celebrations for Dussehra or Dasara in Mysuru last 10 days, alternating in the manifestations of modernity with the most ancient and magnificent traditions. The ancient glory of Mysore, in Karnataka, returns during the ten days dedicated to the Dasara Festival culminating as usual with the parade on the day of Vijayadasami, during which people celebrate the symbolic victory of good over evil.

Named as Naada Habba, or State Festival, the festival of Dasara was transformed here than in other regions due to the mixture of religious and secular elements introduced over time and which have earned a final parade carnival character, with chariots and performances of various matrix folk, but without diluting the popular feel the religious essence of the celebrations.

In recent years the festival has become then the focus of many activities and events aimed to increase tourism and investment in the city; the cocktails offered, based on the history, charm of past times and modernity, represents continuity and change, always impressing visitors favorably, which can therefore be found among the many expressions of local culture, one of them more palatable as art lovers and culture can immerse themselves in a refined music and Carnatic classical dance program.

Youngsters go wild at concerts of Indipop stars organized by Yuva Dasara, the Dasara for youth, and art history lovers can visit the glitz of many buildings for which the city is famous. But even outside of this festive period, Mysore has the potential to become a tourist center of the first floor, in southern India, due to its proximity to centers such as the magnificent temple Hoysala of Somnathpur, the city-fortress of Srirangapatna, the Bandipur national Park, or the ancient temples of Talakad, covered up by the dunes formed by the sharp bend of the river Kaveri, not to mention the architectural heritage of the city itself.

It is supposed that this festival, originally, was a simple act of thanksgiving for Vedic warrior Indra, who is held responsible for the much-awaited seasonal rains. Later, it acquired more complex connotations, such as the victory of good over evil, symbolized by the killing of the Ravana by Rama. In Mysore the event is associated especially with that of the Mahishasura killed by Durga, the main local deity here called as Chamundeswari, whose temple is located on the Chamundi Hills from which you can enjoy a nice view of the city.

The tradition of Dasara, as grandiose state festivals, was born with the Vijayanagar Empire (1336 -1565 AD) and was later inherited by the local feudal lords, the Wodeyar, who have maintained until nowadays. When following the fall of Tipu Sultan, in 1799, the capital was displaced from Srirangapatana in Mysore, the Wodeyar introduced the custom to hold a public hearing, a durbar, during the celebrations.

This special durbar, which was, however, only addressed to British nobles and European guests of fame, made over time the celebrations of Dasara in Mysore the social event of the season. The twenty-six frescoes that adorn the Kalyana Mantapa in Mysore Palace will report the annals of time.

After Indian Independence in 1947, many changes were introduced. The Maharaja used to be seated on a howdah gold saddle canopy elephant which was the hub of caparisoned elephants parade, it was replaced by the statue of the goddess Chamundeswari, carried in procession, and the durbar was deleted. What for the Maharajas had the opportunity to flaunt main allies and rivals to their own wealth and military power of the state, but today it has become an opportunity to showcase the cultural diversity of Karnataka and organizational efficiency of its government.

And yet, for someone you can still have today a little taste of yesteryear, as all the major religious rituals associated with the festival are officiated by the heir of the ruling house, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar dressed in lavish clothes and gifts adorned with priceless jewels.

During the days of the festival, the ruler of this kingdom is no longer routinely subjected to a ritual bath, after which is performed the worship of the family gods at the Amba Vilas Palace, and then the journey heads towards the center of the durbar accompanied by the chanting of mantras and is ascended to the throne of gold, from which it receives the homage of the court, however, in what is now only a matter of family tradition attended by a select audience.