DASARA, in Mysuru is celebrated during the month of October. Dasara celebrations depict the triumph of good over evil. Karnataka has close association with the Vijayanagar rulers and later with the Wodeyars, erstwhile Mysuru Maharajas.
This festival usually falls in the months of September/October every year and comprises nine days of worship and celebration, called Navaratri. The tenth and concluding day is called Vijayadasami, signifying the slaying of the demon Mahishasura by Mahishasuramardini, the Goddess Chamundeswari or Durga, the principal deity of the Mysuru Maharajas.
In September 1805, the Maharajas started holding a special durbar ('Royal Assembly', after the fashion of the Mughal emperors) for important citizens, members of the royal family, Europeans, palace officials, royal priests, and the intelligentsia. Commoners also participated in the durbar. The festival has become a tradition of the royal household and reached its zenith during the rule of Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1902-1940).
The venue for most of the festivities of the Mysuru Dasara always has been the Amba Vilas Palace, which is also known as the Diwan-e-Khas. Murals vividly capture the Royal Dasara procession of caparisoned elephants, royal horses, courtiers, nobles and soldiers, as it passes through the Palace's Main Gate and winds its way through the city with the backdrop of the Chamundi hills.
On the first day, the King, after a ceremonial bath, worships the family deity in the palace and enters the durbar to the accompaniment of sacred chants and music. He worships the navagrahas (nine sacred deities) and the sacred `kalasa'. Then he ascends the throne at an auspicious moment after going around it three times. The palace lights are lit and a 21-gun salute is given as the royal insignia and sword are presented to him.
According to legend, Dharmaraja, the Pandava king, used the Mysuru Royal throne, which is made of gold. Kampilaraya brought it from Hastinapura to Penugonda, where it lay buried. It was rediscovered by Vidyaranya, the royal priest of the Vijayanagar Empire and subsequently presented to Raja Wodeyar in 1609. Another story is that the Moghul Emperor Aurangazeb gifted the throne to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar in 1700. The third legend says that it belonged to the mythological King Vikramaditya.
The King sits on this throne and receives royal guests. He accepts offerings from various temples and religious centers, which are blessed by royal priests chanting Vedic verses and sprinkling holy water. In the olden days vassals, dewans, army chiefs and other royal staff would line up to offer their respects to the throne. An ensemble of musical instruments accompanied by dance begins and the blowing of conches and trumpets announces the beginning of a parade of uniformed soldiers and others.
The decorated royal elephant arrives and showers rose petals on the assembled guests. The royal horse, equally well decorated, bends its knees in salutation to the throne. While the assembly leaves the court after bowing to the King, the queen and other royal ladies would come to pay obeisance to the King. The queen mother and senior ladies bless him with good health. The King leaves the durbar hall after praying to the Goddess once again and partakes of a lunch with the royal guests.
This ceremony is repeated on all the Navaratri days, accompanied by acrobatic feats, wrestling bouts by champion wrestlers, fireworks display and other forms of entertainments, which are open to the public as well.
The King worships the Goddess Saraswathi on the seventh day and Mahisasuramardini on the eighth. On Mahanavami, the royal sword is worshipped ceremoniously and all the weapons are taken out in a procession of the army, elephants, horses, camels and the royal retinue. Ceremonies are held on the Chamundi Hill.
Navaratri culminates in Grand Vijayadasami celebrations, also known as Jambu Savari. The grandeur and magnificence of this event has popularised the Mysuru Dasara world over. On this day, the King worships the royal sword, places it on a palanquin and offers an ash gourd smeared with vermilion as sacrifice to it. He heads the grand procession, seated in the historically famous golden howdah bedecked with rare gems and pearls, which is over 750-kgs, and is carried by the royal elephant.
Now the ceremonies are largely a private affair of the royal family, witnessed by a select audience. Clad in royal attire and traditional headgear, His Highness Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the scion of the royal family, ascends the seven steps to the golden throne - which is assembled according to religious instructions - at a preordained hour and receives obeisance from the public. Court musicians then play the signature tune composed to commemorate the assumption of power by the Wodeyars.
But the most significant change in the present day’s Dasara celebrations is that, the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari has replaced the King in the procession. Also absent is the royal procession comprising soldiers.
Today, Dasara is marked by daily musical performances by world-renowned musicians at the Amba Vilas Palace, the exhibition at Doddakere Maidan and the colourful Vijayadasami parade.