Mysore Dasara celebrations are Karnataka’s and indeed south India’s best known Dussehra festivities that attract thousands of devotees and tourists alike. The Mysore Dasara celebrations conclude the nine-day Navratri festivities with a grand procession that begins from the illuminated Mysore palace. Indeed, over the decades, Mysore has become synonymous with the extravagant Dasara celebrations and the festival is celebrated with a great pomp every year. The 10-day festival ends with its last day being Vijayadashami. For the duration of Navratri and Dasara, Mysore Palace is illuminated and a procession is carried out through the streets of the city even as Mysore comes to a standstill for that one day.
Mysore, which used to be a capital for more than 600 years, is closely associated with Navratri and Dasara legends and the Chamundeshwari Temple is an important city landmark for a good reason. The city also owes its name to a tale from the Hindu mythology, one that involves Chamundeshwari, an incarnation of Durga who battled the demon Mahishasura for nine nights. On the 10th day, Chamundeshwari killed Mahishasura and the town came to be called Mahishasurana Uru (meaning, the town that Mahishasur belonged to). Soon, that name changed to Mahisur or Mysuru, which was then anglicized as Mysore. The Mysore Dasara celebrations span the duration of the epic battle and honor the nine forms of the goddess as well as the victory of good over evil. 2020 marks the 410th anniversary of the Mysore Dasara celebrations, which have more or less remained the same for all these years.
The grandest and the most important day of the Mysore Dasara celebrations is, of course, Vijayadashami. Mysore Palace begins its day with a puja. Also known as the Nandi Dhwaja Puja or the puja of Nandi, Shiva’s vehicle, it begins at noon. Shiva is important to this narrative because it was he who performed the tandava holding the body of Shakti in his hands. Afraid of complete annihilation Vishnu fired his divine chakra and cut Shakti’s body into 52 parts. These parts fell all over the earth and are known as Shakti Peethas. One of them, where the hair of Shakti fell, is right here in Mysore. And that is where the Chamundeshwari Temple now stands.
The first evidence of the Mysore Dasara celebrations appears in a Persian ambassador’s book. This book was his major work and contains the overview of the history of the region from 1304 to 1470. The Wodeyars of Mysore continued to celebrate the Dasara festival even after the fall of Vijayanagar Empire. The Wadiyar royal couple performs a special puja to Goddess Chamundeshwari in the Chamundi Temple, which marks the beginning of the celebrations. This is then followed by a royal assembly in the Mysuru palace and is attended by the royal family members and special guests amongst other people. The successors of Wadiyar king have religiously followed the tradition and do it with the same fervor till today.
Since 1610, the traditions have been preserved and carried by respective Wodeyar kings. The festival became a tradition of the royal household and reached its zenith during the rule of statesman Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar from 1902-1940 AD.
The royal durbar, the procession of royal elephants with the king seated in the majestic golden howdah known as ‘Ambari’ followed by his ministers, administrators, the royal staff and the military continued till it came to an end with the end of British rule and the integration of princely states to the Indian Union in 1947. However, Jaya Chamarajendra Wodeyar, the last crowned king of the Wodeyar kingdom tried to revive the tradition in his personal capacity after a few years, but the old appeal was missing.
After the annexation and reorganization of states and upon the death of Jaya Chamarajendra Wadiyar in 1974, the tradition again suffered a setback and Mysuru almost lost its unique festival until the Government of Karnataka decided to celebrate it as a state festival or ‘Naada Habba’ with few modifications in the Dasara celebrations.
With the Government of Karnataka celebrating the Mysuru Dasara as the ‘Naada Habba’, the spectacle has now become a state event. The Mysuru Dasara is now part of two ceremonies, one carried out by the royal household and the other being the public celebrations carried out by the state with all the pomp and grandeur.
The Dasara palace ceremonies are largely a private affair of the royal family, witnessed by a select audience. Clad in royal attire and traditional headgear, the head or “custodian” of the erstwhile ruling family of the Kingdom of Mysore, ascend the golden throne and receives symbolic obeisance from the public.
During Dasara, the sight of brightly illuminated Mysuru Palace and the entire city is one of the most vital features of the celebrations. Various cultural and religious programs highlighting the dance, music and culture of the state of Karnataka are performed in front of the illuminated Palace.
The world-famous Mysuru Dasara is not just a celebration of a Hindu festival, but rather a mix of a cultural, spiritual and religious carnival making it one of the greatest national events annually. The sheer scale and magnificence of the festival is unparalleled and hardly matched by any other cultural ceremony of the country.