Tuesday, September 22, 2009


In our schools, September mid-term examinations were scheduled (even now, in fact) in such a way that the short vacation (much awaited) following them always coincided with the Dasara festivities - Navaratri. 'Dasara Holidays' was a wonderful period in those days in the 1960s and 70s and I try to recount those times.

The excitement and participation of people in the festivities is something one cannot imagine these days. It came from within oneself and not through lighted up streets and circles or publicity loudspeakers! The Mysore Maharaja (Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar) was very revered by one and all and the Royal Family was respected. People's zeal and excitement were genuine. They looked forward to the ten day festival with all eagerness. Dasara of yore was quite something and before the 60s, perhaps even better.

On the home front, preparations would begin with the orderly arrangement of traditional dolls, toys and other little things for show on temporary platforms in our homes. We children were the most excited lot. We would make mini parks, zoos or mountains using little dolls and Binaca’s mini plastic animals as part of the doll show. Many enthusiastic children in small groups would visit houses asking “reee, bombe koorsideera?” (is there a doll show?) This custom of visiting the neighbourhood and farther to have a look at the doll show, sing a song and get that day’s “bombe bagina” (special snacks) is almost forgotten today, dominated by the influence of the telly, etc. Now, when the telly gets more attention than the guest and with the why-bother attitude, many neighbours remain strangers, thus defeating the idea of the social visit, i.e., to promote good relationships.

Children would gladly keep all their books for the Saraswathi Pooja and get busy cleaning their tricycles and bicycles for Ayudya Pooja.

It was such a thrill when my grandfather used to show tickets for the Dasara Procession which we eagerly looked forward to witness. I think they were 5-rupee tickets, chairs were under the pandal and a decent, disciplined crowd to be with. Of course, there were some light lathi charges from the Police guarding the spectators when they misbehaved. We used to be there under the pandal near KR Circle well before the 21-gun royal salute, which signaled the start of the procession from the Palace.

The public never feared the cloudburst that is nearly guaranteed on Vijayadashami day, as if by arrangement. A special something drew thousands from all over. I can project in my mind’s eye the Majestic troops, meaningful tableux, melodious bands, two ‘tall’ men walking on stilts, decorated camels, horses, cows and elephants. Then there was the perambulating horse carrying Commander Bijli (probably my grandfather knew him), checking that all was well when the procession went on and host of other beautiful items like the silver chariot made the procession, which went to Bannimantap and returned in the night via Ashoka Road. But the tailpiece of the procession was the highlight. The Maharaja and the Prince, Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar sat on the delightful Ambari Elephant carrying the 80kg. Golden howdah.

It was the most thrilling sight to behold in itself. (The young Raja can be seen in the above old picture from a recent newspaper). What was even more enthralling was when His Highness spotted my grandfather by his prominent white hair, among the crowd with a special ‘namaskara’ and that little bow meant for his friend elderly friend. The Highness used to play tennis in the 1940s and 50s with my grandfather, who was a well-known personality in the city, esp. in the sports circles.

Some people from the public would offer flowers to the Maharaja. An assistant would collect the flowers in a special vessel to which a stick was attached and pass them up to the Maharaja who would receive and acknowledge with a little nod and folded hands to the person that offered. It was a grand sight. The Maharaja’s personality itself was so royal too.

(In this album picture, the His Highness Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar is seen presenting a trophy to my grandfather at Mysore Sports Club in the 1960s)

Translating that unique enjoyment of witnessing the procession is a hard task. When the Govt. abolished the titles and privy purse in 1972 or so, the original tang of Dasara was dissolved, forever. People could not think of a Dasara Procession without the Highness in the Howdah. It upset the sentiments of Mysoreans very much so much so that many (including me) stopped witnessing the procession henceforth. It was considered a farce. A picture of Goddess Chamundeshwari (Mysore’s Royal deity) then occupied the Highness’ place in it. Since that time onwards (the Maharaja alao died in 1974) Dasara has sadly, become secular, gaudy and too cheap-looking, completely lacking that magnificent Royal touch. That pure charm is now only a sweet memory. Such ambience will never be paralled, however colourful they make the Dasaras of today. Just as I wrote, there was our today's (21.9.2009) paper saying:
The boundary gates of the Palace were open in those days and we could go through any of them for short cuts, freely. Of course, they were still the days of ‘pedestrianism’ and bicycling. All gates except one were closed since the 80s due to security reasons.

This is a picture from 1930, of the illuminated Palace which had since seen many 'face lifts'.

In the Palace on all the nine days during the Dasara, the Maharaja used to sit on the throne at sharp 7 p.m for durbar. At the very instant of his sitting, the entire palace’s 80,000-bulb illumination was switched on. It was the grandest sight for anyone to behold. They were days when climate was according to Nature and rains never failed to fill the dams and so power generation was no problem. Imagine 97,000 40-watt (were they 60 w?) bulbs glowing! The glare of the illuminated palace could be seen many a mile away. Compare the illumination with the present day 15 watt ones. Just dull. Power problem!

This is a recent picture of the 15-watt era. Just visualize the brightness with 40-watt ones! How beautiful it would be!
One of the special single-coil, threaded bulbs manufactured for the Mysore Palace illumination. Note the print.

The spirit of Dasara after Vijayadashami and the Procession was sustained for two more months by way of another attraction, the Dasara Exhibition. (That is my separate blogpost). It was then beside the Mysore Medical College and that special splendour with its perfect location. Pictured below.

The beautiful waterfall seen from the entrance-passage is so vivid in my memory and particularly one visit that was most memorable.

The same building as it was in 1958 (from a Mysore guide).

In the ‘Ladies Section’, my grandmother’s crafts used to win prizes, since 1931. Picture of the certificate of that year:Some years, even the opposite Jeevannarayana Katte grounds would become an additional venue.

The song Mysooru dasara eshtondu sundara, chellide nageya panneeraa, ellellu nageya panneeraa…” sung by P.B.Sreenivos in the Kannada film 'Karulina Kare' glorifies Mysore Dasara. You can listen to it here.


Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Good post. I know the atmosphere these days is not the same but Mysore during Dasara is still exiting. Missed it again this year. Regarding the Palace illumination, I thought I read somewhere that the bulbs would be replaced with LED lighting. Did they not do that? LED is almost maintenance free and puts out bright luminosity compared to conventional bulbs and consumes far less power.

Vanamala Hebbar said...

Amazing...Nice article....

Dinakar KR said...

They are seriously planning LED lighting. But I hate the overuse of bulbs (thousands of them) for decorating streets - they tie up to trees, erect poles and hang them all over! Then when they remove them, they leave behind lots of wire pieces etc!