Sunday, October 12, 2014

Opinion: The king is no more; long live the Dasara

The town of Mysore never disappoints the travelers. It has enough interesting places to keep the tourists occupied for days. Closer proximity to many other places of interest bring many dedicated tourists to the town again and again, year after year.

The cultural capital of Karnataka celebrated its 404th Dasara festival last week. It was first celebrated in the year of 1610 by Raja Wodeyar I, and its splendor has never diminished since then. But what was different this year was the absence of Royal Darbar of the Wodeyar scion, following the demise of Srikantadatta Wodeyar. The point of discussion now is whether the Mysore Kings were the prime reason behind the famous Dasara festivity which Mysore observes or were they the enablers of it while the festival was truly hailed by its citizens?

The Mysore kings were next to God for their citizens. The goddess Chamundeshwari was family deity of Wodeyar dynasty. While they worshiped her, they promoted Dasara as ‘Naada Habba’ (State festival). It was the kings who organized the festivities and gave it prominence as the grandest festival observed in the kingdom. A look into the history suggests ‘Dasara’ was a grand festival well before the time of Mysore kings and the Wodeyar dynasty made it grander.

The Mysore kings were not independent rulers in the beginning but viceroy to the Vijayanagara kings. And Dasara was the grand festival observed in the Vijayanagara kingdom until the fall of its empire in 1565. The beginning of Dasara celebrations in Mysore by Wodeyar’s in the early 16th century was a reintroduction of the festival in an effort to rekindle the lost glory and might have been a way to win the hearts of commoners and gain wider acceptance in establishing their kingdom. Also the Mysore kings put their heart and passion into it and Dasara turned grander ever year passed under their rule.

Left: Goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura; Middle: Dasara procession during Mysore kings rule; Right: Modern procession

Though the effort of Mysore kings behind Dasara can never be undermined, the Navaratri festival is about worshiping the goddess Durga or Chamundeshwari. The goddess is worshiped since the time unknown and the legend has it that goddess Chamnudeshwari slayed a demon ‘Mahishasura’ whose name the modern name of the town is derived from. Another legend has it that the Banni tree (where the Dasara procession ends) was used by the Pandavas during their ‘Ajnatavasa’. Long before the Mysore region had its own ruler, goddess Chamndeshwari and Banni tree were worshiped. The kings, when in place, promoting the festival by worshiping the goddess Chamundeshwari and leading the Dasara procession that ends at Banni tree helped the popularity of the festival to reach its zenith.

After India gained its independence, the kingdoms fell apart. But the royal family of Mysore had a role to play in the Dasara festival while the State government was responsible for organizing the festival. This year Wodeyar dynasty lost its prince and no other family member is officially recognized as the head of the family yet. And the festival of Dasara could not wait for it. The king is no more, long live the Dasara.