A celebration of the triumph of good over evil

Mysore Sept. 26. The City of Palaces will present a picture-perfect version of an oriental romance as royalty and the commoner get together to herald the Navaratri celebrations starting on Saturday.

Although the festival has been celebrated since ancient days as a traditional rite of thanksgiving in honour of Lord Indira for the timely rains, it gradually acquired metaphysical connotations and came to symbolise the victory of good over evil.

However, Mysore Dasara is significant for its association with the destruction of two demons, Chanda and Munda, by Adi Shakti in the form of the goddess, Chamundeshwari, the presiding deity of Mysore. It also signifies the triumph of Lord Rama and the Pandava brothers.

Mysore Dasara, in its present form, including the royal paraphernalia, is traced to 1610 when Raja Wadiyar (1578-1617) decreed that the festival be celebrated on a grand scale. The tradition was imbibed from the Vijayanagar emperors, who lavishly celebrated the event at Hampi. Foreign travellers such as Domingo Paes of Portugal and Abdur Razak of Persia left behind a graphic account of the celebrations. The baton was passed on to the Wadiyar family and, in the opinion of modern historians, the Mysore rulers were responsible for Dasara's emergence as one of the national festivals of India and its pan-Indian status.

The grandeur of Mysore Dasara was a legend that was retold repeatedly, and it was closely associated with the durbar conducted in the palace.

During the British rule, there used to be a British Durbar when the Resident and other English people used to participate in festivities with cultural events and sports, a tradition which continues to this day.

But today, the grandeur of the Mysore Palace and the halo of the Golden Howdah are the central features of the Dasara celebrations apart from the Vijayadashami procession, also called Jamboo Savari, involving caparisoned elephants.

The palace has an interesting legend, and the first definitive mention is available in the Sriman Maharajaravara Vamsavalli or the annals of the Mysore Royal Family. According to it, Randhira Kanthirava Narasiraja Wadiyar built the mansion in 1638. He is said to have built the Soundarya Vilas, Namathitha, and other pavilions, called "thottis'' in local parlance, and placed 11 guns around the premises. The Duke of Wellington, Col. Arthur Wellesley's communique dated May 27, 1801 hints at the palace: "... The Raja's family has moved to old Mysore where their ancient palace has been rebuilt in the same form on the old foundations...''

But the structure was destroyed in a fire in 1897, and only one photograph is available. The new palace was designed by Henry Irwin, architect of the Viceregal Lodge at Shimla and consulting architect for the then Government of Madras. The construction was inaugurated by the then Maharaja of Mysore in October 1897, and B.P. Raghavulu Naidu, executive engineer in charge of the Mysore Palace, was placed in charge of the construction. The new palace was completed in 1912 at a cost of Rs. 41.47 lakh, and it acquired a distinct identity among similar structures in India. The interiors of the palace are embellished by a colourful stained-glass ceiling, and the design was executed by Walter Macfarlane Daracen Foundry of Glasgow.

The cynosure of all eyes in the palace is the golden throne, which is taken out and placed in the Amba Vilas, or the Diwan E Khas of the Mysore Palace, only during the Navaratri or Dasara. The golden throne consists of a main seat, a series of steps leading to it, and a golden umbrella, and a Sanskrit sloka is engraved on the rim of the umbrella. Legend has it that the throne traditionally belonged to the Pandavas.

The Golden Howdah, also called the Ambari, is a significant architectural structure, and resembles a mantapa. Bedecked with ivory flywhisks and ivory bristles, and tipped with zari, it is mounted on a caparisoned elephant for the Vijayadashami procession.

Earlier, the Maharaja of Mysore was the pivot around which the festivities revolved. However, the celebrations underwent a transformation with the changing times, and the king was supplanted by the image of the goddess, Chamundeshwari, in the royal procession. The festival acquired broader traits in tune with its blend of religious and secular concepts.

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