Mysuru brings to mind elephants, the Chamundi hill and palaces that dot the landscape, and all these come together to light up the city during Dasara (Dussehra).
For centuries now, Dasara celebrations are being held in a grand manner. It has survived the onslaught of the invaders, colonisers and several natural calamities.
"Taayi Chamundeshwari protects us," is the popular sentiment. The temple atop the hill in Mysuru draws millions of devotees every year.
On Vijayadashami (tenth day), Mysuru celebrates the victory of good over evil.
Taayi Chamundeshwari fought Mahishasura, who spread evil around the world by killing people mercilessly. When the gods approached Lord Shiva seeking help, he suggested that each deva release their energies to create a shakti or devi.
Devi Durga fought Mahishasura, attacked his empire for nine days and then slayed him. This event is said to have taken place near the present-day Mysuru city.
A festival like Dasara that draws lakhs of people to Karnataka, is facing two controversies at the moment:
One, the (re)introduction of Mahisha Dasara by Dalit groups who view Mahisha as a Buddhist king.
Two, (re)introduction of Urdu poetry in the celebrations.
Toying With Our Traditions?
Mahisha Dasara was first celebrated in 2015, when Siddaramaiah was serving his first term as the chief minister of the state. Once the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, this was stopped.
Once again, soon after the Congress returned to power, Dalit Sangharsha Samiti announced that it will be holding a Mahisha Dasara rally on 13 October to shower petals on the demon king.
According to 'rationalists', the upper caste people are conspiring to portray Mahisha as a 'demon king' and that he was a 'benevolent one who looked beyond the caste system'.
According to the organisers, Mahisha Dasara was first conducted by Dalit activist Mantelingaiah in 1973, so 2023 marks the 50th year of the celebrations.
Additionally, Urdu poets from all over the country have been invited to be a part of the 'Urdu Kavi Goosti' — an attempt to pay tribute to the "cultural heritage associated with Tipu Sultan".
Taking to X (former Twitter), BJP MLA Sunil Kumar lashed out at the Congress government in Karnataka, and said that they were organising this to 'please its vote bank'.
"Nadadevi Chamundi and Mysore Wodeyar should be glorified in Dussehra without Tipu culture," he said. Over 20 poets are set to present their nazm, ghazals, rubaaiyat and dohe during the event.
During the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, the Dasara festival was either kept as a low-key affair or was not organised.
Historically, the Mysore Maharaja used to ride atop the elephant. In 1970, when prime minister Indira Gandhi was done stripping princes of their privileges, the royal procession came to a halt.
One year later, a Kannada activist borrowed an elephant from the local zoo, carved a wooden howdah and went on a small procession around Padma Talkies.
Impressed by the idea, the then government led by chief minister Devaraj Urs adopted the same as a tradition. Instead of the Maharaja, Devi Chamundeshwari's idol was placed atop the elephant since then.
What The Scholars Have To Say
Shivakumar G V, an author and scholar, says that there is no history or tradition to 'Mahisha Dasara' in Mysuru's history.
"It is a concoction of recent years," he told Swarajya.
According to Shivakumar, there is no reference of a King Mahisha ruling this region in any historical work.
"The word 'Maisuru' and its various versions have a history of more than a thousand years. In our Puranas, the story of Rakshasa King Mahisha being killed by Devi Chamundi, part of the Devi Bhagavata, has been integral to Hinduism for thousands of years," says Shivakumar.
"All Rakshasas themselves are finally descendants of Rishi Kashyapa through his wives Diti and Danu and hence there is no historical or cultural foundations for Chamundi and Mahisha to be interpreted as Arya and Dasyu conflict. These are faulty interpretations that originated in the colonial era — often creation of missionaries," he added.
He fears that this concoction is a recent one, and has an intention to drive a wedge in the Hindu society. For the reasons stated above, he says that Mahisha Dasara has no historical, cultural or religious prominence.
Talking about the resistance against the celebration, he says that the society has done well to protest it and the government has played its cards right by not giving permission to the initiative, thereby quelling any chances of a law and order situation going out of hand.
Organisers Backtrack After Simha's Pushback
Calling for an emergency press conference in Mysuru, BJP MP for Kodagu-Mysore stated that the Indian Constitution does not allow insult to other religions.
In this particular case, he stated that a small group of individuals were trying to insult and demonise Godess Chamundeshwari, revered by millions of devotees in Karnataka.
“Even the family members of Mahisha’s devotees offer prayers to Goddess Chamundeshwari,” Simha has been quoted as saying by Star of Mysore.
In response to the organisers of Mahisha Dasara saying the festival had a 50-year history, Simha rubbished the claims by stating that the celebration first occurred during CM Siddaramaiah's first term.
Announcing his protest against the 'perversion', Simha had called for 'Chamundi Chalo' on 13 October.
Fearing a law and order situation, Mysuru's Commissioner of Police Ramesh Banoth has issued prohibitory orders on both the gatherings. This was a consequence of a report from the State Intelligence Wing.
The police is considering legal action against MP Simha for his comments against Mahisha Dasara, reports suggest. Simha promised to fight against the celebrations and gather nearly 5,000 people to rally against the celebrations.
"We have built this party and even the nation putting forth struggles at necessary levels. Similarly, we will fight against the worship of an evil character like Mahisha," Simha stated in the presser held in Mysuru.
The police are reportedly keeping a 'watch' on his statements and are consulting legal experts for further course of action against the MP. CM Siddaramaiah told the media that the district administration will take a call on this, and that he does not have anything to add.
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