Every year, on the tenth day of the Asvina Masa, (Asvayuja Shudda), the city of Mysuru celebrates Dasara. The day marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon tyrant, Mahishasur. The festival is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, it is a celebration of Shakti. In fact, the nine days preceding Dasara is the Sharan Navaratri. Each day is marked with special worship for one of the nine forms of the Goddess, namely:
- Mahakali, the destroyer of Madhu and Kaitabha
- Mahishasura Mardhini, the destroyer of Mahishasura
- Chamundeshwari, the vanquisher of Chanda-Munda
- Kali, the killer of Raktabeejaasura
- Durga, the harbinger of destruction of Kamsa
- Raktadanti, the great destroyer
- Shakambarithe, Goddess who wards off famines
- Durga, the destroyer of demons
- Bhrahmani, the killer of demon Aruna
Goddess Durga, an amalgamation of powers from the likes of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Agni incarnated into these forms to battle the buffalo Ausra. Mahishasur had thought himself invincible after obtaining a boon from Lord Brahma that he may be killed by no man. Therefore, in a way, Dasara is the celebration of womanhood.
Mysuru has a unique tradition of worship and celebration during Dasara. This tradition has been an unbroken practice since the times of the great Vijayanagara empire.
The city is decked up in lights and the Mysore royal family (The Wadiyars), led by the Maharaja, conducts a variety of rituals to please the Goddess. It all begins on the morning of Asvayuja Shudda with the worship of the tutelary deity Sri Chamundeshwari who is offered mangalasana (oil bath). After this, puja is offered to Lord Ganapati, then a holy silken thread (Kanaka) is tied to the Maharaja’s wrist, following which his movement for the next ten days is restricted to the palace.
Puja is then offered to the Sejje, the royal Durbar hall, the Nabagrahas (nine planets), and the royal throne. The Maharaja then walks up to the golden throne with Durbaris on either side as cries of ‘Bhau Parak’ rent the air. He ascends the throne after circumambulating it three times with the royal sword, which is continuously worshipped in the inner sanctum of the place for the entire period of nine days. Before ascending the throne, the Maharaja often stands in attention as the police band plays the Mysore state anthem ‘ Kayo Sri Gowri’.
Once on, the offerings from principles, mutts and temples are made to his Highnesses. After this, the Dewan leads prominent citizens and high officers of the state in offering (homage) muzre and nazar (ceremonial gifts) to the King. Then the state and household troops honour the Maharaja with a musketry salute (Fen de joie).
Next, obeisance is paid by the state horse and the state elephant. After being honoured with betel nuts and garlands, the Durbaris then, in an orderly manner, receive floral gifts from the King. The King then retires to the inner sanctum of the place where continuous worship of the Goddesses Chamundeshwari is performed. From the second to the eighth day, this Khas Darbar (private Darbar) is conducted in the evenings.
On the seventh day, Saraswati Puja is performed in the inner sanctum. The eighth day is marked by the ritual Kalarati, a ceremony performed for the Mahishasuramardini. The ninth day is Ayudha Puja, when all sorts of arms and accoutrement are worshipped along with the state horse and the state elephant. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, and then the Chandi-Homan is performed in order to honour the Goddess Chandi.
After this, the Maharaja divests himself of the silken thread indicating that the promise of carrying out the celebration has been successfully completed. In the olden days, this was the time when the Maharaja would meet important guests such as the European Resident in Mysore.
The ninth day of celebration is marked by a spectacular performance of the ‘Vajramushti Kalaga’ (diamond fist duel), the bout is held at the quadrangle of the Amba Vilas Palace, open only to an exclusive guest list.
On the tenth day, that is Vijaydashmi, the famous Jumboo Savari is carried out. The highlight of the procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari, the same is placed inside a golden howdah, on top of the lead elephant (earlier, the Maharaja himself used to be seated inside the howdah). The main elephant is then accompanied by other decorated elephants, horses, camels, music bands, dance groups and colourful tableaux.
The 5.5 km procession follows the same route it did so many centuries before. It begins at the Mysore Palace and culminates at Banimantap, where the holy Banni tree is worshipped.
Another interesting feature of the Mysuru Dasara is the Gombe Habba. According to legend, when the Gods gave Durga all their powers, they froze to become dolls. Mysureans set up doll exhibitions in their homes to commemorate this. The dolls are displayed on wooden steps that are built in the order of odd numbers, i.e. seven, nine or eleven.
The Pattada Gombe consisting of a wooden pair of bride and groom dolls are a compulsory feature. This pair is generally decorated and handed over to the daughter during her wedding so that she may continue the tradition.
Dasara is the essence of Mysuru at its best. During this time, the whole city is lit up, Mysureans gather en masse for the various festivities. There is great hustle and bustle in the usually sleepy city. The celebration is a treat to one's senses. It is a divine combination of colours, music, dance, wrestling and worship.
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