The origin of Mysore Dasara dates back to the 15th century Vijayanagara dynasty. The Wadiyars of Mysore continued this colourful and religious celebration under the aegis of Raja Wadiyar in the year 1610. Dasara is also known as the 'Navarathri', where days of worship and celebration culminate on Vijaydashami day. Mysore Dasara has been declared as ‘Naada Habba’ or the State festival. This year, Mysore Dasara will be celebrated from 28th Sept to 6th Oct 2011.
Legend has it that the resident demon of Mysore, known as 'Mahishasura', was slain by the goddess Chamundeshwari, the family deity of the Wadiyars. For that reason, 'Vijaydashami' is celebrated representatively as the win of good over evil.
During Dasara, the brightly illuminated Mysore Palace and the entire city is a sight to behold. In September 1805, the Wadiyars started holding a special durbar or a royal assembly, similar to that of the Mughal emperors for members of the royal family, Europeans, palace officials, royal priests and key citizens. Commoners also participated in the durbar. The festival became a tradition of the royal household and reached its zenith during the rule of Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar (1902-1940).
Recently the ceremonies are largely a private affair of the royal family, attended only by a select audience. Clothed in royal outfit and traditional head-dress, His Highness Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, the scion of the royal family, climbs the seven steps to the golden throne, which is assembled according to religious instructions, at a predetermined hour and receives obeisance from the public. Palace musicians then play the signature tune to celebrate the assumption of power by the Wadiyars.
The Amba Vilas or the Diwan-e-Khas has always been the site for most of the celebrations of the Mysore Dasara. On the opening day of the festival, the King, after a ceremonial bath, worships the family deity and enters the durbar to the accompaniment of sacred chants and music. He worships the Navagrahas (nine sacred planets) and the sacred `Kalasa', and then ascends the throne at an auspicious moment. The palace lights are then lit and a 21-gun salute given, as the royal motif and the sword are presented to him.
According to legend, the Mysore Royal throne was used by king Dharmaraja, the Pandava. Kampilaraya brought it from Hastinapura to Penugonda, where it lay buried. The throne was later rediscovered by Vidyaranya, the royal priest of the Vijayanagara Empire and presented to Raja Wadiyar in 1609. Yet another legend is that the Moghul Emperor Aurangazeb gifted the throne to Chikkadevaraja Wadiyar in 1700. The third legend says that it belonged to the mythological King Vikramaditya. The King accepts offerings from various temples and religious centers, which are blessed by royal priests chanting Vedic verses. In the past, vassals, dewans, army chiefs and other royal staff would line up to offer their homage to the throne. An ensemble of musical instruments, accompanied by dance, begins and the blowing of conches and trumpets announce the commencement of a parade of uniformed soldiers.
The caparisoned royal elephant arrives and showers rose petals on the assembled guests. The royal horse, equally decorated, bends in salutation to the throne. While the assembly leaves the court after paying respect to the King, the Queen and other royal ladies express their deference to the King. The King leaves the durbar hall after praying to the Goddess once again and partakes in a lunch with the royal guests.
This ceremony is repeated on all the days during Navarathri, accompanied by acrobatic feats, wrestling sessions by champion wrestlers, fireworks display and other forms of entertainment, which are open to public. The King worships the Goddess Saraswathi on the seventh day and Mahisasuramardini on the eighth. On Mahanavami, the royal sword is worshipped ceremoniously and all the armaments are taken out in a procession comprising of elephants, horses, camels and the royal entourage.
Navarathri concludes in the imposing Vijaydashami celebrations, also known as Jamboo Savari. The opulence and splendor of this event has popularised the Mysore Dasara the world over. The earlier practice was that the King himself would lead the procession on the royal elephant’s back. The King would be seated upon a decorated golden Howdah weighing over 750 kgs. But now the idol of goddess Chamundeshwari is placed in the golden Howdah and taken in a procession.
Colourful tableaux, folk dancers, music bands, caparisoned elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and adjourns at Bannimantap, where the sacred Banni tree (Prosopis spicigera) is worshipped. According to the famous epic Mahabharata, the Banni tree was used by the Pandavas to hide their arms during their Ajnathavasa (disguised life). Before undertaking any warfare, the kings traditionally worshipped this tree to help them emerge triumphant in the war. The Dasara festivities culminate on the night of Vijayadashami with an event held on a grandiose scale at the Bannimantap known as Panjina Kavayatthu (torch-light parade). A much awaited finale to Dasara, this event attracts thousands of visitors.