Mysore Musings

Oct/29/2021 / by RASHMI GOPAL RAO

Dussehra, one of the most important festivals of the Hindu calendar, is celebrated Oct 7 through October this year. And if there is one city you want to be in to soak in all the festivities and experience the splendor of this festival, it has to be Mysore, aka Mysuru.

Located about 150 km from Bangalore, Mysore is often dubbed the cultural capital of Karnataka. The royal city is known for its traditional celebrations of the ten-day festival. Dussehra commemorates the victory of Goddess Chamundeshwari (Durga) over the evil buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. A spectacle that is not be missed, the festival embodies the spirit of the victory of good over evil.

A view of Mysore Palace
A view of Mysore Palace

Steeped in Culture and Rituals

Mysore’s Dussehra celebrations date back several centuries, and is intrinsically associated with the Wodeyar family, which has ruled Mysore state since the 14th century. History has it that they started the festival celebrations in 1610 with the Mysore Palace taking center stage. Even today, the celebrations are a grand affair, with the entire city decked up, important buildings illuminated, and a grand Dussehra procession organized.

Performers on Mysore’s streets during a Dussehra procession
Performers on Mysore’s streets during a Dussehra procession

The celebrations begin the day after Mahalaya Amavasya, which is also the first day of Navratri. The royal family offers special prayers to Goddess Chamundeshwari. A ceremonial ‘kalasha’ puja is performed in the palace, and the royal throne is worshiped. This is followed by the Khas, or private, durbar attended by royal family members and their special guests. Cultural events held across the city include dance and music programs, live concerts, and exhibitions. Key buildings, such as the Jaganmohan Palace, Rajendra Vilas, Jayalakshmi Vilas, and city roundabouts are decorated. The Amba Vilas, aka Mysore palace, adorned with over 1,000 bulbs, is a sight to behold.

The ninth day, celebrated as Ayudha pooja, is of particular significance since then the royal sword is worshiped and taken out in procession, complete with elephants, camels, etc. The celebrations reach a crescendo on the tenth and final day, Vijayadashami. The highlight is the Jumbo Savari, during which the statue of Goddess Chamundeshwari is carried on a golden howdah which weighs 1650 lb (750 kg) by a well-trained elephant. It is among a group of elephants trained for months for this procession, and brought to the city almost a month before the festival. They are accorded an elaborate welcome, served special meals, and go through rigorous practice sessions so that they “perform” at their best level on D-Day!

Other decorated elephants, camels, horses, armed forces contingents and music troupes are part of the Jumbo Savari, which starts from the palace and ends at Banni Mantap. The pandemic has limited the procession to the palace premises for now. After the Jumbo Savari comes a torchlight parade, which is itself followed by a display of stunts and fireworks.

City of Eclectic Sights

Apart from royalty, Mysore is a multifaceted city, which offers culture, art, literature, and history. The city is home to several important museums, such as the Rail Museum and the R. K. Narayan Museum. The Rail Museum, in the center of the city, is an ode to the rich heritage of India’s railways. On display are a multitude of heritage coaches, engines and collectibles, such as railway lamps, telephone instruments and fishplates (a bolted metal bar that joins two rails). The main attraction is the Mysore Maharani saloon, built in 1899 by England’s Hurst, Nelson and Company at a cost of Rs. 29,508.

If you are a fan of writer R. K. Narayan, a visit to his house in Yadavagiri, now converted to a museum, must be on your list. It showcases the life and times of the famous author. On display are his numerous books, awards, photographs and memorabilia, such as clothes, furniture and personal belongings. The museum also traces the making of the popular television series “Malgudi Days,” an adaptation of arguably one of the author’s most popular books.

In Mysore, you can also visit the bustling Devaraja market, where you can soak in the local culture and also shop for some specialties, such as the traditional Mysore mallige (jasmine flowers) and Mysore betel leaves. Both of these were accorded the Geographical Indication (GI) tag. If you are shopping, do not miss the famous Mysore silk sarees, known for their quality and finish.

To satiate the foodie in you, sample the famous Mysore pak (a sweet made from gram flour and ghee) as well as the sago masala dosa at Mylari, one of the most famous dosa joints in the city. For a  breather, you can visit the picturesque Karanji lake, where you can go on nature walks, boating, even bird watching. The Hebbal lake as well as the Kukkarahalli lake are the other lungs of the city.