Sights, sounds, smell and taste of Mysuru Dasara served with a dash of politics

Hordes of people from far and near have descended on the heritage city to soak in the festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Oct 22, 2023 | 1:45 PMUpdatedOct 22, 2023 | 1:45 PM

The Lit-up Mysore Palace

There was a nip in the air as thousands of people peered at the darkness where the darker-than-night silhouette of the majestic and imposing Mysuru Palace dwarfed all structures around. A jugalbandhi of Western and Carnatic music soulfully rose over the hustle and bustle of the merry city drowned in festivity.

At the stroke of 7, a million lights illuminated the palace, as the onlookers cheered at the ethereal sight, a moment of “a vision or a waking dream” wonder. The night in the city of Mysuru has just come alive with a roar that a BPO employee, Rajesh Roshan, likened to a cricket stadium where the home-team favourite had blasted a six off the last ball to seal the game and take his personal score past the three-digit mark.

The music went on like entwined twins, enthralling the crowd, as the city welcomed the fifth night of Dasara — the festival marking the triumph of good over evil — on Thursday, 19 October.

All roads have been leading to Mysuru since the beginning of Dasara, hoardings welcoming visitors to the city, the seat of the erstwhile Wodeyar dynasty, now decked up like a coy bride. All nooks and corners, trees, and buildings were illuminated, and the decorations kept getting better as one walked towards the opulent palace, a perfect specimen for a jugalbandhi of Hindu, Islamic, Gothic, and Rajput architectural marvels.

The Mysore Palace with the German tent and the stage set up in its front for cultural programmes

The Mysore Palace with the German tent and the stage set up in its front for cultural programmes. (Bellie Thomas)

A group of tourists from Kerala were soaking in the revelry that they didn’t want to return to their home state, which carries the tag of God’s Own Country.

“Five of us from Kozhikode are attending the Dasara celebrations here for the first time. We never expected Dasara to be this grand. It is a very detailed festival, full of surprises and excitement. The feel here is very good. We don’t have minds to go back,” Baatishah told South First.

A family from Bengaluru, who had never missed the Mysuru Dasara kept their date with the city this year too. They walked past the makeshift stalls the locals had put up hoping for a brisk business.

“I have come from Bengaluru with my family. We come for Dasara festivities every year so that my family gets to know more about Dasara and its traditions. It is a matter of pride for our state. We are now waiting for the elephants’ practice session,” Chetan, a chartered accountant with a private company in Bengaluru told South First.

Also read: Moving memories and meals of Mysuru Dasara

Lumbering giants

Like Chetan, Baatishah and friends, too, were among the crowd waiting in front of the Mysuru Palace for a glimpse of elephants lumbering from the Royal Palace to the Bannimantap Parade Grounds where the world-famous jumbo savari (parading of caparisoned elephants) would mark the culmination of the 10-day festival on Tuesday, 24 October.

The 750-kg Golden Howdah that would be carried by lead elephant Abhimanyu on the Dasara day

The 750-kg Golden Howdah that would be carried by lead elephant Abhimanyu on the Dasara day. (Sourced)

Twelve elephants are being paraded over the five-km stretch between the palace and Bannimantap twice a day to familiarise them with the ritual. The 57-year-old lead elephant, Abhimanyu, has been carrying sandbags weighing 750 kg on his back so that he would not feel any difference while ferrying the Golden Howdah on the big day, the day of Vijayadashami.

On Thursday night, Abhimanyu walked free without the burden of the sandbags. A police jeep and a vehicle of the forest department went ahead as the jumbos followed them in a single file, swaying to the music. The jingle of their bells and chains matched their gait. A veterinary ambulance tailed the gentle knolls moving through the darkening night, their tusks shining bright.

“This drill is to familiarise the elephants with the crowd,” a mahout explained the sandbags missing from Abhimanyu’s back. “There will be lakhs of people waiting outside the palace on the day of Dasara, and all elephants have to get used to the crowd,” he added.

The palace gates closed behind the elephants. The crowd waited for them to reopen for the cultural programmes that were to begin soon in front of the palace.

A short wait later, they walked in, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Dasara. A stage has been set up, and VVIPs, VIPs, foreign delegates, and participants sat on cushioned seats in a German tent. Others headed to the incomplete galleries and settled down for the cultural night.

It was then the lights were switched on, illuminating the palace, and the crowd roared in ecstasy.

Also read: ‘Unidentified official’ demands ₹3 lakh from Sarod Maestro’s Mysuru Dasara performance fee

Festival guarantee: Politics

Huge hoardings and panels greeted the visitors in parks and grounds that dot the city around the palace. While the Palace Board erected panels of kings, the district administration highlighted the Congress government’s poll guarantees and the Old Parliament House.

The Preamble to the Constitution of India hoarding naer the Mysore Palace

The Preamble to the Constitution hoarding near the Mysore Palace. (Sourced)

Among these panels, there were others of Gautam Buddha, Swami Vivekananda, Subash Chandra Bose, Shivakumara Swamiji, and Devi Chamundeshwari, too, vied for attention. So did panels that depicted the KRS Dam and Chandrayaan-3.

“Everything is okay, but why the five poll guarantees? How are they connected with Dasara? The Congress party is desperate to get publicity,” an auto-rickshaw driver, who did not wish to be named, appeared satisfied with his reasoning.

Huge hoardings depicting the Preamble to the Constitution —  written in the Kannada language — caught the attention of the revelers near the two main gates of the Mysore Palace.

The crowd disappeared into the city night as the cultural programmes came to a close around 8.30 pm. Still, many of them headed towards the Chamundeshwari Temple for the special darshan of the Devi at 9.45 pm.

Another sight, too, awaited them atop the hill. “It was a magnificent sight from the hilltop to see the entire city lit up, especially the Mysuru Palace bathed in a golden hue,” Roshan gushed.

Also read: The fate of Channapatna’s wooden wonders awaits a rattling comeback

‘Airfare’ for tonga ride

Much before Roshan was left enchanted atop the hill, another Bengalurean was seen arguing with a tonga (horse-drawn carriage) driver. The tonga was decked up like a chariot with bench seats facing each other. It can seat six people at a time.

The time was 7.30 pm. The tonga-wallah demanded ₹1,000 for a ride around the palace, which would take less than 30 minutes. The Bengaluru man chided the driver for demanding “airfare” for the chariot ride and walked away.

Meanwhile, street vendors were inviting passersby to their stalls where decorative items jostled for space with cheap plastic and wooden toys and handicrafts. Eateries and juice stalls did brisk business as the crowd kept swelling.

The Mysore Zoo, Karanji Nature Park, the Dasara Exhibition, the flower show, KRS Dam, and St Philomena’s Church, too, attracted hordes of people. Hotels were fully booked, and those who arrived without booking rooms in advance were left disappointed as hoteliers charged exorbitant tariffs for rooms they had kept aside.

Also read: Dalit outfits celebrate Mahisha Dasara in Mysuru

Newly inaugurated old dosa since 1938!

On the Nazarbad main road, stiff competition was on between Vinayaka Mylari Dosa eateries, each claiming to be offering the authentic “Mylari dosa”.  A brand new outlet on the road identified itself as the Old Vinayaka Mylari Hotel “since 1938”.

Newly Inaugurated Old Original Vinayaka Mylari Hotel in Nazarbad with Minister's Cheluvarayaswamy's car parked in front

Newly Inaugurated Old Original Vinayaka Mylari Hotel in Nazarbad with Minister’s Cheluvarayaswamy’s car parked in front. (Supplied)

A woman selling flowers by the road said the original hotel was on the opposite side. She was born and brought up in the area.

The delicious Mylari dosas — costing ₹50 each — are served with butter and masala for breakfast and people flock to the area during Dasara for a bite of the traditional fare.

On Friday, 20 October, morning, the narrow road saw a flurry of activities as the traffic police ran around, asking drivers of parked vehicles to move out. Amidst the mayhem, a convoy of SUVs accompanied by police vehicles rolled in.

The convoy brought in state Agriculture Minister Cheluvarayaswamy — also the district in-charge — and his associates. They headed to the recently inaugurated Old Vinayaka Mylari Hotel for the dosa, claimed to be serving “since 1938”.

After they left, the police opened the road for vehicular traffic.