For many centuries, Mysore has been a city where all religions lived harmoniously. At its cultural peak, under the Vijayanagar Empire, the Wodeyar rulers encouraged religion and culture, without discrimination. This evolved into a distinct cultural style known as the “Mysore Style“and is prevalent in its arts and crafts.
Over time this creative culture stretched far and wide it was prefixed with the word “Mysore” to identify the unique cultural heritage. To this day, in Karnataka, the highest quality of any jasmine flowers are known as Mysooru Maligae (Mysore Jasmine).
The impact of the culture and the tradition of several dynasties that have ruled Mysore is found in the culture and custom of mysore at present. The architecture found in the learning centers and the temples od mysore bear an imprint of the tower structure and carvings of the hoysalas while British influence is found in the government buildings.
Over the years Mysore has become a cosmopolitan city with people of varying faiths and cultures living together peacefully without incident. This has helped the city bond and develop as a united population. As the many people of Mysore, and their varying beliefs, take part in each others religious festivals and celebrations throughout the year. The city possesses a green cover and wide roads and the credit for this development of the city goes to Raja Wodeyar III. the city claims its forte and its specialties in the form of “Mysore style” which has become a brand for the city representing the unique amalgamation of culture and custom in mysore with great pride.
The King Of Mysore
The Kings of Mysore laid a solid foundation for communal euphony by making generous contributions towards all religions equally. This tradition is still followed in Mysore today.
The Mysore community is largely made up of Hindus, Muslims and Jains, respectively. It is a melting pot of different personalities, beliefs and skills congregating together from different parts of the country, speaking different languages, celebrating different festivals and all co-existing peacefully.
The ultimate expression of Mysore’s cultural unity is witnessed during the 10 daylong Dasara festivities, that is unique to Mysore. The celebration includes religious ceremonies, the decoration of houses, display of dolls and the distribution of sweets to neighbours and children. The inhabitants of Mysore have honored Dasara in this fashion for many decades.
Historically, the highlight of Dasara was the “Jamboo Savari”, the procession of the Maharaja on elephant back through the streets of Mysore. This tradition was continued by every Mysore King.
Today, Dasara is celebrated with the same grandeur of the past, with minor changes. The Royal Elephant now carries the golden idol of Goddess Chamundhi, in the splendid procession through the streets of Mysore. Though Mysore has become a vibrant eclectic modern city and has all the comforts of modern development, it has managed to retain all its old world charm.
Another major attraction during Dasara is the Dasara exhibition which is held in the exhibition grounds opposite to the Mysore Palace. This exhibition starts during Dasara and goes on till December. Various stalls which sell items like clothes, plastic items, kitchenware, cosmetics and eatables are set up and they attract a significant number of people.
This Dasara festivities were first started by the Wodeyar King, Raja Wodeyar I (1578–1617 CE) in 1610. The Mysore Palace is lit up on all the 10 days of Dasara. The festivities begin with the Wodeyar royal couple performing a special puja to Goddess Chamundeshwari in the Chamundi Temple located on the top of Chamundi Hill at Mysore. This would be followed by a special durbar (royal assembly).Kings wore the traditional Mysore Peta as headgear during the Durbar (court of Indian or princley state’s kings) time or in a ceremonial procession during the Dassara celebrations. It was during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in 1805, when the king started the tradition of having a special durbar in the Mysore Palace during Dasara; which was attended by members of the royal family, special invitees, officials and the masses. The King and men attending King’s court wore the conventional attire called the durbar dress which comprised a black long coat with white trousers and a compulsory Mysore Peta. This tradition has been continued even now with the current scion of the Wodeyar family, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar holding a private durbar during Dasara. The ninth day of Dasara called as Mahanavami is also an auspicious day on which the royal sword is worshipped and is taken on a procession involving elephants, camels and horses.
On Vijayadashami, the traditional Dasara procession (locally known as Jumboo Savari) is held on the streets of Mysore city. The main attraction of this procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari which is placed on a golden mantapa on the top of a decorated elephant. This idol is worshipped by the royal couple and other invitees before it is taken around in the procession. Colourful tableaux, dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and culminates at a place called Bannimantap where the banni tree (Prosopis spicigera) is worshipped. According to a legend of the Mahabharata, banni tree was used by the Pandavas to hide their arms during their one-year period of Agnatavasa (living life incognito). Before undertaking any warfare, the kings traditionally worshipped this tree to help them emerge victorious in the war. The Dasara festivities would culminate on the night of Vijayadashami with an event held in the grounds at Bannimantap called as Panjina Kavayatthu (torch-light parade).
On all the 10 days of Dasara, various music and dance concerts are held in auditoriums around Mysore city. Musicians and dance groups from all over India are invited to perform on this occasion. Another attraction during Dasara is the Kusti Spardhe (wrestling-bout) which attracts wrestlers from all around India.