A couple of years ago, I visited Mysore for work and it happened to be around the time of Navratri. I was all set to leave a day before the festival began looking forward to revel in Durga Puja celebrations in my city, when something unexpected happened at work and I had to extended my stay by a few days. Disappointed, I prepared myself to get through the holiday period, in an unknown city all by myself. Little did I know then, that an accidental stay-over would end up becoming a memorable trip!
Dasara, as the locals say, is the most important festival celebrated in Mysore. The time when the rest of the country celebrates the various manifestations of Navratri, the festival in this town is marked by a 10-day extravaganza culminating in Vijayadashmi or Dasara. This year Mysore Dasara will be celebrated on 15th October.
Having no friends or company in the city, I decided to make the most of my stay and experience the festival first hand. The celebrations start from the first day of Navratri and go on for 9 days, transforming this otherwise serene city into a luminous and dazzling spectacle, with every corner illuminated with bright lights and festive decorations.
In the spirit of being adventurous, I stepped out and decided to explore the city like a local.
The Regal History of Mysore Dasara
Dussehra in Mysore started as a cultural celebration about 600 years ago, initiated by the Vijaynagara emperors. They celebrated the victory of the warrior goddess Chamundeshwari (an avatar of Durga) over the demon Mahishasur, by hosting military parades, athletic competitions, performing arts, and charity events.
Later after the fall of the Vijayanagar empire, the celebrations came to an end under the rule of Delhi Sultanate. The Wadiyar Kings revived the celebrations once again in the 16th century as a way of celebrating their freedom.
A celebration ‘au royale’
A grand Dasara tradition started by the Wadiyar kings exists till date – a Royal Durbar (or the Dasara Durbar) is set up at the Mysore Palace, where the current symbolic king of the state holds court during the festival. He dresses up in his royal garb and takes the throne accompanied by a ceremony. This is then followed by music performances at the court. Now, since these events are only for the royals, elites and special invitees, I, as a commoner, had to be content with narratives from friends describing the royal opulence of the inner palace.
A tour of the Mysore Palace in the evening made up for missing the royal durbar. I had visited the Mysore Palace years ago on a school field trip. But this was class apart. The already gorgeous façade was illuminated with a million lights! Outside, on the courtyard, there was a special music performance by an eminent Carnatic classical artist. There were throngs of people at the palace and there was laughter and gaiety in the air.
Vijayadashmi in Mysore – the Royal Procession
Work was intermitted and I spent most of my time walking the streets of Mysore. Finally, Vijaydashmi arrived and I was excited to be able to witness the festivities of the final day of Dasara. The day started with a royal procession from the Mysore Palace. The procession is aptly called the Jumboo Savari and is led by 12 elephants, groomed and dressed in colorful garb and gold, followed by troupes of folk dancers, singers, musicians, and at least 40 tableaux depicting the history and legacy of Karnataka.
For a moment I felt like I was back in the days of kings and queens, witness to the regal march, as the town looked on.
The procession started post noon and went on till sundown until it reached the huge public grounds of Banni Mantap. This is where the entire festival culminated in a spectacular climax with the burning of a larger-than-life-size effigy of Ravana. I had seen quite a few Ravana Dahan ceremonies in my life, but Mysore’s take on this mythological ritual was not just unique but grand beyond conceivable proportions.
Although I was away from friends and family for Dussehra, the city of Mysore gave me an opportunity to witness one of the grandest celebrations of the festival that, to this day, remains unparalleled in my memory. I booked a cab from Mysore to Bangalore airport and prepared to bid adieu to the city I had reluctantly fallen in love with.
If you wish to attend the Dasara festivities this year, book your ride with Savaari. We are currently running special Dussehra discounts from Bangalore to Mysore. Avail them exclusively on Savaari app.