Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

Kannadigarella ondaagi Kannadavannu ulisona, kalisona and belesona

My Dasara:: Dasara, our Nada Habba,

My Dasara
Dasara, our Nada Habba, is round the corner. It is a celebration that is of legendary magnificence and splendour, dating back to the grandeur of the Wodeyar kings. Marked with pomp and pageantry, Dasara means different things to different people. Noted litterateurs Dr U R Ananthamurthy and Prof G Venkatasubbaiah walk down memory lane and give us a sneak preview into ‘their Dasara’.

My Dasara belongs to my childhood which I spent in a far away, jungle-surrounded village of the Sahyadri mountain region. An old man called Ballal would visit us sometimes, walking miles and miles in the forest paths. If he appeared with an akshatha mark on his forehead it meant he had eaten. If he did not, my mother knew he would stay on for his midday meal. All the family would sit on mats in the verandah and hear him tell stories. He was a great narrator of stories and we always waited for him to begin the story of his visit to Mysore to see Dasara. And he never failed us.

It was long long ago that he visited Mysore and saw the Dasara festival and Jamboo Savari, but every time he retold the story there would be something new in it. The story was always narrated in the present tense; and every time the royal elephant and the Maharaja wore more resplendent jewels and the Maharaja smiled differently to the waving people. Sometimes Ballal was inspired by our intent listening, and on such occasions, the Maharaja even smiled at him – “at this old, dark skinned uncle of yours” – as he took care to wearing a zari shawl for the auspicious occasion. He had even carried that shawl to impress us.

There used to be a festival in a nearby village, once a year, when the presiding deity of the village went around driven on a chariot. This was a colourful festival where we drank gurgling soda and ate sweets, and more importantly, saw a show. Someone always came with a box and we called it Bombay box. We paid an annah (the price of a cup of coffee in a good hotel) and peeped through a hole. The Bombay-box-wallah danced, beating rhythmically on the drum, pulling a string and showing a new slide each time. I can never forget these slides, seen through a magnifying glass. He danced and announced: ‘Look! Oh! Look, this is Delhi… Look! Oh! Look, this is Queen Victoria…, Look! Oh! Look, this is India Gate…, Look! Oh! Look, this is Bombay prostitute…, Look! Oh! Look, this is Maharaja in Jamboo Savari.’ How true was Ballal, I felt.


But I witnessed Dasara for the first time when I went all the way from my home in Thirthahalli, travelling first on a bus and then in a third class railway compartment, thus spending a whole day and a whole night. Of course, I went to Mysore, not to see Dasara, but to study in the great legendary Maharaja College where Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and the less known Hiriyanna were professors. Kuvempu, who was an anti-royalist, was a teacher there when I went to study and under his influence and the influence of the Socialist Movement in Malnad, I too was anti-royalist. I had by then outgrown Ballal and his magical Dasara tales, and the peeping wonder of the Bombay-box.

Shantaveri Gopala Gowda was a great Socialist leader who had come under the influence of Lohia and JP. We thought taking the Maharaja on an elephant was a feudal custom and a sign of our backwardness and superstition. The Socialists had started an agitation against the Jamboo Savari. Under the leadership of Gopala Gowda came young socialists like J H Patel (our Ex-CM) to Mysore and gathered a bunch of volunteers and carried inauspicious black-flags to wave at the bejeweled Maharaja riding on the decorated elephant.

This was dangerous for the Socialist Satyagrahees. People loved the Maharaja and the procession. They would have beaten up the Socialists carrying inauspicious black flags. But we sought police protection to wave the flags as a symbolic gesture of our protest. This went on year after year.

But I do not want to stop here. Shantaveri Gopala Gowda was a great sensitive person with the heart of a poet. After the Maharaja lost his office and his feudal glory, Gopala Gowda met him once in some airport. He felt great compassion and respect for the forsaken looking, utterly impractical Maharaja who was almost alone amidst a crowd of people.

My Navarathri

We never called it Dasara. It was always Navarathri for us. Our forefathers came from Ganjam near Srirangapattana. The earliest memory of Navarathri that I have is of Koppala Basava, the legendary wrestler who could not be defeated by anyone. In fact his reputation was so formidable that even common people were scared of him. Then comes the Gombe Habba at Jaganmohan Palace, which used to be very beautiful. Every household in Mysore displayed its own dolls on the mode of the palace arrangement.

His Highness Krishnaraja Wodeyar was a highly respected man. He took special interest in all the events of Navarathri. Every year a chief guest of the rank of Governor or a Maharaja or a foreigner would be invited. For Navarathri, a special Prajapratinidhi Sabhe would be held to allow district representatives to meet the Maharaja.

The Mysore Navarathri procession became world famous because of the grand spectacle it provided. The Palace army, cavalry, boy scouts, girl guides, two huge carts carrying members of the royal family, the royal cow, the royal elephant, the dancing horse which moved to rhythmic beats, folk artistes… Towards the end, His Highness would come on the elephant, sitting in a golden howdah.

No one crossed the rope that separated the crowd from the procession. It was so orderly. Today the procession has lost all its glory and is worse than a village shandy. It lacks lustre. It is nothing but chaotic.

Once the Maharaja wanted Diwan Sir Mirza Ismail to sit behind him in the howdah. Usually his brother and nephew would sit. When His Highness announced that he would ask Sir MIrza to sit behind him, there was a huge uproar as no one other than members of the royal family could sit on the howdah. In fact Sir Mirza, who had started climbing on to the howdah, was forced to alight.

Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar, owing to his good nature, enjoyed the love and admiration of all his subjects. His love for his subjects and the language of the State was unique. In fact, even to this day, I feel proud of having received the gold medal for securing the first rank in MA from him. After the convocation, he hosted a tea party to all the fresh graduates at his tennis court. He came to each one of us and asked us to lend our services to the State. Even Mahatma Gandhi had a special regard for him and called Mysore a Model State.

Prof G Venkatasubbaiah, as told to Prathibha Nandakumar

date with Dasara

2006 – Monday, the 2nd of October.

2007 – Sunday, the 21st of October.

2008 – Thursday, the 9th of October.

2009 – Monday, the 28th of September.

2010 – Sunday, the 17th of October.

Dasara details

Wodeyars, the Mysore kings, were subordinates of the Vijayanagara rulers. They declared independence at the decline of the empire in 1610 AD and tried to retain the latter’s goodwill by continuing the traditions started by them. Raja Wodeyar, the founder of the Mysore kingdom, started the Navarathri festivities in order to celebrate his new – found freedom. He issued an order that the nine-day-long Navarathri be observed with piety and splendour by one and all. When Mysore State was restored to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar in1799, the capital was shifted to Mysore city from Srirangapattana, and the Navarathri festivities began to be performed with greater magnificence in the new capital with the introduction of a special durbar for the Europeans, and direct participation by the common masses.


September 19, 2006 - Posted by | Bangalore, Karnataka and Kannada, Nanjundappa Report

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