Dasara (Navratri) celebrations in Mysore, Karnataka

Dasara / Dussehra / Navratri Wishes To All Of You

Navratri or “nine-nights” festival is celebrated in India in late September-early October to honor the many reincarnations of Goddess Durga. In South India, prayers are also offered to Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Goddess Saraswathi (the goddess of learning).  Symbolic of the victory of good over evil, it is celebrated differently across India. While the Durga Puja of West Bengal, and the Garba dance of Gujarat are very popular and well known, I wanted to share the details of the spectacular celebrations that go on in the southern city of Mysore, Karnataka. It is called DASARA in Kannada, the regional language.

Durga_Mahishasura-mardini,_the_slayer_of_the_buffalo_demon,_GermanyGoddess Chamundi kills evil Mahishasura (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Originating in 1610 during the rule of the Wodeyar family, Karnataka will be celebrating Dasara for the 403rd year in 2014. Considered “Nada Habba” or state festival, Dasara (from sanskrit dosha-hara, meaning “defeat of ill-fate”) is also celebrated for nine days and culminates with Vijaya Dashmi “victorious 10th day”. Parades, exhibitions, royal durbar (audience with the king), music, dance, wrestling, prayers, competitions and many more events mark this grand celebration in Mysore. The word Mysore is derived from “Mahishur” or “Mahishasurana Ooru” – meaning ‘the town of Mahishasura’ in Kannada. Mahishasura was a half man-half buffalo demon who prayed to the Gods with such devotion that they allowed him to ask for a boon. When his request for immortality was turned down, he asked that no man would be able to kill him, and – betting that no women would be strong enough to defeat him – that if he had to die, it would be at the hands of a woman. The gods granted him his wish, and Mahishasura, thinking that he was unbeatable, began harassing the people of the world, and even the Gods. Finally, unable to tolerate this tyrant, Lords Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer), along with the other gods channeled their divine energy to create Chamundi (an incarnation of Durga) – a fearless and fiery fighter with thousand arms – each carrying the weapon of a different god, and riding a lion. After a brutal battle, the Goddess was finally able to slay Mahishasura on a hilltop, and good triumphed over evil. The people and the Gods then celebrated this victory for 10 days, calling it Dasara.Mahisasur_Statue_at_Chamundi_Hills

Statue of Mahishasura on top of Chamundi Hills in Mysore, Karnataka (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

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Chamundeshwari Temple on top of Chamundi Hills (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

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During Dasara, the Mysore Palace is illuminated with 100,000 light bulbs for 10-days. (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

An important tradition of Dasara / Navratri in Karnataka is Bombe Habba or ‘the display of dolls’. According to legend, when the Gods gave all their powers to Chamundi to go fight Mahishasura, they became powerless and stood still like statues. Once the demon was defeated, people commemorated the actions of the Gods by praying to them in the form of dolls. Many houses display the dolls through Dasara on odd-numbered tiered steps built specifically for this purpose. The most important dolls are the Pattada Gombe which symbolise the King and the Queen. They are always made of dark wood, simply designed and decorated with cloth or paper. On the display steps, Gods are placed high, then saints, kings & queens, next any depictions of festivals & celebrations, and finally, portrayals of everyday life. Women invite each other to come over each evening for prayers and aarti, and having the best dolly display is a matter of pride.

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(Pic: http://housedelic.com/tag/dasara/)

While the first few days of Dasara are a little low key, Saraswathi Pooja is celebrated on the 7th/8th day. Goddess Saraswathi is the Goddess of knowledge & arts. It is customary to place books and musical/art related supplies by her idol and pray for her blessings in mastering those skills.

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(Above) The Late Maharaja Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar performing Saraswathi Pooja.  (Pic: The Hindu)

On Vijayadashmi, the 10th day celebration, the main attraction is the Jamboo Savari (Elephant Parade). One of the many brightly decorated royal elephants is mounted with a 750-kilogram gold mantapa (altar) carrying the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari. After the King & Queen offer their prayers at the palace, the colorful and loud parade moves through the city.

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(Pic: http://gujaratirecipesallinone.blogspot.com/2010/10/colours-of-karnataka.html)

Tens of thousands of people line the streets and buildings to watch these regal elephants, horses, camels, musicians, members of the armed services, dancers, acrobats, school children and more march & perform along the way. I have spent many years as a young girl sitting on the sidewalk with relatives, waiting with bated breath for the procession to go by, and can’t wait for a time when I will be able to do it again.

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 Above, performers of traditional art forms of Karnataka participate in the procession. Below, the current Maharani Pramoda Devi of Mysore (center, in pink) and her family watch the festivities from a palace balcony.

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(Pic: http://gujaratirecipesallinone.blogspot.com/2010/10/colours-of-karnataka.html)

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(Pic: http://creative.sulekha.com/mysore-dasara-pageantry-deity-and-piety_609945_blog)

The procession ends at Banni Mantapa Grounds – the site of the sacred Banni tree. Legend has it that Arjuna retrieved his weapons that he had hidden in a hole in this Banni tree before being banished to exile for 14 years. The Pandavas then defeated the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra battle, and returned victorious on Vijayadashmi. Hence, the festival of Ayudha Puja (worshipping of weapons) is celebrated on the 9th day. Current day interpretation has made the festival one where all vehicles and tools are cleaned, decorated, and prayed to for safe and productive usage. Limes are placed under each wheel of the vehicles as sacrifice, and we drive/ride over it till it is squashed. It is not uncommon for businesses to shut down their computers and machinery so that they can be cleaned and prayed to. I remember washing and decorating my bicycle with flowers and balloons when I was a little girl and being so proud of my handiwork.

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(Pic: http://www.sangamprojects.com/pictures/festivals/ayudha-puja)

It is unfortunate that on December 10, 2013, Mysore Maharaja Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar passed away at the age of 60. For the first time in hundreds of years, Dasara festivities will be held without a king.

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