Friday, 6 September 2013

All for a howdah

A few days ago, the Karnataka High Court did not interfere with the issue of one of the elephants during Dasara carrying the Ambari or Golden Howdah.
The Ambari Anne or elephant carries the howdah with the idol of Godddess Chamundi on Vijayadashami, the last day of the Dasara. This is called the Jumbo Saavari.
The golden howdah weighs upwards of 750 kilograms and it is taken out only during the Dasara.
During the rest of the year, the howdah is placed in the Mysore Palace and unlike the Golden Throne, it can be viewed by visitors. The website of the Palace Board says that the core of the Howdah is a wooden structure in the form of a mantapa which is covered with 80 kilograms of  Gold Sheets.
These gold sheets have been intricately designed  and they comprise of scrolls, foliage and flowers. The thread is made from the thinnest gold or silver wire.
A few decades earlier, the last Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar used to sit in this howdah and participate in the Dasara procession. After his death, the Government decided to place an idol of Chamundi or Chamundeshwari in the howdah.
When the Maharaja sat in the howdah, it had two lights-red and green. These lights were battery operated and the Maharaja used them to control the pace of the Vijayadashami procession.
Thus, this tradition continues to this day but Nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts had objected to the heavy howdah being used. They had suggested to the Government to use a lighter replica, which could be made of wood.
They felt that carrying the 750 kg howdah with the added weight of another 150 kgs would be a burden on the elephant. This, they said, amounted to cruelty. They had first represented to the Government to use a lighter howdah.
The State Cabinet, headed by the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah discussed the issue and rejected the suggestion. It also rejected the suggestion of the Elephant Task Force, which too had recommended reducing the weight of the howdah.
The Cabinet also did not accept the Task Force’s proposal to put in place a Karnataka Elephant Expert Group within the State Wildlife Board mandated with planning, advising and assisting in elephant conservation management in the State
The nature lovers then moved the High Court. Their point was that the elephant always did not carry the howdah. Several decades ago, the elephants pulled a cart on which the howdah was placed.
The Law Minister, T B Jayachandra, has gone on record saying that carrying the golden howdah during Mysore Dasara procession has sentimental value to the people. Besides the elephant carrying the howdah is well trained and its diet is strictly monitored.
There is no doubt that the  Jamboo Savari on Sunday will be the prime attraction of the Dasara. It marks the grand finale of the 10-day Dasara festivities.
The elephant carrying the golden howdah will be accompanied by eleven other caparisoned elephants.
Historians and art lovers are not sure about the exact origin of the howdah and its antiquity. However, we know that the last Maharaja to sit in the golden howdah was Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar in 1969.
When the Dasara festivities were revived by the State Government after the death of the Maharaja, it decided to place the idol of Chamundi in the golden howdah on the caparisoned elephant.

Incidentally, the earliest representation of the Dasara is depicted in a mural is at the Jaganmohan Palace where the Maharaja is seated in a wooden chariot drawn by pairs of elephants. This mural has a caption saying Vijayadashamiya Jamboo Savari and it shows the procession during the tenure of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. Therefore, it is believed that it was this Maharaja who later in his reign used elephants for the Jamboo Savari.

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