Thursday 18 April 2013

The cannons that are fired only once

Much has been written about the Dasara and other events of Mysore City but few know the significance of many artifacts and historic items that go to form an integral part of the Nada Habba. We see many of them almost every day but take them for granted and end up forgetting that they too part of our rich heritage.    
One such is the cannons that are fired during the Dasara processions. There are eleven such cannons in the Mysore palace or the main palace and all of them are put to use during the Dasara. Each of the these cannons are polished and in top-notch condition.
It is only once an year and that too during Dasara, that gunpowder shots would reverberate for 90 seconds.
Seven cannons were procured for the palace armoury in 1856 and four in 1857 and 1858 by Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. They have never been used in any war but they were used to herald special occasions.
The cannons are in such good condition that they can be fired twice in just 90 seconds. For the lakhs of tourists visiting the main palace, the cannons evoke admiration and almost all tourists end up giving the cannons a pat.
Since then, it has been a tradition pf the Wodeyars to use the cannons during auspicious occasions. Twenty-one shots are fired continuously from cannons during Dasara celebrations.
The cannons also gave a guard of honour to the many visiting Governor General and Viceroys who came to Mysore. Personnel attached to His Highness Maharaja Own Infantry (HHMOI)  performed this task earlier. They also fired shots to inform people about the events happening in  the Palace premises.
The Mysore Administration and Palace reports say that only thirteen kushal thopu (cannonades) were fired during auspicious occasions and royal family functions like weddings. However, 21 cannon shots were fired while welcoming Governor Generals to the Palace.
The cannons fired thirteen shots during the inaugural of Vijayadashami, as number 13 is considered to be a good sign. It  was only after Independence  that the number of cannon shots were increased to 21.
The tradition of firing cannon shots continued even after the abolition of Privy Purse. Today, it is being carried out by Gunshot Artillery troupe attached to City Armed Reserved (CAR) police.
A group of 25 personnel, led by an ASI, work in tandem to ensure proper firing of cannons within a stipulated time. The team executes firing of 21 cannon shots during National Anthem and simultaneously gives national salute to chief guest at Jumboo Savari.
Even today, there is high risk involved in the firing of the cannons. One of the team members, Parashuram, a constable, suffered burns after fire caught the gunpowder that he was carrying. He was treated for six months for severe burns. But for this, no other untoward incident has happened.
When the cannons fire, the sound increases to many decibels and if any person is too close, it may damage his eardrum.
There are seven cannons - four long barrels and three short barrels - being used to fire cannon shots at Mysore Palace, where Dasara procession commences, and at Banni Mantap Parade grounds, the venue of torchlight procession. Six men are required to fire one cannon shot.  
There are about ten cannons in the front inner courtyard of the main palace but only three of them are used and three-men teams are deputed to operate the cannons.
In the early 50s, all ten cannons would be hauled over to the vicinity of Doddakere maidan and all ten would boom simultaneously.
The teams operate to specific commands of the artillery officer. The officer, who stands at the head of the barrel, first cleans the barrel with the brush-end of the wooden shaft and then uses the hard-end to ram the cannonball in. The moment he does so, the second person who stands in readiness near the breech-end of the cannon pours in a pre-measured amount of gun powder. This has to be very precise and exact. Too much could cause a massive blow-back with the cannon being propelled backwards with force. Too little means that it is a dud. The third man who holds the lighted torch has to run swiftly, light the gunpowder and then sprint away.
After the first shot, the cannon has to be once again put back in position. On the D day, each cannon is fired seven times in succession. That is how the 21-gun salute is made of.
The cannons have the Royal Gandabherunda etched or inscribed insignia on them. Details about who cast these cannons is not known.
Today, these relics still continue to show us that old is gold and that all that is needed for such masterpieces of artillery engineering are regular maintenance and a little upkeep

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