Saturday 7 September 2013

When Dasara at Srirangapatna was the cynosure of all eyes

The Mysore Dasara is just a little more than a month away and the State Government has made all arrangements to ensure that the event passes off without a hitch.
Mysore is all decked up for the magnificent spectacle. However, there is a hitch or two. The Ambari Ane or elephant that carries the Golden Howdah is in Mast and animal lovers are up in arms against the practice of making the elephant carry the 750 kilogram howdah.
In the brouhaha, very few care to remember that Dasara never originated in Mysore. The Dasara, as we see today, had its beginning in Hampi or Vijayanagar. Once the mighty Vijayanagar Empire fell in 1565, Dasara stopped at Hampi as the Muslim states of the Deccan plundered Hampi and left it in a state of ruin.
Dasara then came to Srirangapatna which was a principality of the Vijayanagar Empire. Initially, the Viceroys of Srirangapatna owed their allegiance to the Vijayanagar Empire and ruled the province on their behalf.
They continued the practice of the Dasara and historical texts and accounts of the period say that the area around the Ranganatha Swamy Temple in Srirangapatna were host to the Dasara procession.
Raja Wodeyar (1578-1617) managed to oust the Vijayanagar Viceroy, Sriranga Raya, and he shifted his capital in 1610 from Mysore to Srirangapatna. It is to him that the distinction of commencing the Dasara in a grand manner goes. He not only continued the Vijayanagar practice but substantially improved upon it.
However, the early accounts of the Dasara at Srirangapatna  do not mention that the howdah was mounted on an elephant. Yes, elephants along with other animals such as camels, horses, cattle formed part of the Vijayadashami procession and some of the Viceroys did sit on elephants but there never was a howdah of the present size mounted on the pachyderm.
The celebrations gained fame during the period of Ranadheera Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar (1638 -1659 AD). Other Emperors who contributed in no insignificant manner towards popularising the Dasara were Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (1673 -1704 AD), Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799 - 1868 AD), Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV (1902 -1940 AD) and Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar from 1940 till 1947.
Even after Hyder an Tipu took over the reigns of the Mysore Kingdom from the Wodeyars, they allowed the Mysore Kings to conduct the Dasara.
Contemporary accounts tell us how Tipu allowed the King to attend the Dasara but how he took great care to ensure that the people did not turn against him.
The Dasara at Srirangapatna stopped in 1799 when Tipu was defeated and killed by the British on May 4, 1799. From then on, the Dasara was conducted in Mysore and Krishnaraja Wodeyar III became the first Maharaja to conduct the Dasara at Mysore.
Though the Dasara continued at Mysore, it was only in 2007 that the district administration of Mandya woke up to the heritage value of the festival and began conducting Dasara at Srirangapatna.
According to Hindu archives, the Dasara was first celebrated as Nada Habba during the Vijayanagar period and then at Srirangapatna before coming to Mysore.
Historians believe that Raja Wodeyar initially commenced Dasara celebrations as a victory parade when he defeated the Vijayanagar Viceroy. Each year, the procession gained in fame and pomp and it ended in 1799.
However, when Mysore kingdom was handed over by the British to in 1799, after the fall of Tipu Sultan, the capital was shifted to Mysore. Dasara festivities were also shifted to Mysore. Thereafter, Srirangapatna lost its traditional richness though it was the town where Dasara was first introduced.
The Srirangapatna Dasara too was celebrated over a ten day period and almost all the temple there were bedecked for the special occasion.  
Today, Mysore is known for its Dasara, while the Srirangapatna Dasara is slowly making a mark. There is no reason why the Srirangapatna Dasara can complement the Mysore Dasara and also act as an independent magnet on the lines of the Madikeri Dasara.

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