Sunday 6 October 2013

Assembling a royal seat

The Dasara is the Nada Habba of Karnataka and the best place to catch all the action is Mysore, the city of palace and home to the Royal house of  the Wodeyars.
Mysore is all decked up for the Dasara and the magnificent Dasara procession is just a few days away. The procession on Vijayadashami, marks the culmination of Navaratri and it has generally been held in the afternoon.
If the highlight of the first day of Navaratri is the Wodeyar scion, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, ascending the throne, the procession with a caparisoned elephant carrying the golden howdah is the main event of the last day.
Thus, the magnificent Golden throne and the Golden howdah have always remained an integral part of the Dasara celebrations of Mysore.
While the howdah is a permanent structure, the throne is not.
The throne has to be reassembled just before the start of Navaratri and this year it was reassembled in a two-hour exercise on October 5.
It was brought out from the strongroom of the Main palace in Mysore on Sunday under the watchful eyes of Pramoda Devi, wife of Srikantadatta Wodeyar, his aides and officials of  the Mysore Palace Board.
The throne was assembled by twenty five villagers from Gejjagalli near Mysore.
Every Dasara, villagers of Gejjahalli and two others villages-Sakahalli and Kesare-come to the Mysore palace and volunteer their services to the Royal family during the duration of Dasara.  According to palace records, these villagers have been helping the royal family conduct the Dasara ever since the capital was shifted from Srirangapatna to Mysore in 1799 after the fall of Tipu Sultan.
Even today, 30 families of Gejjagalli, Sakahalli and Kesare form a core group which helps the royal family discharge numerous duties and rituals during the Dasara.
These villagers are nor regular employees of the palace. They set aside all their personal work during Dasara and volunteer theoir services. A group of villagers from Gejjahalli help in reassembling the golden throne.
There has been no incident of theft ever since they offered their services to the royal family from 1799. No wonder, their services are sought out even today. The royal family and the Palace board provides the volunteers with traditional dresses and each of them is assigned duties such as bringing out the royal elephant, royal horse, royal cow, royal camel, carrying the royal insignia, royal standard, torch and forming part of the Khasa or private durbar. Some call out the achievements of the royal family during the darbar and act as standard proclaimers or royal criers.
With the villagers displaying their loyalty through centuries, they have been given the important task of assembling the throne at the auspicious time. They have also served food to the royal guests and assisted the Wodeyars during royal burials too.
These volunteers, about 20 of them, commenced the fixing the throne at the auspicious time in the presence of Pramoda Devi, other members of the royal family and  palace authorities. Once the golden lion is fixed on the throne at an auspicious time, the Yuvaraja takes the ceremonial oil bath of Yenne Shastra as Kannadigas call it.
The assembling of the throne includes fixing the main seat known as Kurmasana, the umbrella over it and the series of steps leading to the seat. This task was completed as priests performed special rituals.
The rituals included Navagraha and ganapati homas by more than 12 palace priests. Soon after, a curtain was drawn to mask the throne till the Yuvaraja ascended the throne.
The throne is used for conducting the khasa durbar during the Navaratri period.
The throne will be on display for the public from October 5 to October 13 after which it will be dismantled and returned to the strongroom.
The throne itself is a subject of several myths and legends. Even its origin is shrouded in mystery. While many historians believe that it was a gift by the Mughals-some say Aurangzeb in 1700- to the reigning Wodeyar, Chikadevaraja, others say it was gifted to Raja Wodeyar in 1610 by either Srirangaraya, the Viceroy of Srirangapatna or Venkata, the Vijayanagar Emperor.
Even Vikram Sampath, the author of  an excellent book on Mysore, called Royal Splendors of Mysore, acknowledges the mystery of its origin.
Popular legend ascribes the throne to the Pandavas and later to the legendary Vikramaditya and Bhoja Raja. The throne was subsequently buried in Penugonda, now in Andhra Pradesh. The then Rajguru of  Vijayanagar, Vidvaranya, helped Harihara, the founder of the Vijayanagar along with his brother Bukkaraya, to retrieve it.
Kampiliraya of Kampli got the throne from Hastinapur and he buried it in Penugonda when Muhammad Bin Tughlaq invaded the Deccan in 1327. Kampiliraya died fighting the Tughlaq. His Kingdom then included Andhra Pradesh, Chitradurga, Shimoga, Raichur, Bellary, Hubli-Dharwad.
The throne remained hidden underground till 1338.   
The golden throne is a fabulous structure and it features a tortoise seat, a staircase with seven steps, a golden umbrella with creepers, an elephant, a horse and soldiers and is emblazoned with an ivory plaque, precious stones and jewels. The holy trinity of  Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are carved out of gold.
The throne was earlier used during the coronation of Wodeyar kings. The throne was found in a store room when the British stormed Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799. It was subsequently returned to the Wodeyars who have since been its guardians.
The last time people saw an Emperor or Maharaja (Srikantadatta Narasimharaja is a Yuvaraja and not a Maharaja.) holding darbar and sitting on the royal throne or Ratna Simhasana was  Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar in 1969.
The throne, its legend and other details are described in detail in the Sanskrit book, Devathanama Kusumamanjari written in 1859 by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the King of Mysore.
By the way, one of the best description of the Mysore Dasara, including the Woedyar Emperor ascending the throne and the Jamboo Savari on Vijayadashami is by Govinda Vaidya in 1648. He was a court poet of Ranadheera Kantirava and he has left us a detailed account of Navaratri and Dasara. The first pictorial representation of Dasara is also during this period.
However, an earlier description of Navaratri and Dasara in Mysore and surrounding areas of south Karnataka is found in the book, Bharatesha Vaibhava, by Ratnakara Varni, the court poet of the Odeyar (not Wodeyar of Mysore) kings of Karkala in 1557 and thereabouts. Much of his description is based on the conduct of the festival in Mysore and south Karnataka.

A much earlier and more elaborate description of the Jamboo Savari in Vijayanagar with Krishna Devaraya leading the procession in all its splendor is by the Portuguese traveller Paes. 

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