Sunday 6 October 2013

The blood sport of Mysore

The Vijayadashami, which signifies the end of the Navaratri, brings thousands of tourists and pilgrims to Mysore, to watch the Jamboo Savari.
If the Jumbo Savari or Dasara procession culminates the end of the Navaratri, there is another ritual, which when it ends signals the commencement of the procession.
This is the highly brutal blood sport of Vajra Musti or Musti Kalaga. Once a highly popular spot of Kings and emperors and the high and might of India, it has lost out to modern sports and to softer forms of physical games like boxing and wrestling.
True, a boxer or wrestler of even a  martial art expert might take umbrage at the forgoing sentence but what they should remember is that in Vajra Musti, the spurting of first blood on the forehead of an opponent celebrates the victor.
This is perhaps the most dangerous sport of all and make no mistake, it is as dangerous today as it was centuries ago. The combatants are known as Gettis and this sport today is confined within the Main palace of Mysore.
The Vajra Musti bouts are arranged in the beautiful wrestling courtyard of the main palace. Specially treated mud is prepared for the event and it is brought in lorries to the venue. The scion of the Wodeyar dynasty, Srikantadutta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, inaugurates the event.
After the Musti ends, he heralds the Dasara procession.
Coming back to the Vajra Musti, it is one of the most feared of all ancient arts of India. In Mysore, it is performed only on Vijayadashmi and that too to keep the ancient tradition alive.
The sport involves wrestlers or jattis hitting each other with clinched fists. Whosoever draws blood first is declared the winner and the contest is called off.
Unfortunately, this is a private event and it is generally not open to the public, except through invitation or special permission. Almost all the participants are from the Jetti community and they fight out more for prestige and tradition than for prize money.
The sport today is confined only to Mysore but centuries ago, it was popular in the Vijayanagar Empire. The Vijayanagar Emperors were patrons of this art forms and they patronized many Jettis.  Krishna Deva Raya was himself a renowned wrestler and he won many bouts.
Ranadheera Kanteerava Wodeyar was also a famous wrestler of his times. He was also proficient in many forms of martial arts. There are several accounts of  this Wodeyar King personally participating in Kusti during Dasara when Srirangapatna was the capital of the Mysore Kingdom.
Jattis of Mysore who played the blood sport were patronized by the Wodeyars and given high positions of  power and prestige. Senior Jettis were designated as Rajagurus and their services were commissioned for training princes and kings in warfare and strategy.
Since Jettis had knowledge about anatomy and were expert  wrestlers, they were given importance in the Mysore court and they formed an integral part of the Maharaja’s inner circle.   
The Jettis were not Kannadigas and a majority of them hail from Delmal in Gujarat. They are believed to have migrated to south  during the 11th century. The first mention of the Jetti is in Hoysala records.
Interestingly, both Hyder Ali and Tiu Sultan were patrons of Vajra Musti. After the storming of Srirangapatna in 1799, Vajra Musti lost its hue in Srirangapatna and Mysore took its place as the centre of Vajra Musti.
The Jettis were supposed to have taught Balarama, the brother of Krishna, the art of wrestling. Balarama son became one of the greatest wrestlers of his times.

Today, the blood sport is almost dead and gone but for the annual Dasara event. The sport can easily survive and even become popular provided our Government and the powers that be took keen interest in preserving and nurturing a rich slice of our heritage.    

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