The graceful goddess adorned with precious jewellery and silk is a vision of beauty. With flowers and incense perfuming the air, and prayers and hymns invoking devotion, the festivities of Navratri magnify the aura of Goddess Durga. The magnificent nine-day festival rings in Vijayadashami, the tenth day of Dussehra. According to legend, Vijayadashami marks the spectacular defeat of Mahishasura (a demon) by Goddess Chamundeshwari, an incarnation of Durga, after a nine-day battle with the goddess.
While Dussehra is a common man’s festival celebrated with much grandeur across India, it takes on a regal avatar in Mysore. The festival has been celebrated every year for over four centuries by the royals of Mysore. During this time, the tranquil city transforms into a hub of festive extravaganza.
Dasara wasn’t always a part of Mysore’s culture. It was, in fact, an adoption of the celebrations organised on the occasion by the Vijayanagara Kingdom in Hampi in Karnataka. When the Vijayanagara Empire fell in the 16th century AD, Raja Wodeyar I saw an opportunity to make the Kingdom of Mysore independent and expand it for the successive line of Wodeyars. He nevertheless continued celebrating Dasara in Srirangapatna near the city. Eventually, under the British rule, Mysore became the capital once again, welcoming Dasara into its fold.
It’s not surprising that the Mysore kings continued the Dasara tradition. The festival has a deep connection with the Kshatriya (warrior clan) way of life. Goddess Durga is an embodiment of the fierce warrior spirit of the Kshatriyas. She’s a symbol of strength, power, energy and resolute will. Explains Mysore historian Professor Sheik B Ali, “Durga stands for assertion and aggression. These were qualities needed in a Kshatriya for the expansion of kingdom and authority. Naturally, the Mysore royals too came to worship Durga, alias Chamundeshwari, during Dasara.”
“Dasara was an ingenious way for the Wodeyars to assert their power. Particularly on the ninth day of Dasara, during Ayudha Pooja (worship of weapons), regal items–especially the throne, the pattada katti (royal sword), and the crown–were worshipped.”
“Today, Dasara is a festival not only of the royals, but also of the common man. Over the years, the festival has evolved into a celebration of our innate ability to vanquish inner demons. Inside each of us is a soldier, waiting to fight fears and conquer darkness.”