“… Dasara – The Naada-Habba, fesival of the land of Karnataka – bringing together the rich culture, heritage along with a royal display of the Mysore Kingdom in the world famous Jumboo Savaari. Come, Savor Karnataka… “
How close have you been to the golden ambaari (howdah) on a Grand Dasara procession day, without any official badges, contacts or passes & after landing in Mysore just half an hour before the event as a common tourist? 100meters? 50meters? Or as close as 5feet to the proud tusker, Balarama like me?
Yes, that’s where a SLR in hand and some amount of confidence blended with few smart moves can take you, to the centre of the very same path through which the grand procession of Dasara or Jumboo Savari passes through. I was witnessing the glory of Mysore Dynasty being unfurled again, standing right over there at centre stage with no official consents.
Few days back, a friend from North India happened to ask me about importance of the World Famous Mysore Dasara and I somehow managed. But when has asked how does the Jumboo Savari takes place, I was in trouble. Being a Kannadiga (a claim that is always argued by my friends), having read about Dasara throughout my school days, living in Kannada speaking state for 23.7 years, I had not witnessed the historic Jumboo Savari even once. I had not been to my Naada – Habba not even for one single time.
For someone who is so much inspired by travel & tourism, for someone who has traveled around few of the most celebrated destinations of South India, for someone who aims to become a world-traveler some day, this was a real shame. My consciousness made a face at me, too bad, Sam. Not to Dasara even once? Not once Jumboo Savari? Very bad! I had to make amendments. I had to visit my gardens before planning to visit neighbor’s plantations. I had to know my culture before trying to learn others’. I had to see Mysore Dasara before dreaming about La Tomatina of Spain or The Carnival of Brazil. I decided, I will be in the heritage city, the city of Palaces, the cultural capital Mysore on Vijayadashami, 2011.
Due to different reasons, few of them who were supposed to accompany me did not turn up. But I was not ready to give up this opportunity. It was my first brave step into becoming a world traveler. I was at Mysore to watch Dasara festivities, all alone. Landed at Mysore around 12pm and the procession would begin by 12.30. I did not know the town very well. I had to find a place for myself and my camera. Covering from the burning sun & with a bottle of water, I walked towards the main gate of the Palace (Jayarama Gate) through which the procession enters the City. I was not very surprised to see the crowd that stretched almost up to 500meters from me until the barricade to the path of procession. I thought I could somehow sneak through to the front row. Few steps into the crowd and I was lucky not to be thrown away. That was the immediate response I got just for trying to add up with the crowd. Knowing it’s not a safe place for both me & my camera, I decided to withdraw. But I had not given up.
I went for a stroll near the Jaya Maarthaanda gate of the palace and clicked some pics. There was tight security all around and I was nowhere near to the gate, let alone procession. Few more minutes went past loitering and then I decided to ask someone, throw away your shyness, Sam, poochne may kya jaatha hain?? 😉 I walked up to a NCC cadet and inquired about the roads that procession passes through and a suitable place that I could stand with my camera and the answer was KR Hospital. Got into an auto & a very polite thaatha dropped me as close as he could to the procession path, though there were lot many ‘no entries’ and ‘temporary one ways’. Finally I was near KR Hospital, close to market.
The scene here was no different but definitely a lot better. There were about 8-10 rows of people sitting on the road up to the barricade that prevented them entering into the main path. Same scene was on the opposite side of the road, barricades and people beyond that. Cops were roaming all around the main street expecting the arrival of procession & controlling the excited mob. I knew, if I had to make atleast few clicks out of my visit then I somehow have to get to the barricade and for that I have to cross a good 8-10 rows of crowd between me & barricade.
Sometimes few small incidents lead to greater opportunities. The sun was scorching over my head and I pulled out the water bottle that I had bought in the bus stand. Few gulps and I heard a guy ask, ‘Sir, swalpa neer kodtheera?’ (Could you please give some water?), I looked and found a guy in almost 3rd or 4th row from the barricade asking for water. A wicked grin flashed in my head, passed on the bottle. When he was returning it, I requested if I could join him there. Next minute, I was just 3 rows behind the barricade! Almost 30 more minutes passed by in that tiring, humid afternoon. It was around 2.15pm and somebody screamed, ‘Aaane…‘ (Elephant) The entire crowd that was sitting calm rose & started buzzing. There were pushes and stampings on feet, there were irritated ‘pschhh’ exclamations and cold stares being exchanged, there was a mild chaos. I decided to do a ‘chance pe dance’ act. Holding my camera close & safe, I somehow slid myself through the next few rows in front of me. Then heard the whistle blow, cops came shouting & waving their laatees asking everyone to sit down. The crowd calmed down and we were told that it would take another hour for the procession to reach there. Everybody sat down and I found myself sitting in the very first row holding the barricade. Wink wink!!
I started clicking around and enjoying the attention to my SLR. Some guy even asked me, ‘Sir, press or media?’ I smiled and replied, ‘press’! Yeah for my personal love towards photos & not videos! I was literally showing off at the moment and not too late we could hear the sounds of trumpets and drums at distance. The procession was approaching closer and now I almost had a manageable view.
You never know when luck strikes on your centre head with its cotton hammer. I was just adjusting my camera and a constable on the street asked me, ‘pressnavraa, sir?’ Smiling again, I said, yes. He insisted me to come closer to the barricade so that I could get a better view. But then there was already a guy standing there and I denied politely. The constable turned around & said something to his colleague and turned again to me. Coming closer to the fence he spoke softly, ‘I shall tell you when the inspector turns around, just sneak through the barricade as soon as possible and come to the opposite side of the road’. I agreed, thanked him dearly and was up for the adventure. That would’ve been the fastest sneak through ever. As the first tableaux was approaching that point, I ran across the road to the opposite end. There was a tree on the opposite side which was used as a make shift barricade and people were sitting beyond that. I was standing in the cover of the tree, on the very same road through which the procession is to pass. In simple words, I was on the main roads through which the world famous Jumboo Savari would pass in few hours. A clear & unobstructed view like that of an official was at offering. Constable Sir, I shall be grateful to you always.
May be this is what they call as divine intervention or may be Chamundeshwari Devi wanted me to get a closer look the first time itself. I was like an official broadcasting cameraman now for all the gimmicks I was putting up. I could click at my will standing beside that tree.
The ultimate show of pride & prestige, guts & glory, pomp & honor, the Jumboo Savari was preceded by a glorious show of rich culture & heritage of the land of Karnataka. Every district panchayaths of the 30 districts and 4 board’s viz. Irrigation, Tourism etc. had their respective tableaux and display of native art forms.
Excerpts from the Kannada literature was the theme for most of the tableaus. Literary giants like DVG, Maasthi, Dr. Kambaara, K.S. Narasimhaswamy and others adorned the tableaus of different district panchayaths and each were preceded by a native dance form. Krishnadevaraya’s Dasara Durbar, Navaratri idols, Dr. Raj, Gubbi Veeranna, Namma Metro Mysorige were some of the highlights.
There were varieties of cultural display by every district. The folklore and native dance forms were showcased by artists from round the state. It included even two African teams and a north Indian team performing dance forms.
The rich culture of Karnataka was shown through Yakshagaana, Kamsaale kunitha, Suggi kunitha, Dollu kunitha, Veeragaase, Pooja kunitha etc. Artists dressed up as mythical characters entertained the people who had waited a long 3-4 hours under burning sun. Mobile phones stretched into the procession, everybody cheering the performers, people waving at the cameras, Raakshasa (demon) character shaking hands with kids… this was the sight of the crowd that was behind me within the barricade. But I was lucky, very very lucky in fact, out here in the street, getting as close as possible, I was clicking photographs to my heart’s content.
Some of the performances were so energetic that I could not hold my urge to stand still looking at them. I was moving my shoulders, tapping the feet, enjoying thoroughly.
The moment was here that everyone waited for. The police band in a horse pulled wagon came next and then followed by the royal cavalry. Following were three elephants secured around by commandos and NCC cadets forming a human chain around them. The man of the hour, 53 year old loyal tusker, Balarama, clad in rich cloth and glittering jewels, was accompanied by two female elephants on either side and continued to carry the 750 KG Golden Ambaari for the 13th consecutive time.
The 750 kg golden ambaari of Mysore palace is taken on the elephant’s back to mark the closure of Dasara celebrations on a pompous procession. This tradition has been followed from the beginning of Dasara 400 years ago. The idol of Chamundeshwari Devi is kept inside the ambaari and taken on the back of a designated tusker in a grand procession to Banni Mantap. This procession is world famous as it showcases the glory & splendor of Mysore dynasty and rich culture & heritage of Karnataka. This year would be the last time Balarama; the tusker would carry the ambaari.
I made most of the opportunity in my limits. Clicked my trigger umpteen times to get that best shot. If I was of Balarama’s height then maybe I would have been at touching distance to the ambaari. For a moment, I looked out of the viewfinder. I was lost looking at the pride with which Balarama was carrying the Godmother of Mysore. His eyes were content with an unexplained satisfaction. May be he was aware that he would not be walking this grandeur anymore. But he looked determined to finish his service in the best way he could.
I took few more shots as Balarama, basking in the glory of his last walk and whispering something to his girlfriends, walked past me. Having witnessed the show of shows, I was happy and proud. I was very lucky the first time itself. What more could have I asked for?