In all parts of the country, Dasara is celebrated as a community based festival where groups or mandals, furiously compete with each other to give the festival a currency, meaning, as well as vibrancy, and grandiosity to beat all previous celebrations. Dasara starts approximately 15-20 days after Ananta Chaturdashi which marks the end of the first major Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi.
The Mysuru Dasara is unique in that it is organized and held by the royal family of Wodeyars, the erstwhile ruling family, when Mysuru was an independent state and not merely the city it has now become confined to. An important part of the celebrations is the king who sits on the traditional golden throne to give audience to the people, in keeping with kingly traditions of holding court or darbar.
Mysuru Dasara is the Nadahabba (state-festival) of Mysore or Mysuru, in Karnataka, India. In the Mysuru celebrations, Vijayadashami denotes the victory of truth over evil and was the day when the Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura. It is the slaying of Mahisasura which has given the city its name – Mysuru and makes Chamudeshwari or Chamundi the guardian deity of this city, which is also known for its rootedness in Hindu traditions and culture.
The city of Mysuru has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival with utter grandeur and pomp to mark this day and the festivities there are an elaborate affair, attracting a large audience including foreigners. Mysuru Dasara celebrated its 400th anniversary in the year 2010.
The Dasara festivities began with the grandest Hindu dynasty to get established, right under the nose of the Islamic rulers, i.e. the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century. Abdul Razzaq, a Persian ambassador wrote about the Dasara observance, then called Mahanavami, in Vijayanagara during his mission to India in his book entitled Matla-us-Sadain wa Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Rise of the Two Auspicious constellations and the Confluence of the Two Oceans), a major work which contained an overview of the history of South India, from 1404 to 1470.
After the collapse of the Vijayanagara empire, the Wodeyars usurped power by killing the last king, who was ailing at the time. The Wodeyars continued the Dasara festival, initially under Raja Wodeyar I (1578-1617 CE) in the year 1610 at Srirangapatna, their capital city at the time.
A big tourist attraction during the festivities is the illumination of the Mysuru palace, on all 10 days during the evenings, which is followed by the royal durbar (assembly) of the king. This tradition began in 1805 during the time of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, which was attended by members of the royal family, special invitees, officials and the masses.
After the death of Srikanta Wadiyar in December 2013, this tradition has been continued by placing the “Pattada Katti” (royal sword) on the golden throne. The ninth day of Dasara or Mahanavami is an auspicious day on which the royal sword is worshipped and is taken in a procession involving elephants, camels and horses.
On Vijaydashami, a traditional Dasara procession called the Jumboo Savari, is held on the streets of Mysuru. The main attraction of this procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari which is placed on a golden mantapa (which is around 750 kilograms of gold) on the top of a decorated elephant. This idol is worshipped by the royal couple and other invitees before it is taken around in the procession. Colourful tableaux, dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the palace and culminates at a place called Bannimantapa where the banni tree (Prosopis spicigera) is worshipped.
The Mahabharata mentions that the banni tree was used by the Pandavas to hide their weapons during their one-year period of Agnatavasa (living life incognito). Before undertaking any warfare, the kings traditionally worshipped this tree to help them emerge victorious in the war. The Dasara festivities culminates on the night of Vijayadashami with an event held in the grounds at Bannimantapa called as Panjina Kavayatthu (torch-light parade).
Ar major attraction during Mysuru Dasara is the exhibition which is held in the grounds opposite the palace. The exhibition was started by Chamarajendra Wodeyar in 1880, with the sole aim of introducing timely developments to the people of Mysore. The task of holding the exhibition is now entrusted with the Karnataka Exhibition Authority (KEA). This exhibition continues till December.
On all the 10 days of Dasara, various music and dance concerts are held in auditoriums around the city. Musicians and dance groups from all over India are invited to perform on this occasion. Another attraction during Dasara is the Kusti Spardhe (wrestling-bout) which attracts wrestlers from all over India.