The Dussehra Elephants of Mysore
- December 21, 2020
- By Arun Ramamurthy
The Mysore Dussehra festival has a long history dating back to the 14th century during the reign of the Vijayanagara rulers. This tradition was continued by the Wodeyar Rajas of Mysore who turned it into a spectacle of unparalleled grandeur. In 1610, at Srirangapatnam, Raja Wodeyar I, reintroduced the Vijayanagar tradition of celebrating Navaratri, ensuring that the nine days were an amalgamation of piety and festivity. It was during the rule of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in 1805, that the king started the tradition of holding a special durbar in the Mysore Palace during Dussehra, which was attended by members of the royal family, officials and the people of the state.
Elephants are an integral part of the Mysore Dussehra Festival. The Elephant itself is an ancient symbol of the royal families of this region. The elephants form the core of the Mysore Dussehra procession on Vijayadashami day. According to a legend, Vijayadashami denotes the victory of truth over evil and was the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari(Durga) killed the demon Mahishasura. Indeed the city of Mysore derives its name from Mahishasura . On this auspicious day, the traditional Dussehra procession (locally known as Jumbo Savari) is held on the streets of Mysore city. The main attraction of this procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari which is placed on the top of a decorated elephant. Several other highly trained elephants also form a part of the Mysore Dussehra festivities.
In the mid-18th century, a capable general in the Mysore army, Haidar Ali, gained control of the Mysore kingdom. The Islamic faith of Haidar and his son Tipu Sultan did not deter them from celebrating the 10 days of Dasara with as much, if not more pomp and show, as had been done for centuries before them in Mysore. Tipu even minted coins with the image of a large Elephant as a mark of respect to this much loved and ancient symbol. The engraving of images was forbidden by Islamic faith and pictorial devices are uncommon on the coins of Muslim rulers. But Tipu was an astute politician who understood the importance of the ancient symbol of the Elephant and its significance in being able to communicate with the largely Hindu population of Mysore.