Mysore Dasara is a popular festival and draws thousands of tourists and visitors to the city of Mysore in Karnataka every year. Dasara, although a widely observed Hindu festival in most parts of the country, is treated in a very special way in Mysore. This is because of the way it is celebrated today—which was originally started by the royal family a few centuries ago.

Also known as Karnataka’s nada habba or state festival, the Mysore Dasara festival is now organised by the state government and is among the most awaited events of the year. During the festival, the entire city is illuminated with lights, effectively transforming the whole place into a wonderland.

The 10-day-long event is so popular that hotels in the city fill up with visitors fast and an early booking is the only way to ensure that you get a place to stay during your visit.

Also Read: Festivals in Mysore that bring the city alive

History Of Mysore Dasara

Statue of Demon Mahishasura on Chamundi Hill, Mysore, India
Statue of Demon Mahishasura on Chamundi Hill, Mysore, India

The history of Mysore Dasara goes back several centuries. Dasara in Mysore is traditionally a 10-day festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. The festival culminates on the 10th day with Vijayadashami, the day that the Hindu goddess Chamundeshwari kills the buffalo-headed demon king Mahishasura. Mysore, or Mysuru, is so connected to the festival that the city’s name is actually derived from Mahishasurana ooru meaning “the town of Mahishasura” in Kannada, the state language. As it so happens, Mysuru (pronounced mysooru) is the actual name of the city, while Mysore is the anglicised version.

As the legend goes, Mysore was once ruled by the demon king Mahishasura, who was killed by the goddess Durga, who took birth as Chamundeshwari in response to the prayers of the gods and goddesses. She killed the demon on top of what later became known as the Chamundi Hills, near the city. After slaying the demon, the goddess is said to have stayed on top of the hill.

The Mysore Dasara festival is celebrated every year in honour of this victory. The grand tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival, according to historians, began with the Vijayanagar kings in the 15th century, something that is continued by the Wodeyars of Mysore, the erstwhile royal family to this day. Although, in the initial days, the Wodeyar royal couple kicked-off the festivities by performing a special puja to goddess Chamundeshwari in the temple atop the Chamundi Hill, things changed during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (in 1805), when the special durbar or royal assembly at the Mysore Palace during the festival was started.

Also Read: Has Mysore allowed its culture to take a backseat during Dasara?

When And Where Will The 2020 Mysore Dasara Be Celebrated?

The illuminated Mysore Palace
The illuminated Mysore Palace during the Dasara festival

As the name suggests, the Mysore Dasara is celebrated in Mysore/Mysuru city. It usually falls in the month of October but the dates differ every year as it is based on the Hindu calendar, according to which Dasara or Dussehra falls on the 10th day of the bright half (shukla paksha) of the month of Ashvin (Ashwayuja). This year, 2020, the Mysore Dasara will be celebrated from October 17 to 27.

While the Mysore Dasara festival is generally celebrated with great pomp and show every year, this year, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Karnataka has decided to keep it a subtle affair. The focus this year will only be on traditional rituals and the entire event will be held exclusively at the Mysore Palace.

Also Read: The struggles of being a woman traveller: how two girls attempted to navigate Mysore Dasara in 2019

How Is The Mysore Dasara Celebrated Every Year?

Mysore Dasara is one of the most popular festivals in Mysore
Mysore Dasara procession

Celebrations start right on the first day with an inauguration and a cultural event. On the sixth day of the Mysore Dasara, celebrations are held in honour of the goddess Saraswathi. Celebrations are held on the eighth day in honour of the goddess Durga and on the ninth day, the goddess Lakshmi is honoured. The 10th day, Vijayadashami, is the grand finale, and is celebrated with great pomp and fervour. There is a grand procession which starts from the famed Mysore Palace and culminates at the Bannimantap, a place of historical significance in the city. Here, the famous ‘Banni’ tree, which is believed to give power and victory, is worshipped. Warriors of the olden days used to worship this tree and pray for victory before heading out to war. This is followed by a beautiful torchlight parade at night.

Many tourists visit Mysore to witness the grand procession alone as it is a wonderful sight to behold. In the procession, there are large bands, dance troupes, massive decorated floats that depict important mythical events, and a gathering of the armed forces.

A major attraction of the procession is the 12 Dasara Jumbos or Jumboo Savari (elephants chosen and trained specifically to take part in the spectacle) who march in unison along the route to Bannimantap. The head elephant carries a 750-kg-heavy Golden Howdah, also known as chinnada ambari or Mysore ambari, that contains an idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari, the family deity of the Wodeyars. This year, as per the changes made owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, only five elephants will take part in the Jumboo Savari.

Apart from the special durbar, another unique feature introduced by the Wodeyars, namely Chamaraja Wodeyar X in 1880, is the famous Mysore exhibition. This exhibition is held with the intention of introducing the latest innovations and developments to Mysore’s people. Today, this exhibition is conducted at the Doddakere Maidana by the Karnataka Exhibition Authority, which was constituted in 1981 specifically to organise the exhibition. Hundreds of public and private sector industries, leading business establishments, and government departments set up stalls at the grounds to promote their businesses.

At this year’s Dasara festival, the sellers and vendors at the exhibition will be urged to focus on the sale of local products, to remain in adherence with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to be ‘Vocal for Local’.

Throughout Mysore Dasara’s history, the celebrations were carried out by the royal family, however, in 1987, the organisation of the festival was entrusted completely to the Karnataka Exhibition Authority in 1987.

Today, the Mysore Dasara is a much-awaited event and people from all over the world come to witness the magnificence of the festival. The erstwhile royal family of Mysore performs a special pooja during Dasara and all of the city is decorated and illuminated. The Mysore Palace and other important buildings are illuminated and become a special visual treat at this time. Every year, a whopping nearly INR 1 crore is spent on maintenance of the light bulbs alone, more than 25,000 of which are replaced annually before the festival begins.

Several cultural programmes by famous artists, sporting events, wrestling, a poet’s meet, food festival, and film festival are also part of this grand 10-day festival. This year, however, events like the food festival, Yuva Dasara, sports meet, and cultural events stand cancelled.

Also Read: Our exciting (yet somehow harrowing) experience at the 2019 Mysuru Dasara

Here’s How To Plan Your Trip To Mysore During Dasara

Mysore during Dasara festival

Mysore is one of the main cities in Karnataka, and is well connected by land and air routes. One can reach the city for the festivities by train or by flight. You could even hire a cab or drive your own vehicle to the city.

There are plenty of hotels in Mysore, however, advance booking is always advisable as the city tends to get packed with visitors around Dasara. You can either book your rooms online through various websites like yatra.com, tripadvisor.in, travelguru.com, or booking.com. You could also stay at a hotel in Bengaluru city, which is about 145 kms from Mysore, and explore two cities in this way.

Most of the Mysore Dasara events are free of cost. Only the grand procession and torch light parade require tickets. Every year, a limited number of VIP gold cards are released, which grants the holder certain benefits like VIP facilities, free entry to the zoo and other attractions during the festival, among others. Many tour agencies like Skyway Tour, offer packages for those looking to spend a few days in the city and explore.

Some of the best places to visit during the Dasara time are the Mysore Palace, Chamundi Hills, Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, Brindavan Gardens, Karanji Lake, Mysore Dasara Flower Show at Nishad Bagh, Dussehra Exhibition, and the Yuva Dasara at the Maharaja Grounds.

The Dasara exhibition continues for another two months after the end of the 10-day festivities. Here, there are plenty of games and rides for kids and adults alike.

Some FAQs To Help You Understand The Mysore Dasara Better

1. Why is Dasara celebrated in Mysore?

Technically, Dasara or Dussehra is Hindu festival that is celebrated all across India. The Mysore Dasara, however, is a religious tradition that was started by the Vijayanagar kings in the 15th century and was continued by the Wodeyars after they came to power. This particular celebration is famed throughout the country due to the sheer grandeur of celebration with events like the procession, elephant parade, special activities and more.

2. Is it good to visit Mysore during Dussehra?

Dussehra is a great time to visit Mysore as not only does the city look like it came straight out of a fairy tale, but there are a lot of fun things to do as a family. There is something for everyone during the Mysore Dasara and the weather is also pleasant at this time.

3. When was Mysore Dasara started?

This festival was started in the 15th century by the Vijayanagar kings, according to historians.

4. Who is inaugurating Mysore Dasara 2020?

This year, Corona Warriors will inaugurate the Mysore Dasara, as the Karnataka Government has decided to pay frontline health workers, and others who are fighting COVID-19, its respect.

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