Dasara in Mysore

Dasara is the most important festival in Mysore; we attended the famous parade that includes colorful elephants and dancers.

It was 100˚ in the shade.  Gosh!  After four hours, I was wishing that we were sitting in the shade.  After six hours, when the parade had come and gone, I was nonetheless glad that we staked out good seats early in the day. Read on, and be sure to see the photo gallery.

A group of elephants in the Dasara parade in Mysore.

We were in Mysore [location] for a four-day weekend, because Mysore is famous for its celebration of the Dasara festival.  Mysore is a small city of just under a million people, second only to Bangalore in the state of Karnataka.  Until the 19th century it was the home of the Wodeyar dynasty, and was the seat of the kingdom right up to independence in 1947.

Every year, on the tenth and final day of Dasara, an incredible procession begins at the Mysore Palace and marches through the streets of Mysore.  Twelve elephants, brightly painted and glittering with gold ornaments, anchor the parade.  Troupe after troupe of drummers and dancers entertain the crowds. This year, Indian Army tanks and a scale model of the Indian Air Force fighter jet drew patriotic cheers from the crowds.  The climax of the parade comes when an aging elephant carries a 750kg howdah, a gold-plated carriage. In the howdah is a statue of the goddess Chamundeshwari (who, legend says, defeated the demons at what is now the city of Mysore). Prior to independence, the king also sat in the howdah as he toured the city in the parade.

The same elephant carries the Golden Howrah every year, but is aging.

Did I mention the crowds?  tens of thousands of people turn out for the parade.  We arrived the night before, and inquired into the potential for a “Gold Card”, which would provide VIP seating at the parade’s end. They were all sold out, we were told, and in any case were very expensive.  But the hotel staff knew a man who knew someone, and he would try to get us tickets for the parade’s opening. Although I was wary, the prospect of guaranteed seats, inside the palace walls, where the parade begins, sounded like a good idea to me.  Everyone had warned me about the crowds, and the risks of taking small children to the free seats along the roadside.  Year after year in India, and even in the past month, many people are killed when an oversize crowd stampedes and tramples or suffocates the unfortunate.

We arrive early and find a great spot to watch the Dasara parade.

On the morning of the parade, as planned I sent 6,000 rupees off with the hotel staffer, expecting five tickets for the 1,000 rupees (plus the, ahem, 200 rupee ‘service charge’) to return by 10:30am.   The time came, but no tickets.  The runner had heard that the palace police were clueless about the tickets, and were letting people into the palace first-come-first-served. Ticket holders were not receiving the guaranteed seats they thought they had purchased.  My money was returned, but now, we feared, it was too late to stake out good seats for the parade!

We had heard that people were sleeping alongside the street, staking out their seats the night before. We arrived late, we thought, at 10:45am.   We were surprised to find the concrete steps (resembling bleachers) to be largely empty.  Plenty of room!  The kind police officers I met, and there were many, gave me varying information about when the parade would arrive. I heard 1:30, 2:30, 4pm, even 5pm.  We located a spot with a good view and settled in.  We had no shade, but were surrounded by vendors of ice cream, juice, water, cucumbers, pineapple, sugar cane, and all manner of crispy snacks.

Many vendors work the crowd waiting for the Dasara parade in Mysore.

As the day wore on, the lack of shade became a real problem as the sun shifted from our back to our front, and all that concrete heated up.  The kids became restless and we all were dehydrated.  The crowd slowly filled in around us, but the mood was festive.  The seating area finally filled up around 2pm.  Shortly after, the woman in front of us fainted and vomited, early signs of heat stroke. She recovered, but the people seated below her were none too pleased. 

The parade finally arrived at about 3:15, and took 90 minutes to pass us… it was truly immense.  The sights, sounds, and smells can barely be captured by my pictures, but I hope you enjoy them.  So much color, such elaborate costumes!

Ah! an elephant turns toward me…

The first pair of elephants paused in front of us, long enough for one to pee and poop in the middle of the road.  When an elephant pees, I must say, it creates quite a flood; as it drained toward the crowd seated on the edge of the street, there was quite a flurry as the packed-in people shifted and squirmed and the pee flowed under the mats they had brought to sit on.

…and a flood of elephant pee flows toward, and under, the crowd.

The tail end of the parade included the golden howdah, surrounded by an impressive group of perhaps 30 police and army personnel, and followed by an armored vehicle with many guns, and behind that a suite of emergency vehicles, army vehicles, a wrecker, and a huge crowd of people.

Hot, sweaty, and tired, we were ready to head back to the hotel.  Nonetheless it took us about an hour to work our way through the crowded streets, five blocks back to the car.  All in all, it was a great day and well worth the effort. 

The spectators depart the Dasara parade all at once, creating a huge jam. It took us one hour to walk five blocks!

See the photo gallery; this is one of those can’t-miss galleries!

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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