The streets are decorated with colorful lights, women have adorned the houses with flowers and festive ornaments and children are enjoying the start of the 2-week school break. Today is the first day of the ten day Dasara festival in India. (you can find a detailed post about the festival here)
Mysore, one of the popular tourist destinations in the Southern India, is also famous for the Dasara festivities. The Mysore Dasara, a 400 year old tradition, attracts large numbers of tourists, including foreigners . The major attraction is the Grand procession that takes place on Vijayadashami, the 10th day. Horses, camels, colorful tableaux carrying music and dance groups and decorated elephants form a part of the procession.
The elephants, usually 12 in all, play a vital role in this procession. The lead elephant carries the 750 kg ‘golden Howdah’, a wide 2-seater carrier made of gold, which originally carried the King and Queen of Mysore. Since the abolishment of royalty, the idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari is carried on the Howdah.
The elephants are brought to the city of Mysore from their home base, Nagarhole national park, about a month and a half before the festival. A run through of the 5 km route is performed daily and 4 elephants are trained to carry sandbags weighing 750 kg, the weight of the howdah. At their home base, their staple diet is a mixture of ragi (finger millet) and horse gram. But when they reach Mysore, they are fed a calorie-rich diet of wheat, boiled rice, vegetables, and lentils laced with butter twice a day, apart from coconut, jaggery, and sugarcane for snack!!
This year, there is some speculation as to which elephant will lead the procession. The local favourite and celebrity , 54 year old Balarama, who has been carrying the Howdah since 1999, has got people worried about his fitness as he has lost weight(down to 4,500kg from 4900 kg last year!) and slowed down considerably. The next in line could be Arjuna, a 54 year old elephant, who was the original choice for the lead elephant, but side lined in favour of Balarama after he trampled a mahout (caretaker) in 1997. He is supposed to be calmer now and is in the reckoning as he is stronger and heavier- by 1000kg- than Balarama!!
On 24th October, Vijayadashami day, all eyes will be on Balarama- will he continue in his customary role or will he have to take a backseat? We have to wait and watch as the final decision can be taken even hours before the event starts.
Balarama, the Elephant(Wikipedia)