Dasara cultural programmes, continuation of a royal tradition

Music and dance received great patronisation from the Wadiyars some of whom were artistes in their own right

Cultural programmes during Dasara is a continuation of the patronage extended to arts by successive rulers from the days of Vijayanagar empire.

Though it has been restricted to the palace this year due to the pandemic, cultural programmes including classical dance, folk music, western classical, light music, devotional songs, and classical dance, used to constitute the kernel of the Dasara festivities.

The description of the “great feast’’by medieval travellers Domingo Paes sometime in 1520-22 and Fernao Nuniz who witnessed the events during 1535-37 refer to singing and dancing by troupes apart from the procession, the march of the caparisoned elephants, camels and horses apart from floats. The reference to dance and music in their description is a testimony to their patronisation which continued during the regime of the Wadiyars.

The Mysore Gazetteer points out that Wadiyars of Mysore from the times of Kanthirava Narasaraja extended their patronage to folk dance and music and had encouraged Yakshagana troupes from Dharmasthala as early as in 1812. The troupe was also persuaded to make Mysuru its home and the members of the troupe were called “Bidaradavaru’’. Many performances were staged at Kudure Totti and though there was no organised theatre, these performances paved the way for the emergence of court theatres and subsequently the modern theatres, according to the gazetteer. The Dasara in present times, though 2020 and 2021 are an exception, ensure that theatre is well represented among the cultural programmes that are conducted during the festival period.

But the core of Dasara cultural programmes tend to be classical music and dance programmes and is so even this year when the festival has been scaled down due to the pandemic. Music and dance received great patronisation from the Wadiyars some of whom were artistes in their own right or were renowned composers, according to the Mysore Gazetteer.

Chamaraja Wadiyar was a recognised musician while another ruler Chikka Devaraya was the author of a musical treatise known as Geetagopala. Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar was the author of the celebrated Sritattvanidhi which has a section devoted to music and musical instruments.

The galaxy of musicians who received patronage from the Wadiyars include Bidaram Krishnappa, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Tiger Varadachar, Hindustani musicians Fiaz Khan and Abdul Karim Khan, Veene Seshanna, and K.Vasudevachar.

The focus on classical art forms received a renewed thrust once the government decided to celebrate Dasara as Nada Habba and began patronizing it after the abolition of the privy purse in 1971. Though programmes of popular music catering to the new generation have been introduced in Mysuru Dasara since the last few years, classical music and dance receive greater importance and constitute the core of the Dasara cultural programmes.

Though classical dance and music has been confined to the palace this year – apart from a day-long programme at Kalamandira held on Tuesday – about 150 to 180 programmes used to take place in Mysuru spread across nearly half-a-dozen venues during Dasara during the pre-pandemic times. With COVID-19 expected to have petered out by next season, the authorities are hopeful of a return to the scale in terms of numbers and variety of programmes, next year.

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