Mysore Dasara: Magic or Mayhem?

The Dasara festival is celebrated all over India but nowhere is the pomp and circumstance more revelled in than Mysore. The Maharaja, the decorated elephants, the grand procession – the six of us couldn’t wait to see it all.

My sister and brother-in-law flew in from Canada Friday at midnight and Sunday afternoon we were on the Tippu Express to Mysore. Sunday evening we joined throngs of people in front of Mysore Palace to watch traditional Indian dancing. The palace, lit with thousands of lights, made a wonderful backdrop.

Monday morning we were on our way to source out a spot to watch the grand procession. Along the way we happened upon many of the groups in the procession gathered in a courtyard. It was like being backstage at the biggest festival of the year – in fact I guess we were. It was a riot of sights, sounds and colors.

Drummers and dancers worked themselves into a frenzy perfecting their acts. Others added last minute touches to their makeup and costumes. Stilt walkers leaned against trucks and those dressed as Indian Gods and Goddesses got into character.
We wandered from group to group always greeted with big smiles. We were wowed with the costumes and creativity. Full body paint was used to turn one group into an amazing array of tigers and wild cats.

Some men in bright yellow turbans painted each other’s foreheads with three horizontal white lines– the sign of Shiva. Before we knew it they pulled us over and painted the same on us. We felt lucky to have experienced the magic of all these participants up close before the procession started.

As with all things in India there seems to be a balance. If the morning was magic, the afternoon could only be mayhem. The procession started in the early afternoon. We tried to get through the crowd but it soon turned into a mob, pushing in all directions. We held hands and retreated to a safe spot.

Oddly enough a small truck pulled up next to us with a few potato sacks in the back. The driver let us climb onto the open back and we could see the procession route. But a bunch of guys started to pile onto the truck. The weight was too much and it actually tipped backwards. The guys jumped off and the truck righted itself, but we all jumped down and back to our safe spot.

At that point we felt defeated. Three of us caught a rickshaw to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant for a good stiff drink. Well, Alanna had a coke, Lynn and I had the stiff drink. The others stayed and the only one who ended up seeing anything was Craig who got to sit on his Dad’s shoulders. But after a few floats and some of the almighty elephants they exited, worried about getting caught up in the mob at the end.

Magic or mayhem? Well, that’s obvious I guess. Not seeing the procession was a disappointment – it was mayhem. Next time I would see about buying tickets to view the procession in the stands on the palace grounds. But I would also want to talk to someone to make sure it is worth it and there is a good view.

Meeting the groups in the morning was a great experience. Everyone was so friendly and we couldn’t have been closer or got better pictures had we been in the front row of the procession. Luckily we had the magic of the morning to balance out the mayhem of the afternoon.

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