During the Vijayanagar period of South Indian history, which was essentially Hindu in character, it attained to great celebrity. As will be seen from what follows, the festival attracted wide attention during the 15th and succeeding centuries from European travelers, who, as now, were evidently much impressed with it. If one wants to get some idea of its old-world splendor, one must read their accounts and witness the festival as it is celebrated to-day in Mysore to realize how tradition is kept up in India. The Vijayanagar kings were warriors and conquerors in their days and they carried on the Hindu tradition of the Epic days to its fullest extent. It would seem that Mysore, which was connected for a long time with them, has inherited the tradition almost without a break. It is remarkable, in the first instance, that the festival should have been conducted in the same manner during the past so many centuries; so much at least we may infer from the fact that the description left to us a hundred year ago by a European officer might do service as a true picture of it at the present day. Enquiries show that there is no formal written record of what is to be done every year in connection with it.
This indicates the stability of oral tradition in India. The-details have been and are transmitted from generation to generation with that unfailing fidelity which is one of the marked characteristics of orthodox India. This, however, is only one aspect of this interesting festival. Leaving aside tradition, which Connects it with the Pandava brothers, there is the solid fact. that we have an interesting, though brief, description of it in the writings of that well-known old Italian traveler Nicolo Dei Conti who, if not the first to visit. the capital of the ancient Vijayanagar Kingdom, was at least the earliest we know of who has left a description of it to us. He travelled in Southern India about the year 1420 A.D., when the ruling king of that dynasty was Deva Raya. This was possibly the second of that name who ruled over far-famed Vijayanagar and he was not only a fighting monarch, but apparently one who indulged in external show and pomp. Despite-troubles on the frontier, he was well able to keep a splendid court, whirls shows how early ease and love of pleasure were sapping the foundations of the new Hindu Kingdom of the South. He was possibly the first to turn the old Pandava festival to account, a stroke of policy that must have endeared him to his-subjects and made him literally the upholder of ancient kingship. He was, so far as we now know, the first of his dynasty to be dignified with the Imperial title, and his new pomp may have had some connection with this. However that may have been, Nicole Dei Conti describes the festival, “which lasts for nine days,” and in his account makes it sufficiently clear that hook-swinging was quite an item of the daily programme. Happily it has now long been absent from Mysore Dasara annals. That the Italian did not invent the festival in his fertile brain is made clear by the account of the Persian ambassador, Abdur Razzak, who spent over seven months at the old Hindu capital between May and December 1443. He called it by its well-known alternative name of ” Maha Navami ” (or the Great Navami) and what is interesting is the importance he attaches to the throne, which, curiously enough, is the object in Mysore of the greatest veneration during the nine days of the festival. It is then that the Maharaja takes his seat upon it and in the whole year this is the only time that it can ordinarily be seen. The throne which Abdur Razzak saw ” was of extraordinary size, was made of gold, and enriched with precious stones of extreme value,” a description that may verbatim et literatim be applied to the pre-sent Mysore Maharaja’s throne, to get a glimpse of which thousands on thousands of all classes crowd on the tenth day of the festival. The details of the festival, too, were remarkably like those that we see today at Mysore. Girls were there in dazzling attire, dancing “behind a pretty curtain opposite the king”. There were countless performances given by jugglers, who displayed elephants marvelously trained. Fireworks, games and amusements of diverse sorts went on mm day to day, until on the last day the visitors were presented to the king. A more elaborate description of the festival appears in the Portuguese Chronicle of Nuniz, who visited the Vijayanagara capital during the height of its glory, about 1536 A.D. in the reign of Krishna Raya (1508-1530). It is interesting to note the origin he ascribes to the festival. “Some say,” he writes, “that they do this in honor of the nine months during which our lady bore her son in the womb; others say it is only done because at this time the captains (local chiefs) come to pay their rents to the king.” The former is possibly a Portuguese, missionary fabrication and the latter indicates doubt-less the political turn the festival was given during the height of Vijayanagar glory. His account further shows that the kings took the opportunity of this feast to bestow honors and presents. Even more elaborate and picturesque in the extreme is the description of the great festival given by Pies, another Portuguese traveler, who wrote about 1520, evidently from personal impressions derived on the spot. It extends to over sixteen pages of Mr. Sewell’s excellent work on the Vijayanagar Empire, and those who wish to get some idea of the splendor of this old-world feast ought to read it. One remark, however, might be made here and that is the partiality shown to the number nine in the details of the ceremony. The festival was of nine days’ duration, and several things relating to it were somehow connected with that number. Nine castles were raised before King’s palace for the occasion; and nine goats, nine buffaloes and nine sheep were sacrificed during its progress an item which advancing civilization happily has found it possible to dispense with in Mysore. In addition to gorgeous display the grand review of troops in which the old Hindu kings indulged at the close of the festival has survived to our own days, and the many shows that one sees to-day at Mysore strongly remind one of the picturesque details of old chroniclers, and of the scenes depicted with vigour and finish on medieval temple walls and the basements of pillared halls all over Southern India, which for three centuries and more was under Vijayanagar sway. One of the most extraordinary of these is to be found amongst the ruins of Hampi itself, which little feverish village marks the site of old Vijayanagar. This is the great ruined square platform, which is such a striking object of wonder and admiration, just to the north of the place known as the “Queen’s Bath”. It is apparently the place called the House of Victory by Peso and is described at length by Mr. Francis, in his District Gazetteer of Bellary. “The people know it now,” he writes, ” as the Dasara Dibba or Maha Navami Dibba (meaning the platform Dibba), used at the nine days’ feast called variously the Dasara, the Maha-navami or the Navaratri ‘nine nights’. Pies says it was called the House of Victory because it was built when Krishna Deva Raya came back from his victorious expedition against the King of Orissa (A.D.1513) and his description of the festivities of Dasara, of which this building was throughout the centre, is one of the most vivid parts of his chronicle. There was obviously originally another erection on the top of the square platform or terrace which is all that now remains. The series of carvings which run round this latter are (with the exception, perhaps, of some of the similar examples in the Hazara Ramaswami temple) the most spirited in all the ruins. Elephants, camels and horses alternate with wrestlers and boxers, scenes representing black-buck shooting and panther spearing and girls dancing…. As far as is known these mural sculptures are unique in Southern India, and they have been compared by Fergusson with some of Layard’s discovery in ancient Nineveh. On the ground close under the northern wall of the terrace lies a curious door cut (bolt-sockets and all) from one .stone, and paneled to represent wood. On the western side the building has been rather clumsily faced at a later date with a series of carvings in a fine grained green stone. This material admitted of much more delicate work than the granite, and the result is several excellent panels, notably one showing a tiger hunt and another an elephant which is turning and rending its mahouts. This green stone is not native to the city and must have been quarried elsewhere.” Sue’s is the festival, a festival grown grey with age and historical associations. What is stated above should explain, to some extent at least, the popular attraction that the festival exerts to this day. Popular imagination delights in asserting—and there appears in this something more than a particle of historical truth-that the present ruler of Mysore is the sole repository of the traditions of the great Vijayanagar dynasty, and that the old Vijayanagara throne (Spoken of in such glowing terms by the Italian traveler conti) continues in possession of the present Mysore family. Herein the historically inclined, no less than those merely enjoying a picturesque show that spreads itself joyously over nine days, will see the causes of the popularity of the Dasara festival at Mysore. It is festival of joy, peace and loving loyalty shown by the masses to their Sovereign Lord and King.