The cynosure of all eyes, the 'Naada Habba' (Dasara Festival) in Mysuru is incomplete without the presence of 12 caparisoned elephants drawn from different elephant camps in Karnataka.
Watching the jumbos cover the 4.8 km procession route from Mysuru Palace to the Bannimantap torchlight parade ground will be a four lakh crowd or even more, of Dasara enthusiasts who converge here from across the state, country and the world over.
Etching traditional images on the massive torsos of the jumbos is not an ordinary task. Nagalingappa R Badiger, Hunsur-based make-up artist, who accidentally landed a unique drawing job - painting motifs on the Dasara elephants has been doing it since the past fifteen years.
Badiger and his team will beautify the elephants with their painting and Gandaberunda will occupy the place on pride on the elephants' trunk, while a conch will be drawn on the years and birds and creepers will adorn the legs of elephants.
Badiger and his team will be busy for 12 straight hours as they begin their task this year on the night of Ayudha Puja. Of the 12 hours, three hours are exclusively dedicated to Arjuna, the howdah elephant.
"Arjuna is the cynosure of the Dasara procession, so work on him should be done with precision. Therefore, we dedicate more time to him. We start painting Arjuna from 4.30 am on Vijayadashami day and complete it before 8 in the morning," Badiger explained.
"Paining on the massive animal was no ordinary feat. But over the years, I have become accustomed to it. Now I find the whole experience exhilarating," Badiger said.
The practice of beautifying the Dasara jumbos through paintings has been on since the period of Raja Wadiyar, who began the Dasara celebrations in 1610. Gandaberunda, an imaginary bird and the state insignia, was used by Maharajas of Mysore as they believed it is the symbol of justice. This bird is painted on the trunk of the elephant.
The make-up artists draw pictures of Shankha (conch), Chakra (the weapon of Lord Krishna) on the ears of the elephants.
Artists exaggerate eye lines and make bright flowers grow on legs and trunk. Forehead crescent symbolises Shiva, the Hindu god whose wife Durga once fought a terrible buffalo demon for 10 days.
The rear portion of the elephants are further beautified with pictures of parrots and snakes that are usually the size and the length of the elephant's tail. Various beautiful sketches are drawn on the other body parts of the elephants, purely to enhance the exquisiteness of the elephants, as they take to the streets on the day of Vijayadashami.
To make them look bright and shine, the artists use chemical-free bright colours (white, red, green, yellow, orange) for the illustrations.