The Dasara Festival celebrated in the city of Mysore is of legendary magnificence and splendor. It is a celebration that has continued from the grandeur of the days of the Wodeyar kings.
A recurring motif in Indian art and architecture, elephants that symbolise wisdom and strength in Indian culture are strongly entwined with Mysuru Dasara since time immemorial. The earliest extant paintings of a Dasara procession show them occupying a pivotal position carrying the king. In modern times, they have the honour of carrying the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari on the day of the Vijayadashmi procession.
The stories of Dasara elephants itself is a matter of great fascination for the local population. The participant elephants over the years, and especially the maitre-d-procession (or the lead elephant, last ones named Biligiriranga, Rajendra, Drona, and Balarama) have become part of history and folk legends.
Most of these Dasara-elephants were caught by the elephant trainers via the Khedda operation. During the Wodeyar rule, the elephants thus caught were inspected in an open field for strength, personality, and character. The walking styles, weaknesses to seduction, the facial charisma were some of the factors considered for selection. Then the chosen elephants were trained for the festival. It is said that the king himself would overlook the training.
The maharaja riding atop an elephant on a golden throne is a hoary tradition in Mysuru. The elephants are an integral part of the celebration, and here is a brief introduction to the elephants of Mysore Dasara.
Arjuna- the howdah elephant
Arjuna was captured in 1968 during the khedda operation from the Kakanakote in Western ghats. After he was tamed, he is a regular member of Dasara celebrations. Arjuna has donned the lead role of carrying the howdah since 2012. He also shouldered the responsibility in 1999 after the death of Drona, the then howdah elephant. In 1996, when Arjuna was taken to Karanji lake for bathing Mahout Annaiah was trampled upon and the blame was trampled upon Arjuna, as he was known for bad temper. However, he was brought back back to Dasara camp in 20o1 and later took the responsibility of the howdah in 2012.
Balarama, who belongs to Titimati camp, is 58-years-old. He measures 2.7 meters in height and 3.7 m in length and has a relatively smaller frame when compared to Arjuna. Captured in 1987 from the Kattepura forests in Kodagu district, Balarama has been described as 'cool and sober' and has participated in Mysore Dasara on 18 occasions. He carried the golden howdah 13 times in a row.
While he lacks the charisma of Drona and Arjuna, it is said that he is a dependable elephant. He is said to be an introvert, and had to be provided special training so he can withstand the firing of canons that occurs during the festival.
Gajendra, who will join the group at the Mysore Palace, is from K. Gudi camp and has taken part in the Dasara on 17 occasions.
Along with Abhimanyu, he forms a formidable team to subdue wild elephants that stray into human landscape.
Gajendra is an expert in elephant fighting. They still use him to capture other wild elephants. One day they were chasing a wild elephant in the forest, but Gajendra gave up the chase at one particular spot. When people gathered, they discovered a man fallen unconscious at the spot. Gajendra had let go of wild elephant, but had saved a man.
The 51-year-old Abhimanyu is from Titimathi elephant camp and was captured in 1977 in Hebballa forest. A veteran of 15 Dasaras, Abhimanyu is vested with the responsibility of drawing the carriage carrying the palace musicians during the Vijayadashmi procession. He pulls the 30-foot-long cart with the police band artistes on board, during Jamboo Savari. Know for his no-nonsense approach.
But Dasara apart, Abhimanyu is an alpha male who brooks no nonsense in the jungles while subduing the rampaging wild elephants.
Always Abhimanyu has acted as a trouble shooter for forest officials whenever they faced problems on wild front. Abhimanyu is in the forefront to mend these wild pachyderms. For forest department officials Abhimanyu is 'king of forest, a trouble-shooter and a sort of assault rifle all rolled into one.
Vikrama of the second batch is participating for the 14th time in Dasara. He is making his debut as 'Pattada Aane' this year and will be part of the Dasara rituals in the palace by the royal family. He is 44 years old and was captured in Doddabetta forests in 1990.
Vijaya and Kaveri
Fifty-nine-year-old Vijaya is the gentlest of the lot. He was captured in Dubare forests in 1963. The other elephant is thirty-eight-year-old Kaveri, who weighs 3,152 kg.
Harsha has participated in the Dasara 16 times and is about 50 years old. He was also captured from the Doddabetta forests in 1990.
Prashanth, a 62-year old elephant participated in Dasara 11 times.
The youngest of the lot Gopalaswamy, who is 37 years old, has participated in Dasara five times. He was captured from Sakleshpur in 2009.
Thirty-five -year old Gopi has smade it to Dasara seventimes. He is used by the forest department for forestry works at Dubare during the off season.
The other elephants, including first-time participants in Dasara, Bheema, Krishna and Drona, Varalakshmi will be the 'Saalanes'.
Altogether thirteen elephants participated in the festival. Each one of them has to go through a rigid conditioning. At least two of them have to be female. The chief elephant is followed by a row of five elephants. There is one elephant dedicated to pull the chariot containing Karnataka police band. There are a lot of stories about the companion elephants as well.