The traditional Royal Dasara celebrations continue in the princely city of Mysuru, thanks to the efforts of Her Highness. Maharani Pramoda Devi opens up in an exclusive interview with RITZ Magazine on her work behind the scenes in maintaining the many palaces she owns, the Dasara celebrations in October and what keeps her going.
BY NAMITA GUPTA
She was living in the shadow of her husband, Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, the 26h maharaja of the Kingdom of Mysuru for almost four decades of her married life. The royal duo made an adorable couple every year when they welcomed guests during the Dasara celebrations and during the birthday celebrations. His Highness left us for heavenly abode in December 2013 leaving behind a legacy that Her Highness Pramoda Devi is carrying forward. Born and brought up in Mysuru, she was second cousin of the Mysore Maharaja. Her mother-in-law liked her and that’s how the couple had an arranged marriage and the two complemented each other perfectly. Lovers of art, culture and jewellery, they shared moments of togetherness on their various travels exploring art galleries, jewellery auctions etc where His Highness would shower her with jewellery of her choice. He also loved to read and has an extensive library in the palace, besides a keen love for cricket.
1. How many years since you’ve been part of the biggest Dasara celebrations in India in your home city Mysuru?
I’ve been part of the Dasara celebrations since my marriage in 1976. My mother-in-law passed away in 1982 and thereafter I have been involved in preparations for the Dasara. We start the Dasara preparations well in advance and everything is on auto mode now. We have made a check list and we follow it to perfection. Our private royal traditional rituals continue to be the same. The only change is that my husband is not there. Celebrations of Dasara festival meant conducting certain religious rituals and we have never tried to attach any glamour to it. My husband performed the Dasara rituals with perfection. He’s irreplaceable. The era ended with him and I feel a void every single day and it can never be the same without him. There was no compulsion or pressure of any sort on me from anybody as my husband was very clear on how we should live our life, but I took a conscious decision to carry forward the religious legacy, particularly Dasara and Navarathri puja and follow them how they used to be in those days. Dasara is one of the important festivals for us and we have been celebrating it as was being done privately and according to our religious customs.
2. Please share some more details on the preparations for the puja and the Dasara rituals that you follow?
We celebrate Dasara for ten days and there is a prescribed way of doing the puja. On the first day an oath is taken with tying of kankana to observe all the religious rituals in connection with festivities on all the ten days. On the sixth or seventh day depending on the star position, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped, on the seventh or eighth day again based on the star of the day, after special prayers to Goddess Chamundeshwari, symbolic slaying of Mahishasura is performed (Kalarathri). As you know, it is the celebration of victory of good over evil. It is believed to be the day Goddess Chamundeshwari (Durga) killed the demon Mahishasura, the demon whose slaying by the Goddess gave the city the name Mysuru. On the ninth day Ayudha (weapons) puja, including puja to the Royal swords is observed. On the tenth day, cutting of a pumpkin, a ritual to signify offering to the sword and other Ayudhas is observed. Simultaneously a unique wrestling performance named Vajramushti kalaga is organised. Soon after this, Ayudhas are carried to one of the temples within the fort to be placed under Shamee Tree for worship seeking blessings for victory over evil. This is referred to as Vijaya Yatre and Vijaya Dashami marks the conclusion of Dasara Festivities.
Clothes: Women wear grand traditional sarees embellished with gold and silver zari and men wear long coat over trousers, a sort of long loose sache and a turban.
Food preparations include festival food, offerings to Goddess Chamundeshwari includes five types of rice, five varieties of sweets and savouries and variety of vegetables, payasam, papad etc., we have a special menu in larger quantity for Kalarathri evening to appease the Goddess. We also follow the custom of keeping traditional dolls.
3. What else are you doing to take the Maharaja’s legacy forward?
I’m living my husband’s dreams. He was enthusiastic and ambitious and wanted to do many things. Now that he’s not around I’m trying to do my best in continuing from where he left, especially with restoration of buildings, like Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore Palace and Bangalore Palace. He had visualised things in a certain way and he used to share and debate with me.
4. How tough has it been for you after His Highness left us?
It’s been very difficult times, I inherited beautiful assets but it was tough to maintain all that. It was make or break situation for me and It took a while for me come to terms with my emotions and the circumstances. Now I keep myself busy with work which I enjoy immensely and derive lot of satisfaction. I have set up a Foundation in my husband’s name, main objectives of which concerns Heritage, Art and Culture. Currently I am busy with the restoration and refurbishment of Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Housed in Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore which boasts of art collection by four generations including my husband. I’m motivated with the thought that I’m doing whatever my husband had envisioned and that keeps me inspired. His endearing personality, knowledge and attitude towards life and maintaining relationships was heart warming and commendable.
5. Do you still design the royal fashion collection that you used to with His Highness?
I still design the Royal collection but not on the same scale as it was in his times. I’m not as active as I used to be as far as designing is concerned, but it’s still there and most of the collection is picked up by members of our family.
6. Do you advice your son Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar and daughter-in-law Trishika Kumari on how to follow the family traditions?
I like to advice my son and daughter-in-law only when my advice or suggestion is sought and solicited.