Let me begin with something basic that many Indians are unaware of. When I say Mysore, do you immediately think of Tipu Sultan? In that case, you should know that Tipu and his father Hyder Ali are just one small island in the ocean of the Wadiyar reign. The Wadiyars (sometimes spelt Wodeyar) were the Hindu kings of the Kingdom of Mysore. Starting with Yaduraya Wadiyar in 1399, they ruled Mysore almost uninterrupted right up to Independence. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan usurped power through military might and ruled Mysore from 1761 to 1799. Their colluding with the French thoroughly alarmed the East India Company, which ultimately defeated Tipu and restored the Wadiyars to the throne, albeit with a serious caveat. Large parts of the Kingdom had to be ceded to the English, and what remained became in effects a British dependency, with a Chief Commissioner, a.k.a. “resident” dictating much of the King’s decisions.
Right from its inception, Mysore has remained the capital of the Wadiyar Kings. There are multiple palaces still in existence around the city today, however “Mysore Palace” describes one specific structure, also known as the Amba Vilas Palace. The old palace that originally stood in this place was built of wood and got accidentally burnt down during the marriage of Jayalakshammanni, the eldest daughter of the King, Chamaraja Wadiyar, in 1897. Construction work on the present palace began in the same year and was completed in 1912 at the cost of 42 lakh rupees. Designed by British architect Henry Irwin, Mysore Palace is one of the most magnificent examples of the Indo-Saracenic school, which blends European and Indian architectural styles. If you look closely, you will find Gothic arches, Rajput windows, Islamic domes and minarets and Hindu temple-like ornamentation, all in the same building.
|Sri Shweta Varahaswamy Temple|
The best view of the Palace is from the Jayamarthanda Gate. However, entrance is from the Southern gate. The Jayamarthanda Gate is used only for ceremonial occasions, when the King’s procession leaves the Palace. The Coat of arms of the Mysore Royal family may be seen atop the Jayamarthanda Gate. The “Gandaberunda” a mythological, two-headed bird with special powers was used by many South Indian kingdoms in their coat of arms, and is seen here as well. Through the South gate, you will find the Palace surrounded by vast, well-kept grounds. Within the grounds are 8 temples, Kodi Bharravasvami Temple, the oldest Sri Lakshmiramana Swami Temple near the Western part of the fort, Sri Shweta Varahaswamy Temple near the South gate, Sri Trinayaneshvara Swami Temple on the banks of the Devaraya Sagar, Sri Prasanna Krishanswami temple, Kille Venkatramana Swamy Temple, Sri Bhuvaneshwari Temple near the Northern side of the Palace and finally the Sri Gayatri Temple, near the South Eastern corner. Around the Palace are also eight bronze tigers, which look like they are ready to pounce. These fierce and majestic sculptures were made by renowned British artist William Robert Colton in 1909.
|Mysore Coat of arms. Note Gandaberunda on shield.|
Photography within the grounds is permitted, but to enter the Palace itself, cameras must be deposited with security staff near the Southern gate. While a board says that this is a free service, the people at the counter demand tips. 10 to 20 rupees will usually suffice. Inside the palace, there is now a museum, containing relics from the royal family. There are also two durbar halls, a kalyan mandapam where royal weddings were held, and many many other things to see. Special devices containing audio narration, known as “narrow cast” are available and are much much better than a conventional guide. I recommend getting these devices from a counter designated for the purpose. Shoes must be removed and deposited in return for a token and a small fee as well. Intricately decorated doors made of solid silver, the magnificent royal portrait gallery, ornate howdas for elephants on which the King would sit, the royal armoury, there is much to see in the Palace, and it will take the better part of a day, perhaps even longer if you are a photographer. For children (and adults), there are elephant and camel rides as well, for a small fee. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, after regular palace timings, a light and sound show is held and on every Sunday night, as well as public holidays, Mysore Palace is illuminated with more than 90,000 lights, which is a sight to behold. Entry during this time is not permitted, but photography from outside is allowed.
- Although winter is a good time to visit Mysore, due to its elevation, Mysore enjoys beautifully mild weather all year round.
- The easiest way to reach Mysore is to take a flight to Bangalore. From Bangalore, Mysore may be reached in a couple of hours via train or one of Karnataka’s many and excellent and comfortable buses. If you do travel by train, remember to try the dosa, coffee and a sort of salty biscuit with roasted garlic which is sold by vendors.
- To avoid being fleeced by unscrupulous people at the Mysore Palace, check out this link.
- If you have a sweet tooth, the local sweet, Mysore Pak is an absolute must try. For the good stuff, try any branch of Mahalakshmi Sweets. Check out their official site, here.
- by Deepanjan Ghosh
I am grateful to my friend Prasenjit Das for being my guide and host around Mysore.