Posts Tagged ‘Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar’

How the Maharajas shaped Mysore & Mysoreans

11 December 2013






The rest of democratic India that is Bharat—indeed, the rest of Karnataka that is not Mysore and Bangalore—will not understand the fuss over the passing of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the last link to the rajas and maharajas of Mysore, who lorded over a tiny five-star kingdom for 614 years.

Although Srikantadatta’s own role, even as a member of Parliament, may have been infinitesimal in the republican era, the imprint that the benign and benevolent royals left on generations of Mysoreans is immense: in our education, in our arts and culture, in our attitudes, in our palaces, roads, gardens and clubs.

Here, one grateful 22-carat Mysorean pays a 21-gun salute.




Mysore of the 1970s when I was growing up as a young boy.

There was an air of well-proportioned dignity to it; a rare kind of regality; a sense of easy sophisticated charm; in the quietude and tranquilLity that pervaded the air like a gossamer thin veil, a kind of strange allure that no other place in the rest of Karnataka possessed.

It showed in its beautifully laid out streets; quiet, broad, tree-lined, leafy and handsome. And in the magnificent but slightly dulled mansions of Lakshmipuram with their delicate fountains, more often than not with the statuette of Lord Krishna, standing with his right leg elegantly over his left and a flute to his lips.

In the bungalows of Vontikoppal with their bougainvillea-smothered porticos, where invariably stood in grand aloofness, a car, mostly either a stately black Ambassador or an Austin of indeterminable vintage, a subtle indication of a certain exaltedness.

And in the greying grandioseness of the homes of the privileged. European in style and dimensions, with their wood latticed windows and many structured floors, their green gardens with red geranium creepers hanging from moss covered earthen pots in the balconies.

In Nazarbad and on the rain-tree lined street leading up to that white beauty of splendid stature, the Lalitha Mahal palace, nestling under the imposing omniscience of the Chamundi Hill.

Inside these mansions could be found Mysore style paintings in gold.

Paintings of goddess Chamundi, astride on a lion.

Or a beautiful swing with its ivory in-lay showing delicate flowers and mango motifs.

Or a rattan sofa.

Or a teak or a rose wood one, with its cushions in cream and white.

The massive black head of a gaur or a chital with its huge antlers fixed to the walls around, trophies from a long concluded hunt in the awesome jungles of Bandipur or Kakanakote, not too far from Mysore.

Mysore was unique.

A kind of baby of the Wodeyars, the kings of the dynasty that ruled for an impossibly long 600 and odd years. A baby born into serious privilege. A baby that had everything laid out for it.

Mysore was like none other. For sure. The Maharajas showered it with the kind of luxurious abundance that no other town or city in the state could ever imagine.

So fascinatingly royal in its demeanour and style.

So laid back and mellow.

So very easy in its manner.

The Mysorean was a gentle, soft-spoken, easy-going kind of man for whom the din and tumult of a Bangalore or Bombay was anathema; a kind of culture shock which left him dumb founded.

Not to him the mindlessness of heavy traffic, not to him the frenzied pace of business, not to him the rush hours of life where clambering on to a bus or a train defines the difference between success and failure.

To the Mysorean, life was almost always meant to be an unhurried, relaxed, quiet and elaborate repast. And even to this day, it is largely so.

At the many social clubs that you find in the city. All set up by the Maharajas.

Like the Cosmopolitan Club, the Narasimharaja Sports Club, the Race Club and the Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Club. Where many an evening has been spent observing intellectuals discussing and debating weighty matters of scholarship and the casual gentry deliberating on the timing of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement!

Over soothing glasses of scotch of course!

The royals of Mysore gave to the city a kind of atmosphere where there could be seen a sense of luminous exuberance in the general affairs of existence.

The impact of the Maharajas could be felt everywhere. In the manner in which stood the royal palace built out of fine grey granite in the heart of the city with its deep pink marble domes, under whose amazing arches on the day of Vijayadashami, erstwhile Maharajas climbed on to the magnificently caparisoned royal elephant with its shimmering silks and glistening ivory tusks covered in a sheath of shiny gold.

In the slightly standoffish seclusion of the Rajendra Vilas palace in the distance, perched like an eagle’s nest at the edge of the Chamundi Hill where not too many Mysoreans ventured, even when it was being run as a luxury hotel.

In the red turrets of the Gun House next to the main palace, a tony bar and restaurant in the early 80’s, where you found some exquisite continental fare served by liveried waiters in an atmosphere of absolute mellowness, to the accompaniment of cool, soft, easy English numbers sung by a portly singer called Saby who rode an old but well preserved Yezdi to work.

In its culture of music concerts during Rama Navami and Dasara. Where some of the greatest and the most accomplished of singers and instrumentalists from around the country felt it a singular honour to perform.

In the manner in which the University was shaped. Where some of the brightest and most sharp minds came to teach. Like Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a professor of philosophy at the Maharaja’s College, then one of the most revered institutions of learning in the country.

Like Professors J.C. Rollo, A.B. Mackintosh, W.G. Eagleton, B.M. Srikantaiah and S.V. Ranganna.

Inside whose classrooms with their teak wood tables and benches sat, as students, the likes of M.N. Srinivas, H.Y. Sharada Prasad, T.S. Satyan, ‘VeeneDoreswamy Iyengar, R. K. Narayan, U.R. Anantha Murthy, P. Lankesh, Kuvempu, Ta.Su. Shama Rao, G.S. Shivarudrappa; the list of the great and the prodigious can go on.

The campus housing the departments of higher learning, so poetically named Manasagangotri.

Where stands, sentinel like, the Jayalakshmi Vilas palace, that takes you back even now, to the time of the 1800s, when Mysore was a tiny little town cocooned in kingly warmth; a reminder of the munificence of the royal family which gifted hundreds of acres of their personal property for the cause of setting up these post graduate schools of learning as they exist today, amidst a profusion of greenery and wooded bliss.

Where apart from students, you find walkers and exercisers of all shapes and sizes, willingly getting their daily fix of muscle toning activity. A lung space so beautiful and leafy, it could perhaps be compared to the ones in the universities in distant England, especially after the cricket ground named Gangotri Glades, one of the prettiest in the whole country, was developed!

As the orange hued flames begin to lick the sandalwood pyre of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, veritably the last of the royals of Mysore, the mind stills and the heart aches.

Perhaps in the deep longing for the Mysore that his ancestors created and left behind or in the feeling that all good things, as the old line goes, shall never last forever.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: My daddy, His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore

Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

When Bishen Bedi bowled from the Maharaja College end

Mutton chops, mudde and saaru with Srikantadatta Wodeyar

The maharaja’s elephant that made me a photographer

Rama, Rama rajya, and Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar

Why the Maharani sold her diamonds and jewels

The policeman who stopped the Maharaja

Wodeyar got more than what he leaves behind

11 December 2013

Photo Caption

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar (third from left) with his wife Pramodadevi (third from right), and his sisters (file photo)

As Mysore observes a spontaneous bandh, as plebs and celebs spill platitudes, as newspapers and TV channels plunge into panegyrics, Dr Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi of the department of history at the Karnataka state open University provides a much-needed critique of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the last scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore, in The Indian Express:

“Wodeyar’s more notable public preoccupation in the last decade had been the legacy of his family. He spiritedly contested a script written by Lingadevaru Halemane, a Marxist playwright and linguist, which was to be used for a “sound and light” show at the Mysore palace.

“Wodeyar contended that his family’s history and accomplishments ought to be highlighted as the singular factor in creating modern Mysore.

“He demanded that everything else, including the contributions of people such as Sir M Visvesvaraya or the history of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, be deleted from this hour-long show. Halemane’s script was altered several times but Wodeyar wasn’t satisfied.

“Even though the “sound and light” show has been occasionally held, it hasn’t become a permanent feature at the Mysore palace. Wodeyar’s resistance has been a determining factor.

“Wodeyar’s inheritance was immense. His legacy isn’t. His royal counterparts from northern Indian states have had greater success both in politics and especially in business. Such success may have eluded him but in Mysore he remained a simple, decent but significant presence, especially during the annual Dasara celebrations.”

Read the full article: Mysore ‘last prince’

Also read: Tell the full, fair, undistorted story: Wodeyar

Srikantadatta Wodeyar: part of Mysore’s royal history or not?

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar: RIP

10 December 2013

Photo Caption

At the ‘Khaas Durbar’ during Dasara in Mysore, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar ascends the golden throne for the rituals

KPN photo

During Dasara in Mysore, Mr Wodeyar wears the royal attire and is escorted to and from the rituals with the pomp and glory of bygone days

KPN photo

During Dasara in Mysore, Mr Wodeyar wears the royal attire and is escorted to and from the rituals with the pomp and glory of bygone days


During Navaratri, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar himself conducted some of the poojas in the main Amba Vilas Palace


Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar poses in front of the Bangalore Palace in this file picture

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Mr Wodeyar, with his rival turned friend Brijesh Patel (second from right) after his election to the Karnataka State Cricket Association recently


Mr Wodeyar with his wife Pramodadevi Wodeyar

churumuri records with deep regret the passing away of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the scion of the erstwhile royal kingdom of Mysore, in Bangalore on this the 10th day of December, 2013. He was 61 years old, and is survived by his wife, Pramodadevi. The Wodeyars have no natural heir.

Mr Wodeyar, was the son of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, the last maharaja of Mysore. And as the “erstwhile prince”, he remained the last tangible link with the City’s royal past, playing a key role in the conduct of the ten-day Dasara celebrations each year.

A two-time former Congress member of Parliament from Mysore (who also fought and lost on the BJP ticket), Mr Wodeyar had been elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) only last week. He played cricket for Mysore University during his college days.

Mr Wodeyar, who suffered from weight problems, had been unwell and greeted KSCA members upon his election, sitting down.

File photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: My daddy, His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore

Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

Mysore’s three richest families—after Srikantadatta Wodeyar

When Bishen Bedi bowled from the Maharaja College end

Mutton chops, mudde and saaru with Srikantadatta Wodeyar

Where on earth is Bangara Doddi Naale?

Another petty ending to a ‘world-famous’ Dasara

19 October 2013

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K. JAVEEN NAYEEM writes: No you have not read me wrong and I have not made a mistake in what I have written. I did say ‘petty’ and not ‘pretty’. This year’s Dasara may have been a pretty show especially with its new eco-friendly, LED lighting which stood out as something uniquely different from what we had all seen in the past.

But I cannot help feeling that this year it also became a festival of petty squabbling.

Yes, it was nothing but that, between politicians and bureaucrats, between the real power-keepers and Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the virtual symbol of royal power and between the Kavadis, the elephant-keepers, and the administration which owns the elephants.

Just before the grand finale this year, there was an ugly and much publicised stand-off between our elected representatives on one side and the deputy commissioner and the police commissioner on the other, over the issue of free passes. I can only say that these kinds of confrontations look very undignified and amount to washing very dirty linen in full public view and media glare.

Issues like these should be settled and sorted out in some official privacy well in time without finding a mention in the press.

In a show with limited seating capacity I do not see why hordes of supporters of politicians should be given free access to have a ringside view while all those who elect them to power are denied a decent seat despite paying through their noses to have it reserved. I agree that in a ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ set-up there is nothing much one can do to get rid of such despicable things but there has to be a limit to this kind of madness.

Politicians should make it known to their fans that too many free passes will only deprive access to that many guests and therefore this kind of largess cannot be accommodated beyond a reasonable measure.

It is a very well-known fact that year after year we find many holders of VIP Passes and even Gold Cards arriving at the torch light parade venue only to find their seats already occupied by gate-crashers who simply refuse to vacate them despite intervention by the police personnel.

I have myself seen many foreign tourists simply going away in disgust at not being able to get any assistance from the officers who are posted there to prevent such occurrences. Such incidents will only give much negative publicity that only negates our efforts to popularise our Dasara across the globe.

Many mega-events similar to our Dasara are held all over the world every year but we do not see the slightest disorder in the way they are conducted. It is time we learnt to maintain some semblance of order here too. But now this remark of mine should not mean that we should immediately dispatch a delegation to study how it is done there!

A thing that we have been seeing regularly over the past few years is the sulking of the scion of the royal family. By either refusing to allow public display of the royal throne or lending the golden howdah for the procession, he behaves like an over-pampered child who craves for attention knowing very well that these two artefacts are required for the Dasara every year.

Although we have all heard of elephants having tantrums, these days we have been noticing their keepers too being afflicted by this malady. The mahouts and kavadis now regularly resort to arm-twisting tactics to get some extra attention and perks during the Dasara which is the only time when they can flaunt their importance. This is nothing but blackmail.

Knowing that their job is unique in that the government simply cannot find substitutes to manage the elephants which are indispensable symbols of the Mysore Dasara, they choose to go on a strike for the silliest of reasons like not being allowed into the palace grounds through a particular gate.

All this, despite our government bowing down to really comic levels to keep their ego flying high, like getting the State health minister himself to massage their backs or the district-in-charge Minister to serve them food while the media covers and comments on everything they do like having their haircuts and baths before the final day.

While it takes people from many other professions like carpenters, gardeners, sweepers, painters, drivers, tailors, folk artistes and policemen to make the Dasara possible, I wonder why only the mahouts, kavadis and their children should get all the attention and special treatment?

It is time someone made them understand that as paid government employees it is their duty to see that they work cheerfully in a spirit of mutual co-operation with all others.

We all take pride in calling the Dasara a ‘world famous festival’ and yet no one responsible for showcasing it thinks of providing its telecast a proper English commentary in at least one channel for the benefit of all the non-Kannadigas who watch the show on the television or the net.

Although many channels relayed the footage of the Dasara procession and the commentators repeatedly drew attention to the fact that the show was being watched live round the world, not a single one of them thought it proper to provide even subtitles in English.

Should we not ensure that the millions of non-Kannadiga viewers too understand what is happening when they are shown the different activities related to the festival and what the different tableaux and troupes in the procession represent? As hosts of Dasara festivities should we not ask ourselves if we can afford to be so indifferent to the needs of others whom we invite as our guests at the grandest and the biggest festival of our State?

(K. Javeen Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore where the full version of this piece appeared)

Photograph: A stilt-walker at the Dasara procession on the final day of Dasara 2013 in Mysore (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: What is so “world-famous” about Mysore Dasara?

When Bedi bowled from Maharaja’s College end

22 April 2013

Bishen Singh Bedi and Eknath Solkar being taken around in an open-topped jeep in front of the Mysore Palace, circa 1981

Sandeep Patil, Kirti Azad and Dilip Vengsarkar on Ashoka Road, as the cricket caravan approaches Janata Bazaar

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes from Mysore: Recently, I was invited to be part of a group that is trying to raise funds for Pratham Mysore, the highly respected NGO that has helped improve the state of education in our country.

Pratham Mysore has popularised the Balawadi pre-school programme where they pick a few volunteers in a community who are educated till class 10 and above and request them to educate the poor pre-schoolers in their areas. They also have many other programmes, the important one being the bridge programme in both rural and poor urban areas where they teach government school children after school hours.

So far in Mysore, Pratham has successfully delivered education programmes to around 15,000 poor pre-school and primary students in Mysore and surrounding districts.

So it turned out that they wanted my inputs and some publicity to raise some funds to create and support 212 new education centres in rural areas of Mysore. They already manage 182 such centres!

After much discussion it was decided that just like how dinners are hosted to raise money for a cause in the west, we would try to have a gala dinner for which people would pay a premium as there would be some celebrities and in a cricket-crazy nation where cricketers are demigods, the chance of having dinner while hearing stories straight from the horses’ mouths—or shall we say demi-gods’ lips—would be a chance no cricket lover could pass up; especially when there are only 200 invites which would make the interaction more intimate.

So, who would grace the gala that would attract some money?

Ashvini Ranjan who heads Pratham Mysore and is also now the Mysore zone chairman of Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA), confirmed that our own City’s son Javagal Srinath (KSCA’s secretary) and son-in-law Anil Kumble (KSCA president) would participate.

It was also thought that may be these two could also bring in Rahul Dravid with them, and a few more.

Just then, Ashvini Ranjan mentioned in passing how in 1981 they managed to convince a few top Indian national cricket team players to come to Mysore for an exhibition match to raise funds for a Lions school and how once the senior players were convinced, they in turn roped in other national players.

This was impressive and I was curious.

How did a group of smalltown men manage to get 16 members from the national team to our little City in 1981 for fund-raising ?! I pressed for more and the story I heard was worthy of a recount which held many lessons in celebrity-driven fund-raising and dedicated social service.


Here is the story Ashvini Ranjan told me:

It seems, in 1981 the Lions Club of Mysore West wanted to build a school and had to raise some funds.

The Club had many enthusiastic members and among them was R. Vasu, one of the partners of Cycle Brand Agarbathies who was very interested in cricket and well-networked in those circles. He came up with the idea of an exhibition cricket match between two teams each with a heavy mix of Indian national players!

Yes, indeed, an audacious idea for that time, and even today. Soon he and the other Lions decided they would have two teams each with a mix of national players, State players and two local players.

After many months of phone calls and umpteen visits to Bangalore, Vasu along with the other Lions managed to convince the core Indian players—then it was Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, G.R. Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel, Bishan Singh Bedi and Roger Binny.

They, in turn, managed to convince others to come with them to play a day of cricket for a good cause.

As soon as all the cricketers confirmed, air tickets were booked and it was communicated to them that a 42-seater luxury bus would be waiting for them at the Bangalore airport to bring them to Mysore.

On the faithful day the bus left for Bangalore airport while the Lions Club members waited in front of Mysore Palace to give them a grand welcome. Late afternoon as the bus approached, the Lions members were excited and waited for the demi-gods to alight from the bus… but only Sandeep Patil and his girlfriend were on the bus!

What happened to the rest?

The members were soon informed by Patil that the others decided that they would come in private taxis and leisurely they started arriving one by one. Though the organisers were worried about the taxi expenses they were relieved that the players had arrived.


The players were put up at the luxurious Rajendra Vilas Imperial Palace hotel atop the hill.

That night, they were felicitated at Lalitha Mahal Palace hotel with small elephant statues after which they left for their round of beers.

Next day, they were taken on a procession around the City, which attracted huge crowds and generated so much publicity for the exhibition match that the next day all tickets were sold out, even though a ticket cost a princely sum of Rs. 100.

Also, since there was no cricket stadium with cover or seating, the members managed to have covered seating using coconut branches and bamboo for 15,000 people at Maharaja’s ground. No mean feat.

With tickets sold out, passes given out to keep government officials happy, turf pitch ready, all seemed perfect for the match the next day.

And then the unthinkable happened: That night it poured and poured.

The next morning the pitch was soaked leaving the organisers with an unplayable drenched pitch. With the turf gone, match delayed and the 15,000 strong crowd growing restless by the minute, the organisers began their hunt for the only alternative — a cricket mat.

Finally a mat was tracked down, and the person renting it knew the organisers’ predicament and charged them an arm and a leg. He charged them Rs. 3,500, a ransom in 1981.

Soon the match was on and it poured again… this time it poured sixers from Sandeep Patil’s bat. Who won? Well, now no one quite remembers for sure. But they all remember that Sandeep Patil hit such huge sixers that they lost two cricket balls.

As Ashvini Ranjan recalls, “We had so much fun that we never bothered about who won. Guess cricket won that day.” With that Mysoreans had witnessed legends in action.

Mission accomplished… or so the organisers thought.

Later, that night, the players were hosted for dinner at the Mysore Palace by Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, with live music. Players like Eknath Solkar sang and did a solo dance much to the delight of everyone present.

The following day the players were to leave, but a handful of them stayed back. They supposedly said they loved the weather of the City and loved the location of their hotel atop the hill so much that they wanted to stay a few more days. But many organisers now say, the players seemed to have enjoyed their beer much, much more than the weather.

In the end after a week of cricket drama, the Lions Club which had invited national players to raise funds for their ambitious school project had managed to collect Rs. 3.5 lakh by way of ticket sales and sponsorships.

All good? Not really.

It seems by the time the cricketers had left and by the time the organisers had paid for their air ticket, the bus that brought just one couple, taxis, the mat, mementoes, beer, food and stay, the Lions Club was left with… just Rs. 18,000! The dream of a school was back to the pavilion.

To add, the free passes they gave to the government officials had eaten into their fund-raising budget substantially.

It seems the cricketers had left feeling high, while leaving the organisers completely dry.


While the Lions members were left lost, the then divisional commissioner and CITB Chairman M.P. Prakash, who heard of the debacle, felt bad and offered the Club one-and-half acres of land in Gokulam for the school and told them that for the time being, they can pay the Rs. 18,000 as down payment and the rest they must pay on time in installments.

The club members gladly agreed and today, Gokulam Lions School sits on a two-acre land with a student strength of 650. What 16 Indian cricketers could not do, an understanding, kind and good bureaucrat did. This shows the power bureaucrats have and the good they can do with it.

Today, the 1981 batch of Lions West members laugh at how they lost all their money to the players’ extravaganza, but they still thank the cricketers for generating great publicity which later helped them raise funds to build the school.

After I heard this story, I couldn’t help but ask if Ashvini Ranjan had any photographs of the event so our older readers could reminisce and younger readers could delight themselves.

As expected, Ashvini Ranjan shared the photos adding “Such memories are to be shared, not copyrighted or put away.”

In fact even the photos of this event has a story. It seems the organisers were so disheartened after the event, that they forgot all about the photographs and six months later it arrived in a box at the then Lions Club President Ashvini Ranjan’s house who kept it safely and after a while started gifting it to people who were in the photographs as memorabilia on their birthday or special occasions.

Yes, Ashwini Ranjan and the supporters of Pratham like myself, will once again try to rope in cricketers to raise money, publicity and good will for a good cause. This time, instead of cricket, it will be over good food. But we are also aware and take comfort in the fact that unlike yesterday’s cricketers who had time, for today’s cricketers time is money and they have no time to sit around enjoying beer and good weather.

So there is no way Srinath, Kumble, Dravid and others will get high and leave us dry.

The event has been scheduled for 7th of July 2013 and there are only 200 gala dinner tickets. The cost of the tickets will be announced in the coming weeks. This is a chance to meet, talk and ask whatever you want with the living cricket legends, or if you just like to donate you can contact Pratham through or call Ph: 0821-2412612 or if you just want to have good food and good company you can sit at the table with yours truly and consume a bit of politics, a little bit of art and culture and a large dose of dirty jokes and a fair amount of happy spirit.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)



The “super-sopper” deployed at the Maharaja’s College grounds, on the morning of the match

Gundappa Viswanath and Bishen Singh Bedi go out to toss on a rain-marred wicket


Srikantadatta Narasimha Wodeyar is introduced to the two teams, as B.S. Chandrashekhar, Sandeep Patil, Ravi Shastri and local legend, “Tiger” Prabhakar of Ideal Jawa (third from right, in a skull cap), look on


Sandeep Patil with Wodeyar


“Tiger” Prabhakar, Vishy, Anshuman Gaekwad, Chandra and Roger Binny spill some beers (above); Vengsarkar, Kirti Azad (below)


Bishen Bedi with Vishy at the “Sports Club” party

Eknath Solkar, who batted and fielded with a scooter helmet, shakes a leg

Mudde, saaru & mutton chops with the Maharaja

15 December 2012

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What other people eat—and how, and how much—has long been an object of human fascination; increasingly so in the age of the modern media, where food is the new sex, something you can ogle at, ooze over, fantasise and salivate about, all with your clothes on and without once touching or coming close to the piece de resistance.

The former India Today and CNN-IBN journalist Neha Prasada nee Seth has just done a lavishly produced coffee table book on how the blue blooded amongst us, i.e. the Rajas and Maharajas, did what every mortal must. Titled ‘Dining with the Maharajas‘ (Roli Books, Rs 4,000), the book captures the social history of the royal culinary traditions.

# Like, how the maharani of Tripura liked four different types of cuisine at one meal.

# Like, how the Nizam of Hyderabad, a lover of jalebi, had the size of his poison increased three times when advised by doctors that he could consume only three of them due to diabetes.

# Like, when Motilal Nehru was sent to Allahabad jail by the British, Mohammed Amir Ahmad Khan of the Mahmudabad princely family sent him biryani with a bottle of champagne to keep him going during his imprisonment.

At the hands of Neha Prasada and the photographer Ashima Narain, the high tables of the kingdoms of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Jodhpur, Mahmudabad, Patiala, Rampur, Tripura, Sailana and Udaipur are laid out. Also starring is the royal family of Mysore, in which Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar waxes eloquent on bisi bele baath. Excerpts:



As you travel to the south of India, your route will take you through dense plantations rich with fragrant cardamoms and cloves, spicy peppercorns, pungent red chillies, aromatic cinnamon, and bay leaves. This trail heavy with spices will lead you to the state of Karnataka, which boasts of one of India’s largest spice industries and at one time was part of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore.

This ancient land rich in tradition and culture has been ruled by the Wadiyar dynasty since 1399. Interestingly with each change in regime, Mysore’s palate has changed and imbibed new flavours.

From the second century to the third century AD, the state predominantly had a cuisine particular to the ruling Buddhists. Power changed hands when the Buddhists were defeated by the Jains in a debate and the Kannada Jain community held sway over everything including food habits in Mysore.

Finally it was in the tenth century that Hindu kings wrested power under the leadership of Shankaracharya and have continued to rule the kingdom.

The present representative of the Wadiyar Dynasty, Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja wadiyar explains, ‘With new influences coming in through foreign traders like Arabs, coupled with the decline of Vijaynagara, Muslim flavours were introduced and adapted by us. We added non-vegetarian dishes and new styles of cooking to our cuisine.”

New flavours were imbibed under the cultural influence of the Bahmani kings who were of Persian descent and rulers from Tamil Nadu who controlled the Deccan at different points in time….


The Mysore royal family with its over 300-year-old food tradition has always treated food as much more than mere sustenance.

Says the 59-year-old custodian of this ancient family, ‘The basis of our food philosophy is that the five elements of nature which include the sky, wind, water, earth, and fire are involved in growing food. The human body needs these elements to keep functioning, thus food is the fuel of life.’

Ancient texts like the Paka Shastra, which elaborate on the art of cooking, were followed by the chefs of the royal kitchens. This knowledge was further passed down to future generations that served in the royal household.

‘These texts did not just tell you what to eat but how and when to eat it. For example, the vessels that were used to make the food had to be made of certain metals, which have beneficial properties when mixed with food,’ says Wadiyar.

Food was cooked and served in vessels made of copper and brass. Interestingly copper was also a safeguard for the royal family because if poison were added to the food, the copper would turn green. These texts also outlined the properties of each herb and spice that went into every recipe.

He explains, ‘We had separate cooks for the zenana or female quarters of the palace and separate for the mardana or male quarters because of recipes and ingredients prescribed in the texts were different for men and women.’

While ingredients like green cardamoms were used liberally in dishes prepared for women because it increased their fertility, mace was added to the recipes for the men because it boosted virility. Then there are recipes, which were medicinal in intent.

‘Curd and rice was recommended for cooling the body. Even now when elephants are in heat, this is included in their diet,’ he explains.

The palace kitchens were staffed with 150 chefs who cooked only vegetarian dishes and 25 chefs who cooked only non-vegetarian dishes. Each group was further divided into Muslim and Hindu cooks with their own special skill sets.

There were another twenty Brahmin cooks who had a separate kitchen, which was kept clean from meat, fish, poultry, and tamasic vegetables like onions and garlic. These Pandit chefs prepared the food for all religious ceremonies.

‘These cooks continued to serve the family loyally generation after generation. I believe that not even the best cooking school in the world can match up to the knowledge and experience you imbibe when born in a family of cooks,’ observes Wadiyar. He adds, ‘The cooks had their work cut out for them. Every day at least twenty people at in the mardana and twenty-five in the zenana. Also a minimum of twenty-five different dishes had to be served at any given meal’ .


In comparison, his diet is meagre and restricted to fruits and steamed ragi balls on most days. Wadiyar who is a self-confessed foodie has become extremely health conscious over the past few years and is particular about keeping his weight in check.

However, once in a while he does like to treat himself to local Mysore cuisine and his favourites include masala chops, cold mutton roast, and bisi bele bhat (rice cooked with lentils and vegetables).

Wadiyar remembers his thread ceremony, which is one of the most important rituals in a young Hindu boy’s life as he enters adulthood. He was ten years old at the time.

He recalls, ‘Two thousand visitors came from all over for my thread ceremony to Mysore, besides the 3000 local guests. The celebrations went on for three days where on the first and second day pure vegetarian food in great variety was served. Finally on the last day two banquets were organised. There was a reception for the foreigners in the Lalitha Mahal Palace where the menu included European food, while the second banquet was for the Indian rulers where local delicacies were served….


During the summer months between April and May, the family would move to Fernhills Palace in the hill station of Ooty. The highlight of the season was the famed fox hunt organised by the Mysore royals, which was attended by royal families across India and British officers.

Relates Wadiyar, ‘For three generations my great grandfather, my grandfather, and my granduncle had the distinction of being the hunt masters for these meets. Each day at the beginning of the hunt a lavish breakfast would be organised at Fernhills Palace. After a day of chasing the fox, the participants would ride back for a late lunch where both local Indian and European food was served.’

The family’s hunting camps were famous and attracted many keen sportsmen from the royal families of India.

‘We would set up camp for almost 600 people at our hunting lodge in Kakanakote. Every evening after a day of hunting, banquets were organised for the participants by the palace staff. Two separate tents were put up to host these dinners, which included the first class tent for the heads of state, while the second class tent was for the accompanying officers on duty,’ remembers Wadiyar.


In the midst of all this activity, we are also invited for lunch to the private quarters of the family in the Bangalore Palace…. In a sunlit courtyard of the palace the chefs have set up their stoves and chopping boards. The trays of spices are a study of what sets apart Kannada cuisine from the rest of India especially the north.

Fiery red Badige chillies, vibrant green curry leaves, kokum (sour fruit native to western India) as dark as ebony, dried brown tamarind, mounds of snowy white coconut, and golden yellow turmeric powder add colour to the mosaic of spices like cardamoms, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaves.

Explains Wadiyar whose cooking skills are limited to whipping up a decent omelette, ‘We grow a lot of our spices like tamarind, kokum, and coconut on the palace grounds.’ His cooks have ground together special masalas and secret potions that have been passed from cook to cook, to go into the rich curries that are stewing in antique copper vessels.

‘The Mysore garam masala includes equal portions of cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon unlike the north Indian garam masala, which is made up of many more spices. Then we use something called the hatti masudi, which is a mixture of chillies and spices from the Nilgiris.’

The basic flavours in Kannada cuisine are that of coconut, jiggery, tamarind, and fragrant spices, which give the food a balance of sweet, sour, and spicy undertones. The locals who are predominantly rice eaters prefer BT rice which has more bite than a Basmati, while another popular cereal is ragi. Even the oil used for most dishes is rice oil. ‘Unlike north Indian cuisine we use oil sparingly which is why our food is much lighter,’ he adds.

The lunch is served in the family’s private drawing room where the walls are rich with the oils of European masters. The multi-course lunch includes spicy lamp chops masala a favourite of Wadiyar; an unusual horse gram curry called uili saru which is also prepared with mutton; country muddiya muttai made with mutton mince and eggs very similar to scotch eggs; a light fish curry meenu tanginakai saru; jhat phat fowl jhal frezi (quick and easy shredded fowl), and Anglo Indian classic; a coconut milk rich vegetable stew served with fluffy appams and baby appams (fried rice and gram cakes); and finally two rice preparations puliyogare or tamarind rice and bisi bele bhat. For dessert there is a creamy saabaki payasam made with sabut dana (sago) and milk to round off the meal.

As a devout Hindu the Mysore family observed every festival and puja in the Hindu holy calendar. This meant thousands of people were fed at such ceremonies in the palace.

He says, ‘We have ancient recipes that can serve one or multiples of hundreds. At any given religious ceremony at least a thousand people used to be fed. For our big festivals like Dussehra sometimes the numbers would go into lakhs.’

Even today the head of this dynasty has at least two havans or ceremonies every month and thirty-one priests are on his permanent payroll to observe these religious rites. Wadiyar explains, ‘I have only come so far in life by holding on to these traditions and culture.’

(Excerpted with the permission of the publishers)


File photograph: Srikantatta Datta Wodeyar (right)performs ayudha pooja at the Mysore palace on the eighth day of Dasara in Mysore in October 2012 (Karnataka Photo News)


Read reviews of the book: Vir Sanghvi, Sourish Bhattacharya

Buy the book here: Roli Books, Amazon, Flipkart

Mysore Mallige for ‘Maharani’ on day of glitz, gold

16 October 2012

On the first day of Dasara 2012, the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, dressed in traditional robes, sits on the throne at the main palace (top and middle), and blesses his wife Pramoda Devi, during the private darbar, on Tuesday. –

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

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Once upon a time, on this day, in another age

Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

3 March 2011

Most of India’s rajas and maharajas have a well-earned notoriety of loving and living lives of debauchery, hedonism and leisure, often in scant regard to the interests of their subjects. But some like the Maharaja of Mysore were also known for the higher pursuits of life.

The last king of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974), was, for example, a renowned scholar in philosophy, a versatile music composer and a writer and humanist. And like many others in the Wodeyar clan before him, a great patron of the arts and culture.

In 1954, A.V. Narasimha Murthy, then a post-graduate student in Indology at the Maharaja’s College, had the opportunity of witnessing a sitting of the king’s “study circle”, a thinktank in which the Maharaja soaked in and imbibed from the accumulated wisdom of the intellectuals of the land.

The study circle comprised Prof K.A. Nilakanta Shstri, Prof. S. Ramachandra Rao and Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat.

Narasimha Murthy, now a retired head of the department of ancient history at the University of Mysore, recently recounted the unique experience in a piece he wrote for the 33rd anniversary issue of Star of Mysore, reprinted here courtesy of the newspaper.



The Maharaja was not only a great scholar but also liked the company of scholars and to listen to their words of wisdom and knowledge. He used to arranged study circles regularly in a serene place in the City.

The palace officials used to carry chairs, tables, fruit baskets to the selected place. The scholars used to be taken in the palace cars in advance and the maharaja used to arrive at the appointed time. Then followed the discussion on a particular topic for about an hour. This was the procedure of the study circle.

I had a desire to see this at least from a distance but I was just a student and that was impossible.

I had no courage to ask my teacher, Prof Nilakanta Shastri this. Prof Ramachandra Rao was very friendly and hence I asked him if he could help me. He did not have the courage to permit me.

Then I approached Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat who was close to our family. First he said, ‘Savari (Maharaja) will not accept it.’ But I insisted.

He thought of a plan and said, “You should act like my attendant, carry my books and be there at the correct time before I reach the place. You should stand at a distance without speaking a single word and behave like an attendant.”

I was asked to wear a black long coat but walk without chappals. I agreed. Chandrashekar Bhat intimated me the day when the study circle was to meet on the lawns of Lalitha Mahal Palace.

I hired a cycle, carried the books given by him, went to the place and stood in silence like an attendant, but with all attention.

A palace car brought the three scholars and an official of the palace welcomed them and showed them to their seats, which they occupied.

After five minutes arrived the Maharaja in a Rolls Royce. Everybody stood up and bowed to the Maharaja and the entire scenario became formal. Though I was standing at a distance, I had lent my ears to their conversation.

The Maharaja asked them to start.

Ramachandra Rao submitted: “We would like to discuss Yajnavalkya Smriti if His Highness would be pleased with this topic.” The Maharaja nodded his head in approval.

Prof Nilakanta Shastri began the discussion by explaining the date and time of Yajnavalkya in a historical perspective. Ramachandra Rao analysed the contents of the Yajnavalkya Smriti and Patankar gave the details of the religious and legal aspects of the work in Kannada.

The Maharaja was generously silent but was asking questions in between. After an hour, the session concluded. His Highness got up, folded his hands and took leave smiling. The three scholars bowed to the Maharaja and stood till the latter go into his car. They got into the Palace car and left the venue.

The attendants of the Palace packed the chairs, tables, etc and left. I collected the books I had carried and returned to my house on my cycle. The next day I went to Patankar’s house, returned the books and him profusely for the opportunity provided to me.

He praised me for my behaviour the previous evening and jocularly said, ‘You looked a perfect attendant.’ But he felt sorry that I had to adorn the role of an attendant as there was no other way.

Though a student, I was greatly impressed by this study circle and it has remained green in my memory.

Photograph: Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, the first governor of the unifited State of Mysore, inaugurating the new theatre of Mylapore Fine Arts Club in 1959 (courtesy The Hindu).


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Can Jumbo & Babu usher in change without Hari?

23 November 2010

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: It is said that leading the Indian cricket team is the second hardest job after the Indian prime ministership.

We may add a new truism: being an Indian fast bowler is perhaps the third most difficult job.

Now, that Anil Radhakrishna Kumble and Javagal Chandrashekhar Srinath have won the elections to the Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA) and will be at the helm of cricketing affairs in the State for the next three years, they have, quite possibly, an even more difficult job ahead of them.

Their candidacy excited many reporters and commentators, within and outside Karnataka, who turned into veritable court-poets, often abdicating their day-job as journalists.

Their resounding victory has elicited hyperbole. The Indian Express calls this the “beginning of a new era in the Indian cricket administration“, and Cricinfo’s Sharda Ugra, whose analytical pieces are balanced and insightful, calls Srinath and Kumble as “gamechangers“.

Amidst this rapturous welcoming of M/s Kumble & Co, forgive me, if I sound like a sceptic.

True, Kumble and Srinath have been brilliant performers on the field and, having watched them since their junior cricket days, for over two decades, I have been a great admirer of their skills and accomplishments.

More impressive has been their personal conduct during their playing days, and since then.

It’s on that basis Kumble and Srinath sought the support and trust of KSCA members. These aren’t ordinary cricketers, who demanded that cricketers be put in charge of cricket administration.

Remember Brijesh Patel too had fought an epic battle 12 years ago against the then secretary, C. Nagaraj, against whom Patel had raised a series of corruption charges and promised to clean up cricket administration in Karnataka. In contrast, Kumble and Srinath have staked their character and integrity.

What’s been interesting about the Kumble-Srinath campaign is their message of change.

While they promise to clean up the cricket administration and turn KSCA into a model organization, we haven’t seen any specifics—either on the problems that plague KSCA or on the alternatives they have in mind. In fact, after the elections on Sunday, Kumble promised to study and come up with a blueprint for change.

Given that both Kumble and Srinath, along with their cohorts—B.K. Venkatesh Prasad, Rahul Dravid, Sujith Somasundar, Roger Binny, M.R. Srinivasa Prasad, Vijay Bharadwaj, all of whom have led Karnataka Ranji teams—have been “insiders” in a manner of speaking for decades, holding many official positions within BCCI and KSCA, I find it surprising that they have nothing concrete to say to the press, even after the elections.

What we have seen so far is a ‘campaign for change’ without specifying what that change might look like.

Sadly, our star-struck journalists haven’t asked for specific details.

Here is another interesting thing. Kumble and his team wanted complete control over KSCA. They compelled Brijesh Patel, who controlled KSCA for over a decade, to give up power. They wanted Srikantadatta Wodeyar, the outgoing president, to step aside and accept a new position of patron, which they offered to create for him.

Perhaps it made sense from their perspective to install a new team so that they could do a proper housecleaning.

Yet, troubling questions arise given how they seem to have allowed themselves to become or to be painted as de facto candidates of the Patel camp. We don’t know what promises were made to Patel; any meaningful change in KSCA will actually mean not only changing the policies of the Patel regime but also investigating Patel himself.

Kumble has forcefully asserted that he is his own man but he hasn’t addressed questions of corruption or nepotism that have plagued the Patel regime, too. Moreover, it’s not an entirely new team since there are holdovers from the previous administration like Roger Binny and R. Sudhakar Rao.

For all the paeans to their integrity in the press, I am actually reassured by Kumble & Co’s very competent politicking.

They presented themselves as the agents of change, as cricketers fighting against outsiders. They were brilliant in characterising the Wodeyar team as incumbents, which was entirely inaccurate; in fact, the Kumble team benefited from the support of the incumbents, the Patel faction.

The fact that the Wodeyar team was utterly incompetent in producing a strong response only helped them. I wish A.V. Jayaprakash had said he is no ‘interloping kabaddi player’ seeking the office of KSCA secretary but a former Karnataka captain and a distinguished international umpire.

Moreover, even before the elections, I heard from reliable sources that Srinath had been instructing KSCA staff members, especially on financial matters.

All this is better than being self-righteous because then they are more likely to become saints or martyrs. The virtue and integrity of the righteous aren’t necessarily valuable to run a public institution. Restraint, common sense, humility and a healthy dose of wiliness are.

Kumble and Srinath will need those qualities in abundance if they want to forge partnerships and build KSCA. Otherwise, for all their good intentions, they will accomplish very little.

Are they game changers? Ask me in six months but I suspect not. What ails KSCA, and generally cricket administration in India, is quite complex and is best left for another post.


Full disclosure: I must admit a particular bias in writing this article.

My team, the National Cricket Club (NCC), Mysore, which has been part of the Wodeyar group and represented Mysore zone in the managing committee from 2007-10, lost in the KSCA elections.

I have never been an admirer of Wodeyar and I am glad that he lost.

But NCC’s loss saddens me. That’s not just because NCC is my team but its track record in the last three years warrants strong support. I strongly believe Kumble and Srinath should have been proactive in recruiting NCC to be part of their team, especially because they know what NCC has accomplished in the last three years.

NCC’s major accomplishment of course has been organizing six Ranji trophy matches, including a classic finals match in January 2010, and maintaining what has come to be recognized as the best domestic wicket in India. We don’t realize all the work that goes into organizing a Ranji trophy match in a small center.

The members of National Cricket Club and a superb core of volunteers performed wonderfully, from ensuring supply of drinking water to spectators to tea and snacks to KSCA guests and press; erecting stands for the public to arranging internet for the Press, they did it all and in the true spirit of cricket.

All this is well known. Here are some lesser known facts. Nearly 1500 league matches were played. Five new grounds, including in smaller centers like Mandya, Chamarajnagar and Krishnaraja Nagar, were added and league matches are played regularly in all these places. Seventeen new teams were registered in the Mysore zone and al these teams take part in the State league. Distribution of KSCA resources has been equitable and selections to Mysore zone teams were extremely fair, and senior players from all teams were recruited to be part of the selection committees or to accompany the Mysore zone teams as managers. I have followed Mysore zone cricket for over two decades now and I couldn’t have written these two paragraphs about any other administration.

What’s important to recognize is that the core group of NCC are all active, and committed league cricketers: 45-year-old Harikrishna Kumar, who supervised the day to day administration of Mysore zone cricket, was also the leading wicket taker in the 2009-2010 state league.

NCC may have lost this election but Harikrishna Kumar and his friends can be proud of their tenure as KSCA Mysore zone conveners. Congratulations to them on completing a successful three year tenure.


Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.


Photograph: Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath on election night, November 21, after the results came out (Karnataka Photo News)


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Finally, it came down to Abhishek Nayar‘s balls

Finally, it came down to Abhishek Nayar’s balls

14 January 2010

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: Yes, all the cliches you hear during a Test match or ODI commentary are true—“It was a fitting finale,” “The result did not matter,”  “The game was the ultimate winner”—and I don’t say this as a fan of the losing team.

Indeed, at the end of the four innings, there was little to differentiate between the two teams, although the scorecard would find six runs. Bombay had more experience playing, more experience winning. Karnataka had oodles of youth and one incandescent star flickering to life in this match.

And boy, did the shimmer off Manish Pandey‘s willow light up the ocean of learning (Manasagangothri) this morning!?

We had seen both teams exhibit almost everything that two top teams playing in a cricketing nation’s top domestic match should: good bowling, fantastic catching and great fighting spirit. But what had been missing the first three days, was the X factor that has crowds ooh-ing and aah-ing.

That was delivered to the Gangotri Glades by a 20-year-old. For nearly two hours, Manish Pandey elevated batting to levels not seen in the past three days. Perhaps, with the exception of Wasim Jaffer no other player in either side was even capable of coming close to those standards.

It wasn’t merely that Pandey batted freely, his 144 coming off a mere 151 balls. His shot selection and stroke-making was top-notch, and he dismissed everything thrown at him at him imperiously.

At times, it seemed to me that Pandey wasn’t batting to win the match.

He wasn’t competing with the Bombay bowlers.

For all he cared, they could have been local bowlers at the nets. The challenging circumstances Karnataka was facing at the final hurdle to a seventh crown didn’t seem to matter. He just batted at a high level simply, perhaps, because that’s what comes naturally to him.

When batting is elevated to such heights, opponents and circumstances do not matter.

The scorecard says he made 85 runs off 80 balls this morning, with 9 fours and a six. His elegant and highly cultured strokeplay simplified batting to his partner, Ganesh Satish, with whom he added 209 runs.  Karnataka were 255 for 3, when Pandey got out and Karnataka needed another 85 runs, which looked gettable within an hour-and-a-half, since Pandey and Satish had scored at a run a minute.

One wishes Pandey had stayed at the wicket until the end, if only to see how he would have batted under pressure as the target became smaller. Perhaps, such challenges are more appropriate for workman-like batsmen, whose forte is patience and temperament, and who specialise in eliminating risk and accumulating runs.

The fourth-wicket partnership between Pandey and Satish should have been a match winning partnership, but this young Karnataka team found a way to lose the game. Home team supporters would point at a couple of poor umpiring decisions, but the fact remains that this match could have easily gone the other way.

The atmosphere at Glades was electric, with overflowing crowd watching the game from trees, light poles and any other place, which offered a view of the field. Nearly 10,000 people cheered the home team lustily, and the Glades offered a fantastic setting for this game.

After the match, Wasim Jaffer defended the visitors’ decision to bat first, even though the wicket had moisture and helped seam bowling. Jaffer said they expected the pitch to be soft initially and then get hard, which made batting difficult on the second day. When we look back at the first inning performances, perhaps he has a point.

Yet neither team impressed me, admittedly an amateur cricket enthusiast, with their tactical acumen.

For instance, Bombay this morning could have bowled their overs quickly using spinners to take the new ball just before lunch or immediately after lunch. This would have put Karnataka batsmen under some pressure but bowling with the old ball, their fast bowlers conceded 27 runs off four overs to Sunil Joshi and Stuart Binny, who with some belligerent batting almost swung the match Karnataka’s way.

But it was too little.

Binny, who had a chance to justify his selection to this match and indeed longevity in the state side, failed miserably and perhaps it is time to blood one more youngster in his place. He was clearly the weak link on the field, and off the field too, given the rumours of a late night at the Mysore Sports Club.

A final word on the winner’s conduct, in particular the victory celebration.

Throughout the match, they seemed to needle the Karnataka players in the middle but complained constantly against real or perceived slights, either by the players or the crowd. Their muscular celebration at the end seemed to embody the so-called “Spirit of Bombay” and one could certainly understand their elation given the close and hard fought battle.

Abhishek Nayar‘s antics, however, were the most disgraceful acts I have ever seen on a cricket field.

He thrust his crotch at a section of the crowd, and at one point even seem to hold his balls in his hand, shouting repeatedly: “Come on.” His behavior in general seems to be as ugly as his batting stance, and notwithstanding his cricketing  accomplishments, if such behaviour isn’t questioned or curbed, then shame on the authorities, and the media, if it remains silent.


Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.


PhotographNeo Sports anchor V.B. Chandrashekhar prepares for the final act of the finals of the Ranji Trophy finals at the Gangotri Glades in Mysore on Thursday as KSCA officials (from left) vice-president P.R. Ashokanand, secretary Brijesh Patel, president Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, M.R. Krishna, KSCA (Mysore Zone) secretary Satyanarayana Nadig, convenor R.K. Harikrishna Kumar, and chairman Sunaad Raghuram look on.


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Photograph: Former Test stars Brijesh Patel and S.M.H. Kirmani, among others, catch the action at the Gangotri Glades (Karnataka Photo News)


Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia


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For whom does the bell toll at the Bannimantapa?

28 September 2009


Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore, performs banni pooja on Vijayadashami at the culmination of the nine-day Dasara festival in Mysore on Monday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

On the morning of the first day of the nine nights

19 September 2009

KPN photo

King for a day. The scion of erstwhile of the royal family of Mysore, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, arrives for the private darbar at the main Amba Vilas Palace, on the first day of the ten-day Dasara festivities, in Mysore on Saturday


The late C. Hayavadana Rao wrote in the Mysore Gazetteer:

“On the morning of the first day, His Highness, after observing the religious ceremonies, partly at the shrine of Sri Chamundeshwari on the palace premises and partly in the Durbar Hall, takes his seat on the historical throne under a salute of 21 guns and showers of flowers. There is also a presentation of arms by the palace and the State troops assembled in the arena square below. Honours from the principal temples and maths are presented followed by offerings and presentations of coconuts (phala) and coloured rice (mantrakshate) by the Vaidika Brahmins invited to the Durbar Hall.”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

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Don’t blame us if Mantri KPL is just Kantri IPL

6 September 2009

The Karnataka Premier League makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is a pathetic “Modi Xerox” copy of the Indian Premier League, which within two years is already tolling the bell for 50-over cricket, if not five-day Test crickret itself, while reducing a classy, civilised sport into a loud, rowdy circus.

IPL marries sport with business and entertainment with nary a worry for conflict of interest, so KPL marries business and entertainment with nary a worry for conflict of interest. IPL auctions players like prostitutes, so KPL auctions players like prostitutes.

IPL was the personal project, the cricketing arangetram of Lalit Modi, so KPL is the personal project, the cricketing arangetram of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, masterfully puppeteered by the dance-master, Brijesh Patel. And so on.

So, because IPL had a theme song, KPL also has to have a theme song or what it thinks is a “theme song”. This, then, is the mind-numbingly vacuous effort of composer Ricky Kej and lyricist Kaviraj, with Avinash Chebbi and M.D. Pallavi at the mike. The video director is Aloke Shetty.

What is remarkable in this “Phase I” video is: a) how the lyrics and visuals are completely devoid of anything called the gandha of Karnataka or the regions from where the players hail from. And b) how the tournament has little to do with cricket but twisting the teats of the clubhouse cash-cow till it hurts.

What you also wonder, looking at Erapalli Prasanna and B.S. Chandrashekhar and Syed Kirmani, is: is there anything our legends won’t do, say or endorse for a few extra bucks after a few extra pegs?

Take a bow, Anil Kumble.

Link via Pavan Murali

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Double tragedy for the king and the commoner

12 October 2008

The scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, loses balance while climbing the “Belli Pallakki” during the Banni Pooja at the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore, on Vijayadashmi, on Thursday.

The leg injury reportedly sustained by Wodeyar in the process was not the only mishap to dog the festivities this year. Atmavilas V. Ramakrishna, the priest at the royal family’s very private Ganapathi temple inside the palace, who had conducted poojas for 30 years, passed away on the third day of Dasara, on his 85th birthday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Once upon a time, on this day, in another age

9 October 2008

U.B. VASUDEV writes from Tampa, Flordia: Down memory lane, while growing up in Mysore, we looked forward to the Dasara or the Navarathri holidays. Those ten days, which signified goddess Chamundeshwari’s victory over the demon Mahishasura (symbolizing the triumph of good over evil), were the most enjoyable time every year.

The entire City wore a festive look.

As far as I can remember, everyone was high-spirited though everything remained routine year after year.

Pattada Bombe” which perhaps symbolized the King and Queen among all the dolls arranged for the “Bombe habba” got new dresses; the woman was draped in a jari bhutta sari and the man in the typical Mysore Durbar dress ie, white trousers, black long coat with a gold bordered sash around the shoulders and the famous gold striped Mysore “peta” (turban).

It was almost an unassigned task for us kids to wait outside our houses for the booming, reverberating sound of the cannons from the Palace Gun House heralding the auspicious arrival of Dasara to the Mysore Palace and let our mothers know so that they could install the “Kalasha” and observe the festivities.

The festivities were low key for the first six days and reached a crescendo by the seventh day, Saraswathi (the goddess of learning) pooja, when we excitedly piled up all our books to be worshipped so that we did not have to touch them for, at least, a few more days!

The eighth day was Durgashtami.

The ninth and the tenth days were the most spectacular. On Mahanavami, everything from knives to scissors to our bicycles was spotlessly cleaned for the Ayudha (weapon) pooja. All the buses, cars, shah-pasands (the illustrious Mysooru Kudure Gadi) and other transports all over Mysore were richly decorated for the occasion.

n the Palace, public with prior permission from the Palace authorities were allowed to the bleachers in front of the “Bombe thotti” (pavilion of dolls) to watch the celebrations.

After a long wait of two to three hours and as we were getting hungry and impatient, His Highness in his ceremonial attire was escorted to the specially erected canopied platform in front of the Palace to offer pooja. The spectators would be in a state of mystic abstraction for the next hour or so watching the royal paraphernalia that included all his cars, elephants, horses, the silver and gold chariots and many more pass in front of them.

The Amba Vilas Palace, an amazing example of the opulence of the Mysore royalty, designed by the British architect Henry Irwin and built at the turn of the century (1897-1912) was illuminated for all the ten days in addition to some of the public buildings and other landmarks in the city.

Welcome arches were erected all over the city with banners proclaiming long life to the revered son of Yaduvamsha (Chiramabhivardhantam Yadusantana Sri). His Highness late Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar conducted the durbar every evening starting at 7 pm.

At that exact moment, hundreds of thousands of bulbs lit the Indo-Saracenic structure that made it look like an illuminated mirage. The presence of the former king heightened the spirit of the festivities. Legend has it that the bejeweled silver and gold throne made of fig wood and once overlaid with ivory, originally belonged to the Pandavas and is supposed to have come through the Vijayanagara rulers to the Wodeyars of Mysore. With the rich embellishments, it shone under the floodlights of the majestically decorated hall.

A select public was allowed to attend the royal court and only those with the traditional durbar dress were allowed inside. After a brief entertainment, mostly a classical music concert by one of the eminent musicians of that time, folk dances or a wrestling match in the ring in front of the palace, the guard of honor followed and the evening culminated with the state elephant garlanding the chief.

The crowning glory of the ten-day festivities was the royal procession on the last day, Vijayadashami. It is
almost impossible to explain in words the magnificence that pervaded the city that afternoon.

The entire route of the royal cavalcade, about five miles long, from the Mysore Palace to the Bannimantapa was exquisitely decorated with multicolored lights. The businesses on Sayyaji Rao Road erected stages all along the parade route to garland His Highness and offer their respects.

Crowds of people from all over the country lined the parade route, positioned themselves on buses, cars, buildings and fences enroute to watch and admire their favorite king on the elephant back in the storybook spectacle.

A pair of Nandi Kamba(s), decorated bamboo posts carried in a pouch around the waist by the performers and assisted by two or three who held the tethers attached to it for support, led the procession that used to leave the Mysore Palace sometime in the late afternoon.

The entire army that belonged to the Mysore King(s) took part in the parade.

All the distinguished personnel associated with the Palace usually were on horseback or walked in front of the elephant carrying His Highness. Usually, a huge carriage drawn by the elephants (Aane Gaadi) used to house the palace musicians, Asthana Vidwans who used to be in concert all along the parade route.

His Highness, with his uncle behind him, sat in the golden howdah (ambaari with 80 kilograms of gold on a wooden frame) that was tied on the back of the tall and majestic Biligiriranga, a magnificent pachyderm.

Also in the parade were the state horse (Pattada kudure) and the state elephant (Pattadane) that carried the presiding deity of the royal family, goddess Chamundeshwari. Also went along the white dancing horses, the royal Lippizzans that had their tails painted in a rainbow of colors.

After resting for a while at Bannimantapa, His Highness would perform pooja to the legendary Shami tree and carry a branch of the same back to the royal residence.

The Mahabharata legend has it that the Pandavas hid their arms inside the Shami tree while in exile. Before the famous battle of Kurukshetra, they performed the ritualistic worship to the tree in gratitude and recovered their arms.

After a brief entertainment and a torch light parade in honor of the Excellency, the procession would be on its way back to the palace.

The return procession had a grandeur of its own.

I remember heavy downpours as if the heavens were pouring their choicest blessings on the King and his people, on several occasions.

The procession served the purpose of contact between people and the King, as they could not see the king on other days. The other aspect may be, during the olden days kings used to worship the family deities to invoke their blessings before embarking on wars with their elephants, horses, camels and the military.

That may be the background for the procession.

As far as we know, the Mysore Dasara was the best show in all the princely States of India.

We have not heard of any other princely state celebrating Dasara with such pomp and pageantry. The last Dasara procession with His Highness late Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was in 1973.

When I visited the palace six years back, I was told that his son Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar still continues to maintain the tradition and follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. He conducts durbar every day during the ten-day festival, albeit on a much smaller scale in the Amba Vilas hall, the diwan-i-khas of the Mysore Palace.

The palace is illuminated every evening for about an hour or two and the other activities are continuing though the support from the people has dwindled. It looks as though the magnificence associated with the festivities faded with the late Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar who was very highly respected by his subjects.

The State of Karnataka has tried to continue the tradition without much participation and glitter, however.

It is sad to think that the ten-day festival that was once the crown jewel for the City of Mysore has become just a crown without any sparkling jewel in it. Thus, it is a pleasant though poignant memory for the Mysoreans of yesteryear!

Photograph: Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, flanked by the minister in charge of Mysore district, Shobha Karandlaje, and the mayor of Mysore, Ayub Khan, offer floral tributes to the golden howdah before the commencement of the Dasara procession in Mysore on Thursday afternoon. (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Dasara in punya bhumi vs Dasara in karma bhumi

All that glitters is, yes, gold for the next ten days

Dasara in Punya Bhumi vs Dasara in Karma Bhumi

5 October 2008

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore, in conversation with Shyam Sundar Vattam of Deccan Herald:

“You cannot compare today’s Dasara with the one that was conducted by my forefathers. The present Dasara is neither a festival nor an exhibition of military power. It is not held as mentioned in the Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana and according to me it is off-track.

“Mysore has a rich history and it is believed that 15 demons were vanquished by Goddess Chamundeshwari. These are mentioned in Kayaka Purana, Markandeya Purana and Padma Purana.

“In West Bengal, according to Bengalis, their region is known as Punya Bhumi and the Mysore region as Karma Bhumi. The only difference between West Bengal and Mysore in regard to celebration of Dasara is that there the celebrations are held as per the Puranas whereas it is not so in Mysore especially after the government took over the responsibility of holding Dasara festival every year.

“The last three days of Dasara is celebrated with pomp and pageantry in Bengal, whereas in Mysore it is a colourful celebration on all the 10 days. While Bengalis immerse the idol of Goddess Kali, in Mysore the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari is taken out in a colourful procession on elephant.”

Read the full article: Royal Touch

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

All that glitters is, yes, gold for the next ten days

30 September 2008

On the first day of the Dasara festivities in Mysore, the scion of the erstwhile royal family, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, ascends the throne at the khas durbar in the main Amba Vilas palace.


Wodeyar and wife Pramoda Devi Wodeyar arrive for the private durbar.

The late Hayavadana Rao wrote in the Mysore Gazette:

“On the morning of the first day, His Highness, after observing the religious ceremonies, partly at the shrine of Sri Chamundeshwari on the palace premises and partly in the Durbar Hall, takes his seat on the historical throne under a salute of 21 guns and showers of flowers. There is also a presentation of arms by the palace and the State troops assembled in the arena square below. Honours from the principal temples and maths are presented followed by offerings and presentations of coconuts (phala) and coloured rice (mantrakshate) by the Vaidika Brahmins invited to the Durbar Hall.”

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Uneasy lies the hand that handles prince’s crown

12 September 2008

With Dasara just a few days away, the traditional pethas to be worn by the scion of the erstwhile royal family, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, during the ten-day festival are readied at the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore. Here, Paramesh, a haberdasher whose family has handled the the onerous duties for decades, goes about

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Government Work is Godman’s Work in Gokarna

4 September 2008

The Om-shaped beacha at Gokarna

The Om-shaped beach at Gokarna

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: In the run-up to the assembly elections in Karnataka and shortly after, B.S. Yediyurappa made an obscene number of visits to mutts and other seats of spirituality, falling at the feet of gurus, godmen and swamijis, big and small, and seeking their blessings to achieve his life’s ambition of becoming chief minister.

Now that he is in the saddle, is it payback time?

The conclusion is harsh, perhaps unjust, but inescapable.

The handing over of the Mahabaleshwara Temple in Gokarna (in Uttara Kannada district) to the Ramachandrapur mutt (located in Hosanagar, Shimoga district) on August 14 is the clearest indication yet that our so-called jagadgurus, who shamelessly cross the line from the spiritual to the temporal to the material, are now demanding (and extracting) their pound of the puliyogare.


The temple transfer was reportedly made on the basis of documents that the temple was under the purview of the mutt till 1860. But by selectively and clandestinely “privatising” the administration and running of just one temple out of thousands in the State, Team Yedi has in one stroke, as it were, demonstrated that government work under the BJP is not God’s work but godman’s work.

Documents published in Gauri Lankesh‘s eponymous tabloid last week show that as recently as April this year, when the State was under President’s rule, the muzrai department had asserted that the Mahabaleshwara Temple was a “public temple” and that “there was no legal provision to transfer it to a private party or to a mutt“. So what changed between 1 April 2008 and 14 August 2008?


Aside from the legality of the temple transfer, the issue throws up six larger questions:

1) If the Gokarna temple was under the purview of the Ramachandrapur mutt till the 1860s, then by extension it can be contended that almost all temples in the State were once a part of some mutt or the other. Is the government ready to outsource the running of all these temples back to the original mutts or claimants? If so, by when? If not, why not?

Is the government ready to allow Kurubas to take over the Sri Krishna temple in Udupi, if the kurubas make a similar demand? Will the Chamundeshwari Temple atop Chamundi Hills and the Sri Ranganatha Temple in Srirangapatna be transferred to Srikantadatta Wodeyar because they were built by the Mysore kings?

2) What is the connection between the Chief Minister’s Office and the Ramachandrapur mutt, aside from both being from the same area in Shimoga? Why has the mutt suddenly received preferential treatment, when Wodeyar says the Gokarna temple should have been transferred to the Shringeri Sharada Mutt, which has been around longer than the Ramachandrapur mutt?

3) In interviews, the head of the Ramachandrapur mutt and his devotees have been claiming that the temple transfer is part of a larger bid to clean up Gokarna, also known as Dakshin Kashi. The reference here is to the not-so-holy activities that take place on the holy beaches of Gokarna. If true, does the writ of the State no longer run here? And is only a mutt located in a neighbouring district qualified to rectify that?

4) Does such a midnight transfer of a public property into private hands threaten its democratic DNA? The Mahabaleshwara temple has always welcomed devotees from all castes and religions insides the shrine. They are even allowed to touch the ‘Athma Linga‘ and pray. Is the fear of lower-caste Hindus that they will no longer be allowed inside the ‘Garbha Gruha’ far-fetched?

5) Above all, the selective transfer raises troubling questions over transparency. As a profitable temple run by the muzrai department, the Gokarna temple’s administration, activities, programmes, were open to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act. Will the public have similar access when a private mutt is given charge? The profits were earlier ploughed into the development of other, “poorer” temples across the State. Will that continue?

(An early indication of the shape of things to come. The mutt‘s representatives barged into the temple a day after the government issued the order and broke open the hundis. The mutt says it got just Rs 40 lakh; news reports say the collection was four to five times that sum.)

6) Will the Gokarna temple transfer open the floodgates? Sources say some Lingayat mutts are trying to grab at least two dozen profit-making muzrai temples in the State. Since nobody can now accuse Yediyurappa of favouring only Lingayats, will the path be paved by the government? And how much longer before Vokkaliga mutts, and Kuruba mutts, and mutts of other communities start putting in their applications?


A website maintained by the Ramachandrapur mutt claims the mutt was established at Gokarna over 1,200 years ago by Adi Shankara who anointed one of his disciples Shree Vidyananda as the first pontiff. It is a mutt affiliated to the Shringeri Sharada Mutt. The heads of the mutt are known by the suffix, Bharati. They also have a title Gokarna Mahamandaladhishwara.

The mutt is mostly frequented by Havyaka Brahmins, a minuscule community scattered over the Western Ghats—in Madikeri, Puttur, Sulya, Kasaragod, Sagar, Hosanagar, Soraba, Siddapura, Sirsi, Yellapura, Kumta, Honnavara and Ankola taluks–who and grow betel nut and spices for livelihood. The total population of Havyaka Brahmins is less than 3 lakhs although a Wikipedia entry pegs the figure at 1 lakh. Half of them now live in Bangalore and other parts of the world.

Generally speaking, heads of the Ramachandrapur mutt heads have always kept to themselves and rarely mingled with the public and politicians.

All that changed in when the present head of the mutt Raghaveshwara Bharti (in picture, left) took charge in the mid 1990s after the death of his predecessor Raghavendra Bharati, who had reigned for 50 years.

Raghavendra Bharati had strictly followed the mutt’s traditions. He had never entertained politicians and businessmen, and was known as ‘Doorvasa‘ or ‘Jamadagni‘ because of his mood swings and short fuse. But, he was a scholar and a man of integrity. Nobody had the temerity to question his character, integrity and intentions. He was both feared and respected by his followers.

But the 7th standard pass Raghaveshwara Bharati (born Chaduravalli Hareesha Bhat alias Hareesha Sharma), who reportedly sees some Lingayat and Vokkaliga swamijis as models to emulate, altered the mutt‘s image and public perception.

Devotees say following his ascent, the mutt became more like a business establishment.

The Shringeri seer is believed to have admonished him for indulging in non–religious and non-spiritual activities. It seems to have had no impact on his ambitions.

Raghaveshwara Bharati is alleged to have opened the doors of the mutt to all manner of people, including politicians, cinema stars, brokers, businessmen, shady journalists, real estate developers, among others. Insiders say some Havyaka Brahmin journalists, jealous of the clout enjoyed by fellow Lingayat and Vokkaliga journalists, used him to increase their clout in the corridors of power.

Result: the real followers of the mutt were made to feel like second-class /grade devotees. Those who questioned him were targetted and silenced.

One more result: From being a seat of learning, the Ramachandrapur mutt slowly became a political hothouse of the RSS-VHP. Not soon after, Raghaveshwara Bharati started dictating terms to BJP leaders.

Overnight, the mutt became the epicentre of the “Save the Cow” movement. The Vishwa Gou Sammelana, organised by the mutt, was telecast over several hours by the Bangalore centre of Doordarshan, with director Mahesh Joshi playing a stellar role in the coverage.

Once almost bankrupt and obscure, the mutt is now said to be worth over Rs 100 crore. Credit of this phenomenal growth should go to the skills of Raghaveshwara Bharati and his coterie, which also includes former top cop T. Madiyal, who headed the Special Task Force to catch Veerappan.

Yediyurappa, who is also from the same Hosanagar area, is one of the latest entrants into the swamiji’s fold. He started hobnobbing with him only in 2006. The 2008 assembly polls brought them closer, and the swamiji is believed to have exhorted his followers to vote for the BJP.

The transfer of the temple following the BJP’s victory in the elections, comes against this backdrop. Raghaveshwara Bharati was reportedly eyeing Gokarna and its economic potential for a long time. He studied Sanskrit at Gokarna for 12 years and knows the real worth of its temples.

In turn, Yediyurappa believes that the temple-transfer will consolidate BJP vote bank in Malnad.

In divesting the government’s muzrai department from the administration of the temple, the BJP ironically has fulfilled a key “secular” demand to keep “State” apart from “Religion”, but the fact that it has done so with regard to only one temple, raises more questions than provides answers.

Last Sunday, on a live, one-hour question and answer session on “Chandana”, with DD director Mahesh Joshi once again in the frame, Raghaveshwara Bharati looked smug and dismissive.

A caller from Kumta said: ‘Beedi nayi bogalidre, devaloka halagalla. Mahaswamigale, thaavu yaarigoo uttara needa-bedi (swamiji needn’t answer every barking dog on the temple transfer)”. Raghaveshwara Bharati approvingly nodded his head.

Does it mean that people like Siddaramaiah, S. Bangarappa, H.D. Deve Gowda, and Mallikarjuna Kharge, who are openly opposing the transfer, are no better than stray dogs questioning a divine deal?

Photographs: courtesy Outlook Traveller, and Gou Vishwa Kosha

Also read: What role should our swamijis, religious gurus play?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should swamijis go abroad?

Do our gods sanction our politicians’ silly games?

It’s true, God helps those who help themselves

The prince, the white crow & the philanthropist

30 August 2008

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: A little more than a couple of months ago, on 18th of May, to be precise, I attended a fairly well-attended story-telling session by Sudha Murthy, the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, at the newly-opened Sapna Book House in our City.

Although you may think that I was a few decades too late for such a session, I went there not because I wanted to listen to her stories, which is why almost every one of the hundred or so kids had gathered there, but for a different reason altogether.

I was there amid slightly differing circumstances too. While their mothers had brought most of the kids there, I had ‘taken’ my mother to the event. After having read a few of Mrs Murthy’s many books, my mother had become an ardent fan of hers, having been impressed by her philanthropy, simplicity and down-to-earth thinking.

So while she was away at our coffee plantation, when I told her over the phone that Mrs Murthy would be coming to one of my favourite haunts and I, with the help of my friend Thippanna, then one of the managers at Sapna, would be able to arrange a meeting with her, she immediately agreed to my suggestion and decided to come over to Mysore.

The meeting went of very well, with both ladies seeming very pleased with each other.

While Mrs Murthy was touched that an elderly lady fan of hers had taken the trouble to come all the way from distant Chikmagalur just to meet her, my mother was immensely happy that she could meet and spend a few moments with the person who had impressed her with her thoughts and ideas.

As an added bonus she was able to have a couple of pictures clicked with Mrs Murthy in addition to getting her autograph with a personal note on one of her books which she had taken along for the purpose with her.

Just as we entered the place almost towards the end of the story-telling session Mrs Murthy announced that she would be reading the last two stories for the day and asked if anyone had a copy of her book ‘The Magic Drum and Other Favourite Stories‘.

This is a book, which is a collection of some of the interesting stories she had heard from her grandmother and other sources as a child. Incidentally, this was exactly the book that we had taken along and I immediately handed it to her.

After reading a story called ‘The Costly Coconut‘ she picked another called ‘The White Crow‘ to end the session. This is an interesting story about the ‘rumoured’ appearance of a rare white crow in a small village, which settles down on the house of a poor farmer, and how the narration changes colour, along with the crow, as it travels from person to person by word of mouth.

A seemingly innocuous natural occurrence soon becomes the hottest news that engages the attention of almost everyone in the village and assumes unusual prophetic significance.

The anticlimax of the story comes when the poor farmer discloses to the perplexed villagers that it was he who floated the rumour about the crow visiting his house to show them how quickly a rumour can grow in size, change colour and spread like wildfire if not contained!

While this kind of a reaction seems pretty natural in a folk tale from a bygone era of ignorance and intellectual darkness, ironically, this is exactly what is happening in our midst today with a white crow having been sighted recently at historic Srirangapatna in our immediate neighbourhood.

While the colour of the crow does not seem to be affecting the rest of the modern world, we seem to be wasting precious time and thought over its effect on our lives. And, while the rest of the world just accepts the scientific explanation that albinism, a genetic disorder that is occasionally seen in humans can also similarly affect almost all species of animals and birds, we seem to be ascribing unusual mystical powers to it.

People are speculating endlessly over the exact appearance and the physical attributes of the unusual crow and while some say that it is completely white others tend to disagree. Not wanting to be left behind and unquoted, the lady tahsildar of Srirangapatna who reportedly arrived at the sighting spot in her official jeep, has stated, with perfect timing, that it has a black beak and black legs.

Whether this is just her observation or an official statement representing the view of the government she represents is unclear as yet.

Among the many things that many people with self-assumed wisdom are saying, a seer of some significance has predicted some disaster for the Mysore royal family and that too before this year’s Dasara that is almost upon us.

With all royal blood, especially Indian, having always been very prone to taking soothsayers and their sayings very seriously, the only surviving scion of our royal family naturally seems rather perturbed over this part of what the white crow seems to portend.

Very soon, we are bound to read about the precautions and pre-emptive actions that he certainly should and naturally would be taking to ward of the evil.

I will not be surprised if the government too steps in with its official explanation of the significance of this event, eventually attributing all its present instability and indigestion to the poor crow.

Incidentally, perhaps unknown even to most doctors, in medical parlance, a ‘white crow’ refers to any disorder that is so rare that a doctor is unlikely to encounter it in a lifetime of medical practice. This may exactly be one such case.

K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: And, suddenly, two flew over the Yuvaraja’s nest

And, suddenly, two flew over the Yuvaraja’s nest

28 August 2008

An eagle sails over the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore (and another hovers around) on Thursday. The scion of the erstwhile royal family, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, is reportedly spending sleepless nights pondering what the appearance of a white crow portends for him, his property and the people of the region.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

An open letter to Ms Shobha Karandlaje; cc: DC

22 August 2008

Respected Madam,

This is with regard to the forthcoming Dasara celebrations in Mysore.

It is heartening to note that, as the district in-charge minister, you have made a deliberate bid to involve the public and industry while chalking out the programmes for the ten-day festival.

While it is nice to know of the various events that are on the anvil, one would also like to know what has happened to the “Sound ‘n’ Light” show on the history of Mysore, similar to the one at the Red Fort in Delhi, that was planned and commissioned some years ago ?

The son et luminiere, directed by T.S. Nagabharana, was launched with a lot of fanfare and a lot more funds three or more years ago. However, all it has generated since then has been heat, apparently because of disagreement over the script.

The scion of the erstwhile royal family, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, had raised some objections with the original script written by Lingadevaru Halemane. The then government appointed a panel of writers, with senior journalist Krishna Vattam and former Mysore mayor R.G. Narasimha Iyengar from INTACH, to redo the script.

Even a trial run of the programme with the new script was shown to some journalists at that time, as can be evidenced from this photograph (courtesy The Hindu).

We understand the script has been redone to the satisfaction of all concerned. However, nobody knows the exact fate of the project, what is holding it up, and when it is likely to be completed.  It goes without that a lot of expenditure would have been incurred on this project with no result to show for after all these years.

It will be wonderful if the sound and light show can see the light of the day during this Dasara.

Could you kindly look into the matter, trace the whereabouts of this project, and with the help of able officers like deputy commissioner P. Manivannan ensure that the project comes out of hiding into the open?

We are sure you would agree nothing would be more pleasing for a Mysorean and the tourist, national and international, to experience the history of Mysore by watching the programme during the magical Navaratri.

This would indeed give a much-needed boost to tourism in Mysore and be a fitting tribute to a great heritage City.

Yours sincerely


cc: P. Manivannan, deputy commissioner


Also read: Is Srikantadatta Wodeyar part of Mysore’s royal history?

P.V. NANJARAJE URS: ‘Tell the full, fair, undistorted story’

CHURUMURI POLL: Twenty20 to promote 60-30?

22 February 2008

The Indian Premier League has hogged the headlines over the dazzling rates commanded by some players, India’s growing commercial hold over global cricket, the entry of big money and glamour into cricket, the disparity of a few dozen earning what could sustain hundreds of millions, the objections raised by the usual suspects to the auctioning of human beings, etc. None of these matter too much from the point-of-view of fans, fanatics and followers of the game, who will now get to see a more thrilling but shorter version of their favourite opium invade their bloodstream.

For them, though, the key issues will be the steep ticket rates at the hands of corporates who have shelled out hundreds of crores, steep food and drink prices in-stadia, and such like. But for parents, purists and medical activists, especially in Karnataka, there is also the very real prospect of cricket being used to promote hard liquor. The Bangalore IPL franchise, owned by beer baron Vijay Mallya, has announced that the team will be called “Royal Challengers”. That might seem appropriate given the State’s umbilical link with maharajas, with an erstwhile yuvaraja as KSCA chief. But it’s a cleverly chosen name that could be used to push the whisky brand “Royal Challenge” owned by Mallya’s United Breweries.

Questions: Will Mallya end up using cricket—and “clean” stars like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble—to promote hard liquors like whisky? Or is it OK if he can have an airliner named after Kingfisher, beer not the bird? Should IPL allow the name Royal Challengers considering its longer-term impact potential on society? Or is a franchise owner free to name and use a team he has bought any which way he wants? When western countries have banned cigarette and liquor advertising in sport, should cricket allow considering its possible impact on young, impressionable minds?

Are we just being a little too prudish in the era of consumption and growing permissiveness? Or is there something called Corporate Social Responsibility that goes beyond initiatives designed to fetch headlines in the colour supplements?

Photograph: Press Association, courtesy The Daily Telegraph, London

Also read: Are Twenty20 cheer girls obscene?