Posts Tagged ‘Srikantadatta 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?

CHURUMURI POLL: Yella OK, andru KPL yaake?

31 July 2009

The Karnataka State Cricket Association’s decision to conduct a Twenty20 tournament called the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) has split cricketers. Former Test match legends like Erapalli Prasanna and Syed Kirmani think that it is a step in the right direction and that it will help “rural talent”. Stars like Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid, who have played the IPL, Tests and ODIs, are not quite so cock-a-hoop.

Indeed, in a cricketing establishment where the only thing that drives cricketers and organisers is the rustle of the rupee and being on the right side of the turnstile, Kumble has bravely stuck his neck out against KPL, the brainchild of Srikandatta Wodeyar and Brijesh Patel. Kumble says it is “not a positive or healthy development”, “that in its present form it would allow a backdoor entry to people not passionate about cricket.”

What is the KPL about? What is the point of the whole exercise?” Kumble has said. “Why isn’t the KSCA itself organising it? Why is it going in for private team franchises when the costs are so moderate?”

At one level, is the very real danger of forces beyond the boundary—real estate mafia, underworld dons, politicians, film stars, liquor dons—gaining a stranglehold over the game, with all its attendant miseries. Mutthappa Rai, among others, wants a piece of the cake. At another level, is the future of Karnataka cricket if all it starts producing from the ground-up are slam-bang cricketers, untrained for the longer version of the game.

Question: Is KPL a good idea or not? Will it help the quality of Karnataka cricket, and thus Indian cricket? If the idea is to promote mofussil talent, will it help to play all the matches in Bangalore? If the idea is to promote cricket, why isn’t the cash-flush KSCA conducting its league tournaments properly? Will TV audiences and spectators take to the KPL like they do the IPL? Will the big bucks roll in or is the KSCA killing the goose?

Also read: ‘Karnataka cricket is not Brijesh Patel‘s jagir

One small step for man, one giant leap for a…

When Srikantadatta Wodeyar met Gundappa Vishwanath

Look, who’s seeking the help of Muthappa Rai

When our Rameshwar starts scoring like Virender

5 April 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Since I couldn’t get the darshan of Shri. Rameshwar Thakurji, Governor of Karnataka, at the Janatha Darshan last Saturday, I went to the Raj Bhavan on Sunday afternoon.

The security being what it is across the country, I had no trouble in entering the premises. I was surprised to see Hormuz Tharakan, the governor’s advisor, working in the office.

He was sitting in front of what the IT people would call a ‘Work Station’. It had a huge monitor with banks of telephones of various colours.

When I told him the purpose of my visit, he was more than willing to share the information.

“The Governor is now running Karnataka like a General moving the troops during wartime. I understand he has affected more than 1,000 transfers from the time he took after President’s Rule,” I started.

“You can call it ‘Governor’s Rule’,” agreed the affable advisor. “His transfer rate is faster than Virender Sehwag’s scoring rate at Chepauk. This is actually the governor’s desk. He works so fast, I have to come on Sundays to update all his files.”

“He must be regularly getting advice from the President?”

“Hardly. It’s the UPA chairperson who calls him on the red phone twice every hour. She can access him on this phone, even if he doesn’t pick up the handset! The green phone is used by Rahul Gandhi who believes in saving the environment. In fact, he used to call on the red phone prior to his visit to Nagarahole.”

“Why are so many transfers effected in Karnataka?”

“Quite a few are routine which happens before elections! You are aware Congress has more than half-a-dozen coordination committees for the elections. Sometimes, former CM S.M. Krishna comes with a list followed by Mallikarjuna Kharge with a totally different list. In the evening Siddaramaiah supersedes the earlier lists with a new list seeking transfers. We assign numbers to the final list and feed in to the computer.”

“How do you select who goes where?”

“That‘s simple. Our Governor is a great fan of sudoku. He has converted Karnataka map into a sudoku board. After spraying some numbers across the board, depending on his mood and calls from Delhi, he plays ‘Hard’ and ‘Very Hard’ games till lunch. Once he completely fixes all the numbers, we release the names and the places of all police officers depending on where they end up on his Sudoku board!”

“Very interesting. What about IAS officers?”

“Rahul Gandhi is his recent ‘Discover India’ trip found out there are some places in Karnataka which are so backward that they do not even know A, B or C, forget I, A or S! He wants the IAS officers to be transferred to tribal areas and has suggested they should dress in tribal attire to feel the local flavour and get closer to the tribals. He has also sanctioned a special dress allowance for them. For obvious reasons we can’t post our female officers there yet!”

“Very clever of Rahul. What are Governor’s future plans?”

“He is planning to give tahsildars, pourakarmikas, zilla panchayat chairmen, in fact all those who played hosts to H.D. Kumaraswamy, the sudoku treatment. That number will be quite substantial as you know the CM was only doing that while in power. They will all be transferred to major cities and towns.”

“Does anybody call on the blue telephone?”

“The President calls on that, though rarely. She called when she wanted to buy Mysore silk sarees from the lots shown in the exhibition by Srikantadatta Wodeyar. She also wants to travel on the Golden Chariot. We have to run it only for her family. We are yet to finalise the dates,” said the Advisor.

“I see. There were some more transfers yesterday. How many transfers is he planning?”

“The cricket buff started off, ‘If our Governor goes at the same rate of Sehwag one expects in Kanpur, he will overtake Sachin Tendulkar‘s overall Test and one-day scores, and hit 30,000 transfers before May 8!”

“That’s not bad at all. He can easily make it to Limca book of Records for largest number of transfers.”

“He is not even looking at Limca. He wants his name in the Guinness Book,” said the advisor.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News (left), Cricket

Why the Queen sold her diamonds and jewels

25 March 2008

The Wodeyars of Mysore are at once mighty and mysterious.

Mighty, because they ruled for close to 550 years from AD 1399. Mysterious, because despite their long reign and the wealth of their contributions, they occupy so little of the national imagination, quite unlike other royal families like, say, the Nizams of Hyderabad or the Scindias of Gwalior.

Result: Visitors and tourists have to mostly depend on myth, legend, hearsay, gossip, word-of-mouth and plain fiction.

It’s a vital literary blank that Vikram Sampath tries to fill with “Splendours of Royal Mysore: The Untold Story of The Wodeyars” (Rupa & Co). Bangalore-born Vikram’s interest in the Mysore kings was sparked when he was 12, thanks to the “comical portrayal” of the Wodeyars in Sanjay Khan‘s TV serial Sword of Tipu Sultan. The 800-page tome is a worthy labour of love for the 29-year-old Citibanker, who is also a student of Carnatic classical vocal music.

In this video (above), Vikram speaks about the book, before the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore. Below, he throws light on little known facts about the Wodeyars.




The Wodeyars of Mysore claim their descent from the lunar dynasty of Lord Krishna. The foundation of the dynasty in AD 1399 is attributed to one Yaduraya, son of Raja Deva of Dwaraka in present-day Gujarat. Guided by divine dispensation, they supposedly were driven by dreams to leave Dwaraka for the Mahabala mountains, cradled between the Cauvery and Kapila rivers, and worship the presiding diety, Goddess Chamundeshwari.

By the time the young Yaduraya and his brother Krishnaraya reached Mahisuru (as it was called then), catastrophe had struck the tiny principality. Its chieftain Chamaraja had died and a vile upstart Maranayaka threatened to abduct the pretty princess and usurp the kingdom. These two young men were approached by the helpless queen and after a valiant battle, the villain was killed and Yaduraya was crowned chieftain. This event in the summer of 1399 marked the birth of one of India’s longest reigning houses.


The term ‘Wodeyar‘ signified the humble beginnings of the family. It was a title bestowed on anyone who held sway over 33 villages—which is all that the early “rulers” had command over. But unlike other contemporaries who were content with their position of eminence, the Wodeyars by virtue of their characteristic valour and the benign influence of lady luck, emerged as the inheritors of the traditions of the glorious Vijayanagara empire.


In the course of the power struggle with Vijayanagara, Raja Wodeyar skirmished with the empire’s viceroy Tirumalaraya and his subsequent tiff with his wife Rani Alamelamma led to the supposed suicide of the Rani in AD 1610. She threw herself into the Cauvery with the famous three-line curse which is said to be the reason for the submergence of Talakad in sand, a whirlpool at Malingi, and the childlessness in the Wodeyar lineage.


With the kingdom coming under the spell of weak rulers, a common soldier in the Mysore army—Haidar Ali—rose in the ranks and in 1761 usurped the throne. He and his chivalrous son Tipu Sultan were among the first Indian States to offer a spirited resistance to the British East India Company. Tipu inflicted the most humiliating defeats on the British in the First and Second Anglo-Mysore Wars. But the let-down by all his principal officers and the negotiations with the British by the lingering royal family under Rani Lakshmammanni proved to be Tipu’s ultimate nemesis. He died fighting his kingdom and his honour on 4 May 1799 in the fort of Srirangapatna.


One of the biggest peasant uprisings in India took place in the Mysore kingdom in Nagar (in today’s Shimoga district). It was a first of its kind and led to a mass movement that shook the very foundations of the Mysore kingdom. The movement was ruthlessly squashed and Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was deposed by the British in 1831 and the kingdom passed under Commissioners.


Under the later Wodeyars, especially Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (called as Rajarishi or saint among kings by Mahatma Gandhi himself), Mysore witnessed tremendous economic, social and cultural progress. Mysore State had many firsts to its credit and was hailed as the model State by the founding fathers of independent India. Mysore was the first state to have a democratic system of governance. Local self-government was encouraged as far back as 1918. Mysore was also the first State to provide reservations for the weaker sections of society in government jobs.

Under the amazing Dewan quartet of Rangacharlu, Seshadri Iyer, Sir M. Visveswaraya and Mirza Ismail, industries sprung by the year. Irrigation and power received great priority. The Marihalla project across the Vedavati river, started by Iyer, created the Vani Vilasa Sagar (or Marikanave dam), which was the biggest reservoir in India at the time of completion.

The KRS dam, completed in 1931, created the biggest reservoir in Asia, second only to the Aswan dam across the Nile in Egypt. Since the outlay for the dam exceeded the state budget’s, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (then a mere teenager) and his sagacious mother Regent Queen Kempananjammanni sold costly diamonds, ornaments, gold and silver plates of the royal family in Bombay to provide seed capital for the project.

The Shivanasamudram hydroelectric project was the first of its kind in India, implemented in 1899-1900. Electricity was provided to the Kolar Gold Fields in 1902, and Bangalore became India’s first City to be electrified in 1905. The transmission line was also the first and longest one in the world then.


Mysore developed its own style of playing the veena, called the Mysore Bani. The very name of Mysore evokes memories of great vainikas like Seshanna, Subbanna, Shamanna, Venkatagiriappa and others. Veeneya bedagidhu Mysooru—a line from a popular Kannada poem describes Mysore and the splendour of the veena. Many great classical musicians like Vasudevacharya, Muttaiah Bhagavathar, Chowdaiah, Bidaram Krishnappa and others were patronised.

Mysore also developed its own distinctive style of the classical dance of Bharatanatyam. Many Banis or styles of Kittanna, Nanjangud Rajamma, Mugoor school, Jetti Thayamma school, etc, flourished. Abhinaya was the main forte this style, and was performed seated. Yakshagana was nourished by the Wodeyars and great exponents like Basappa Shastri and Parti Subba were encouraged by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Mysore school of painting was also a distinctive one from the Tanjore style. The ganjifa cards were the characteristic Mysorean cards with elaborate paintings.

Thus, in a long and chequered history, Mysore acquired a distinct social and cultural ethos. For this, and the sound economic foundations on which the modern State of Karnataka were built, we need to give due credit to the rulers of Mysore—the Wodeyars.

Read an excerpt here: Spendours of Royal Mysore