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Here's an article that I wrote for the Rangoli magazine (Nov. 2009):
Magic or Mayhem?
The Dasara festival is celebrated all over India, but nowhere is the pomp and circumstance more revelled in than Mysore. Royalty, decorated elephants, and the grand procession: the six of us (four adults/two children, 12 and 10 years) couldn’t wait to see it.
My sister and brother-in-law flew in from Canada Friday at midnight, and Sunday afternoon we were on the Tippu Express to Mysore. That evening we joined throngs of people in front of Mysore Palace to watch traditional Indian dancing. The palace, lit with thousands of lights, made a wonderful backdrop.
Monday morning we were off to look for a good spot to watch the grand procession. By chance we came upon many of the troupes assembled in a courtyard, readying themselves for the big event. It was like being backstage at the biggest festival of the year – and I guess we were. It was a riot of sights, sounds and colors.
Drummers and dancers worked themselves into a frenzy perfecting their acts. Others added last minute touches to their makeup and costumes. Stilt walkers leaned against trucks and those dressed as Indian Gods and Goddesses transformed into their characters.
We wandered from group to group and everyone greeted us with a big smile. Men in bright yellow turbans painted each other’s foreheads with three horizontal white lines: the sign of Shiva. Before we knew it they pulled us over and painted the same on us.
Head-to-toe body paint turned another set of performers into wild tigers and cats. The costumes and creativity wowed us. Many of the performers posed for us. We took their photo and they took ours as well. It was an all around good time.
As with all things in India it seems there must be a balance. If the morning was magic, the afternoon could only be mayhem. The procession started in the early afternoon. We tried to get through the crowd but it soon turned into a mob, pushing in all directions. We held hands and retreated to a safe spot.
Oddly enough a small truck pulled up. The driver let us climb onto the open back where we could see the procession route. Some other guys tried to pile onto the truck but the weight was too much and the truck tipped backwards. They jumped off and the truck righted, but we’d had enough. We jumped down, out of harms way.
We felt defeated. Three of us caught a rickshaw to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant for a good stiff drink. The others stayed and the only one who ended up seeing anything was ten-year-old Craig who sat on his Dad’s shoulders. After a few floats and four mighty elephants, they too left, worried about getting caught up in the mob at the end.
Magic or mayhem? Well, that’s obvious. For us the procession was mayhem. Next time I would see about buying tickets to view the procession from the stands within the palace grounds.
However, the magic of the morning clearly balanced out the mayhem of the afternoon. Spending the morning “backstage” with the performers was an unexpected and joyous experience – an experience we will never forget.