One famous historical place in Southern India is Mysore Palace, also known as the Amba Vilas Palace. It is located in the city of Mysore/Mysuru, in Karnataka. The Palace is famous for its beautiful architecture, intricate carvings, and rich history.
The two most notable artefacts or features of the Mysore Palace are – The Mysore Simhasana, also known as the Golden throne/Chinnada Simhasana. And the Golden Howdah, also known as the Mysore Palace Golden Ambari. Let’s read about the Golden Ambari, its weight, and its history today. And I already wrote about the Mysore Simhasana in my previous blog – From the Epic Mahabharata to the Wadeyar Dynasty – Journey of the Golden Throne.
Mysore Palace Golden Ambari
Golden Hawdah – Golden Ambari – Chinnada Ambari – is a magnificent throne-like structure or a carrier made of gold. This howdah is mounted on the Elephant and used to carry Mysore’s Maharaja (king) during special occasions, such as the Dasara/Dussehra festival. This elephant procession is called “Jamboo Savari or Jambu Savari.” Even today, during the Dasara celebration, this procession with Golden Ambari is the main point of attraction.
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Since 1800, the ruling king would sit in the Golden Ambari, and a lead elephant would carry the howdah for the processions. But in 1971, this tradition changed after the Privy Purse’s abolition. They started placing the idol of goddess Sri Chamundeshwari in the Golden Amabri, which is then mounted on the Elephant. Even today, the same tradition is followed during Dasara (Vijayadashami) procession – Jamboo Savari.
Golden Ambari Weight:
Though the exact date of making this Golden Ambari is unknown, Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV or Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar gave a renewed look to golden howdah during his period: 1902 to 1940. It is a wood structure weighing 750 Kg in total, covered with 85 Kg of Gold. The golden work of this Hawdah is done by Sri Singannacharya, known as the “Swarnakala Nipuna.”
The Mysore palace golden ambari has two wide seats to accommodate the kings. The pillars on four sides have beautiful carvings. And the main seat is made of Silver.
The Tradition of Dasara Procession:
Every year during the Navaratri, a 9-day-long Dasara celebration, Jamboo Savari sets out on the streets of Mysore. Golden Ambari of Mysore palace is placed on the lead Elephant, and a procession of 5.5 kilometres long is conducted in Mysore city. This procession starts from the Palace and ends at the Bannimantapa, where the final rituals of the festival will be followed.
Lead Elephants to Carry Golden Ambari:
The Elephant (lead elephant), which carries this Golden Ambari, is well-trained and groomed in advance for this purpose for years. From 1999 to 2011, the “Balarama” elephant carried the golden howdah 13 times in a row (for 13 processions). Later in 2012, the “Arjuna” became the lead Elephant after defeating the Balarama in reversals.
After the government selection of the lead Elephant in October 2012, Arjuna carried the golden howdah for 7 years during Dasara festivities, from 2012 to 2019. And in 2019, elephant Arjuna was added to the list of retiring elephants (over 60 years of age). Since then, the duty of carrying the Golden Howdah has been assigned to “Abhimanyu.” And Abhimanyu has been the lead Elephant carrying the Ambari during Dasara processions since 2020.
During the Jamboo Savari procession, a decorated elephant carrying the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari, the presiding deity of Mysore, is taken around the city in a grand procession. Other decorated elephants, horses, camels, and cultural troupes from different parts of the state accompany the Elephant. The procession also includes various tableaus depicting the state’s rich cultural heritage.
The Jamboo Savari procession is a major attraction of the Mysore Dasara festival and draws a huge crowd of tourists and locals alike. The event is marked with much fanfare and celebration, symbolizing the state of Karnataka’s rich cultural heritage and traditions.
Remembering the Legacy of Balarama Elephant
With heavy hearts and deep sadness, we bid farewell to a true icon of Mysore’s cultural heritage, the legendary lead elephant Balarama. After a remarkable journey of 65 years, Balarama, a symbol of grace and majesty, has peacefully passed away, leaving behind a void that will be felt by all who knew and admired him.
An Ambassador of Heritage
Balarama owns the pride of carrying the majestic Golden Ambari/Golden Hawdah, continuously 13 times – from 1999 to 2011. The Predecessor of Drona, and the Successor of Arjuna, the lead elephant Balarama was first captured in the Kattepura forest in Kodagu (Coorg Region). He weighed 4590 Kilograms, with a height of 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in), Balarama was looked after at the Morkal Elephant camp at Nagarahole national park. The Mahout who took care of Balarama was Sannappa, after his retirement the duty was assigned to Master Thimma.
Since April last week, Balarama was critically ill. And he was under treatment by veterinarians at the Bhimanakatte elephant camp in the Hunsur range. He was suspected to be suffering from mouth ulcers and Tuberculosis. But despite all the medical efforts, Balarama passed away on 7th May 2023.
As we say our final goodbye to Balarama, it is essential for us to reflect upon the valuable lessons he imparted to us. Through his strength, dignity, and unwavering commitment to our cultural heritage, Balarama reminded us of the profound connection we share with the majestic creatures that inhabit our planet. In honor of his memory, let us wholeheartedly embrace the traditions he embodied, ensuring that his legacy endures within the hearts and minds of generations to come.
Another Legend Lost
As we still trying to accept the loss of Balarama, we lost another lead elephant of Mysuru Dasara – The Arjuna. Arjuna was the lead elephant and carried Golden Howdah and Goddess Chamundeshwari from 2012 to 2019. He was named after the famous Pandavas – Arjuna.
Arjuna was part of an operation to tackle wild elephants in Western Ghats, held by the Forest Department Of Karnataka. Unfortunately, Arjuna breathed his last during the operation, by an attack of wild tusker. This incident happened just few days after the Dasara Festival of 2023. And Arjuna left us on 4th December 2023.