BOOM… Gunner Anthony Cruz recounts the tradition of 21-gun salute
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BOOM… Gunner Anthony Cruz recounts the tradition of 21-gun salute

February 16, 2024

By S. Kenneth Shishir

The tradition of firing cannons, initiated by the East India Company in the early 18th century with the 21-gun salute — the highest honour bestowed upon rulers or top-ranking officers — is still observed today.

This practice is a mark of reverence to the presiding deity of Mysuru, Goddess Sri Chamundeshwari, during the Jumboo Savari on Vijayadashami Day.

Executing the firing of the traditional cannons, housed in the Mysore Palace, demands both skill and courage.

The gunner, responsible for igniting the fuse and the staff from the City Armed Reserve (CAR) force endure the thunderous sound of these cannons. The cannons are used to perform a 21-round salute within a minute, with each cannon firing three rounds, from seven cannons totalling 21 rounds.

Gunner Anthony Cruz lighting miniature cannon to acclimatise Dasara elephants to the booming sound.

Among the esteemed gunners is 77-year-old Anthony Cruz, a retired member of the CAR with a service record spanning over 39 years.

A resident of Raghavendranagar in Mysuru, Anthony Cruz joined the Dismounted Company (now City Armed Reserve) Police force in 1966 as a Constable. He retired on May 3, 2005, holding the rank of Head Constable.

Notably, Anthony was enlisted into the ‘Pirangi Dal’ (cannon firing squad) in 1996-97, where he served as a gunner for 28 years until 2004.

Anthony Cruz claimed that initially, the gunpowder for the cannons was sourced from London, and later, it was procured locally from Ballari and Arasikere in Hassan. Emphasising the importance of security, he noted that stringent 24×7 measures were in place to safeguard the gunpowder.

Highlighting the cannon inventory, Anthony mentioned the presence of three short-barrel and four long-barrel cannons. However, during Dasara, only three cannons were utilised to perform the 21-gun salute.

Anthony Cruz (left) with his colleague posing in front of a cannon at Mysore Palace during Dasara in 1996.

The boom sound

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Anthony recounted the tradition of firing 21 shots near Mysore Palace and an additional 21 rounds at the Torchlight Parade Grounds in Bannimantap. The cannons used near the Palace were then transported in the Dasara procession (Jumboo Savari) to Bannimantap, where another 21 shots were fired.

He reminisced about the heightened intensity of the cannon sounds during his tenure, stating that the current cannons produce sound levels almost three times lower. “My heart used to skip a beat to the booming sounds of the cannons as the intensity of the sound was almost triple than the sound produced by the cannons now.”

In consideration of the safety of the staff during cannon firing, precautionary measures were taken. Two fire-resistant dungarees (dangri), typically worn by firefighters, were procured from Mandya and Hassan, as the Mysuru unit had only one. These measures aimed to mitigate the risk of accidental fires during the cannon firing ceremonies.

Anthony Cruz with his wife Mary Elizabeth, daughters Irudaya Mary and Sagaya Mary and grandson Rishawn Adriel Lobo.

Communication through flags

During that era, due to absence of sufficient wireless equipment, communication was facilitated through use of flags, which were manoeuvred in various directions. Anthony recalled that 21 shots were fired in two minutes when the English Band played the National Anthem.

Initially, the responsibility for the cannons rested with the Dismounted Company, which executed the firing during Dasara at Gun House. Subsequently, cannon firing operations moved from inside Mysore Palace premises to the area outside the Palace, which is now utilised as a parking lot.

Reflecting on a noteworthy incident, Anthony shared an experience when a 21-gun salute was halted midway. During the visit of the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, a 21-gun salute was ordered in his honour. However, after firing 18 shots, the salute was abruptly stopped as the President expressed discomfort.

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Anthony, who was also a sportsperson, boasted of winning numerous prizes in various sports meets, earning commendation from his senior officers.

No health benefits

Despite his fitness during his service, he now faces respiratory problems attributed to prolonged exposure to gunpowder smoke over his 28 years of cannon-firing duty. Anthony lamented the financial burden of medical treatment, as retired Policemen do not receive health benefits.

Additionally, Anthony served in the Special Task Force (STF) formed to apprehend the notorious sandalwood smuggler and poacher Veerappan.

Despite being recommended for the President’s Medal eight times during his 39 years of service, Anthony expressed regret at not making it to the list, attributing it to a lack of recognition from the authorities.

Presently, he resides with his wife Mary Elizabeth and daughters Irudaya Mary and Sagaya Mary at Raghavendranagar in Mysuru.

Rubbing shoulders with dashing Kabir Bedi

Anthony Cruz seized a unique opportunity to capture a photograph with the charismatic Kabir Bedi when the Bollywood actor visited Srirangapatna for the filming of the 1996 television series, ‘The Return of Sandokan.’  Anthony, along with fellow Police personnel, was assigned to provide security to the actor and the crew throughout the shooting period.

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