By A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore
Mysuru, which the Britishers pro-nounced as My-sore, is the gift of Goddess Mahishasuramardini. According to mythology, the demon Mahishasura was tormenting the good people and was spoiling the Vedic way of life. The tormented people prayed to the Goddess and she assumed the form of a Mahisha and killed him and brought solace to the population. Hence the place came to be called as the town of Mahishamardini. That this was an ancient one is attested to by the inscriptions of Ashoka.
Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to Mahisha-mandala which is nothing but Mahishapura that has been corrupted now as Mysore. This is further strengthened by Tamil literary works in which it is referred to as Erumainadu, meaning the buffalo land.
Apart from Puranic and literary sources inscriptions refer to this place as Mahishapura, Mahishasurapura, Mahishuru etc. In course of time it came to be called as Maisunadu-70. Perhaps it was an ancient territory comprising 70 villages or the revenue of which was 70 gold coins. If it is accepted as a cluster of 70 villages, Maisuru should have been the central place of a Palegar (a Chief). Thus it had an exalted place from ancient times itself.
No other city has a natural gift of a hill as Maisuru. The famous Chamundi Hill was originally called Mahabaleswara Hill. Once the Maharajas of Mysore accepted her as their tutelary deity, Chamundi (Mahishamardini) Betta attained sanctity and popularity. Even today any tourist who visits Mysuru would definitely want to visit the Chamundi Hill and worship the Goddess and get blessed. It may be compared to Kashi of Northern India. Though there are well laid out steps to reach the Chamundi temple, most people nowadays go by vehicles. The Chamundi temple is a structure in Dravidian style with a gopura of the Vijayanagara style. The contribution of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar cannot be ignored. The late Maharaja Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar was a great devotee and has composed many songs in her favour, which are rendered even today by singers.
How can anybody ignore Mysore Palace and Mysuru Dasara. The Palace has been attracting visitors from India and abroad. The Dasara Durbar of the Maharajas of Mysore has become proverbially famous for its grandeur. The golden throne on which the Maharaja used to sit has a long tradition. The entire Palace is lit by electric lights and takes one to the land of Indra. Such a spectacle is hard to find in any other part of the world. Though comparisons are odious, the Buckingham Palace has a shade less. Jaganmohan Palace is another jewel in the crown of Mysuru. It was built in 1860 during the rule of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. When the then Mysore Palace was destroyed, this was used as the Palace of the Maharajas and many important functions were celebrated here including the coronation of the Yuvaraja. Sessions of people’s representatives were also held here for some time. Even the convocation of the Mysore University took place here. Now it is a royal museum where the paintings of Raja Ravivarma, many European painters, including those of Roerich. Now it is a place where many cultural functions take place attracting a large number of visitors.
There was a wooden Palace in Mysore and unfortunately it was destroyed in a fire accident. Then it was decided to build a stone Palace and it was done under architect Henry Irwin with engineer B. P. Raghavulu. The work was started in 1897 and completed in 1912. In those days the cost of construction was about Rs. 41 lakh. Facing East, the Palace is 245 ft. long, 156 ft. wide and 145 ft. tall. The inner portions have pillars which have gold coating. In fact this Palace has attracted more number of visitors than the famous Taj Mahal at Agra.
Another Palace of great beauty is the Lalitha Mahal. It is another beauty which has made Mysuru great. Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV built this building for the foreign guests in 1931 at a cost of Rs.13 lakh. Now it is a royal lodging for foreigners who would like to taste the royalty of the old world charm. The architect of this building was E. W. Fritchle. The staircase is built of marble. Thus it is royalty personified.
Another prestigious structure of the city is the Oriental Research Institute (ORI). Actually it was built in honour of the golden jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria in 1891 and was named as Victoria Jubilee Institute. It is a harmonious combination of various styles such as Gothic, Corinthian and Romanesque. Its outer walls have some loose Hoysala sculptures brought from somewhere. This institute overnight became famous all over the world because of the discovery of the manuscript of Kautilya’s Arthasastra. Rudrapatnam Shamasastri was the great scholar who noticed this palm leaf manuscript among a heap of about 70,000 manuscripts. Arthasastra created a flutter in the international scholarly community. This place is now called as place of Kautilya (Kautilya Sthala). The Ford Foundation gave a huge grant to digitally copy these priceless manuscripts for posterity. Its library is used by many people interested in our cultural heritage under the guidance of its present Director Dr. H.P. Devaki. A large number of Sanskrit scholars have been working here doing research on these palm leaf manuscripts.
Mysuru is always considered to be a centre of education. Schools and colleges abound in Mysuru catering to the needs of education of both boys and girls. Maharaja’s High School, Maharaja’s College, Yuvaraja’s College, St. Philomena’s School and College, Teresian College etc., are famous in the city. I myself had the good fortune of studying in both Yuvaraja’s (First Grade College) and Maharaja’s College. Maharaja’s College during my days had excellent faculty including Kuvempu, Nikam, Nilakantha Sastri, T. A. Purushotham etc. That was a glorious period. Junior and Senior BA Halls were witness to hundreds of cultural programmes. Prof. V. L. D’Souza was the Vice-Chancellor when I was a student of Maharaja’s College. When I appeared for an interview at Delhi for a Fulbright Scholarship, the Committee Chairman Dr. Olive Reddick (Chairman of the United States Education Foundation in India) said ‘this candidate (me) is from Mysore University and that too a student of Prof. Nilakantha Sastri and what is there to interview him.’ I was simply selected. People say what is in a name; but everything is there in a name (namabala). That is the magic in the name of Mysuru.
Considering the development of education, Kuvempu selected a vast area and gave it the name Manasagangothri. I had the good fortune of teaching at Manasagangothri and heading the Department of Indology (later Ancient History and Archaeology) till my retirement in 1995. In addition, Regional College of Education, JSS Institutions, National Institute of Engineering, etc., Administrative Training Institute, Karnataka State Open University have developed in Mysuru. All being the Centre of Education.
Mysuru has also become the home of many cultural organisations including Gangubai Hanagal Music University. Mysore University itself has a Fine Arts College. Nadabrahma Sangeetha Sabha and Ganabharathi are great names in the sphere of music and dance.
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BVB), Mysore Kendra, is another educational and cultural organisation. It runs a High School, a management institute called Bhavan’s Priyamvada Birla Institute of Management, Kalabharati, which arranges week-end and monthly music programmes. Thus BVB, founded by Kulapati K. M. Munshi, has been doing great service in our city too.
Mysuru also has many temples and Mutts to cater to the needs of religious persons. The temples in Mysore Palace premises, Shankara Mutt etc., are justly famous. The Athara Kacheri or the Deputy Commissioner’s Office is a fine traditional structure. We cannot forget the awe-inspiring Crawford Hall, the headquarters of the Mysore University. By its side is the scouts headquarters named after Jayachamaraja Wadiyar.
Mysuru also had a mint at Nazarbad (a suburb of Mysuru) during the time of Tipu Sultan. At present there is a mint in Mysuru which caters to the needs of the country. It is said that during the recent demonetisation, the mint worked continuously for weeks together and won the appreciation of the Prime Minister. Thus our city has served the cause of political, educational economic, religious and cultural spheres and such cities are really rare. It is our duty to maintain it as a model city not only in Karnataka but in the whole country. Let us all work towards that end.