Saturday, September 08, 2007

6 September 2007: Mysore Aramane

As one of my few acts of tourism on this trip, I went to the Mysore Palace today. Had to pay the foreigner entrance fee of Rs 100 (vs. Rs 20), but got a nice little booklet that locals didn’t seem to receive in exchange. You can only take photos outside, so I wandered around the grounds first before going inside. The big 10-day festival of Dussehra is coming up, so there was lots of work being done on the grounds. I was excited to see 4 “oliphants” chilling and eating grass. I was going to call them royal elephants, but since the palace belongs to the state now, perhaps they’re better called ceremonial elephants. When I looked though my photos later, though, I realized they had a chain on their front legs, which made me sad. Camera deposited (Rs 5) and shoes removed (50 paise), I entered the palace. It was especially exciting to visit the palace because my Bharatanatyam teacher’s guru, Padmabushan Venkatalakshamma, was a court dancer here during the reign of the last two maharajas. The last majaraja ruled until 1956 when Karnataka state was formed, at which time he was elected governor. In southern India, the royal courts were important patrons of the arts, including dance. Mysore style Bharatanatyam, which flourished in the court, is known especially for its abhinaya, which can be translated as story telling and expression. The maharaja’s heir, with no official title or duties, still lives in the western wing of the palace. This particular palace was built when the previous wooden one burnt down in 1897. It was completed in 1912, and while they boast that much of the artisanship brought to bear on the palace was local, the architect was British, as were the designers of other key features of the palace. I don’t know why that surprised me. I guess I thought in the middle of an occupation you wouldn’t turn to your occupiers to design your royal palace. Carved teakwood doors and ceilings, brass gates, stained glass ceilings, marble, ceramic tiles, ivory inlaid doors, murals… the interior of the palace is really quite spectacular. While ropes kept us moving in the right direction and from getting to close to the exhibits, I was surprised to see people touching the teak doors and marble columns without getting yelled at by guards. Emboldened, I did the same! Lonely Planet warned that the separate Residential Museum “is rather dull,” and they were right.

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