Just like that, with barely any to-do evident to the world outside, Mysore crowned a new maharaja. The swarming multitudes were conspicuous by their absence. Outside in the city, the new king’s subjects carried on as if it were just another day.
The Wadiyars of Mysore are among the richest royals in India, their “kingdom” encompassing several palaces in Mysore and Bangalore, other real estate valued at thousands of crores of rupees as well as antiques, vintage cars and jewellery. The Wadiyars have ruled the Mysore region from 1399 until just after Independence. The last head of the dynasty, Srikantadatta Wadiyar, declared assets worth Rs 1,500 crore back in 2004, when he contested parliamentary elections. He was twice elected MP and passed away in 2013.
Mysore, one of the cultural pillars of southern India, is famous for its exquisite palaces. In the most prominent of these, the famed Amba Vilas Palace, a 23-year-old US-returned economics graduate, Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar, ascended the silver throne last week as the 27th head of the Wadiyar dynasty. The previous such event was over four decades ago, when the late Srikantadatta took over.
Mysore is less than 150 kilometres from Bangalore, India’s technology and startup hub, and yet, the charms of this captivating city with its old-world feel and laidback air are vastly undervalued. Most of its post-Independence existence has been in the shadow of its famed neighbour. Its visibility is now limited to those in the tourist circuit who come to gawk at its stunning but under-managed palaces.
The ritualistic and elaborate coronation of Yaduveer, involving 16 temples and dozens of priests, was a brief chance for Mysore to snatch back the spotlight. But it turned out to be an underwhelming event, just a bunch of ceremonies away from the public eye. The coronation was ultimately a “palace affair”, with the Karnataka government showing scant enthusiasm to participate and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah conspicuous by his absence. The government apathy was tellingly illustrated by one episode: after the ritual coronation, the newly crowned prince was to be led around a decorated, illuminated Amba Vilas astride a caparisoned elephant. But the government refused to lend the state’s best-known pachyderm, Balarama, for the ceremonies, dismissing it as a private event for which captive state elephants could not be loaned.
The events preceding the coronation were rife with palace intrigue. Generations of Mysore kings are said to be fated by an ancient curse to remain childless, and Wadiyar’s 2013 passing without a descendent necessitated an adoption. Yaduveer was adopted earlier this year by Pramoda Devi, the widow of Srikantadatta. Yaduveer is the grandson of Srikantadatta’s older sister, Gayatri Devi. The choice caused heartburn, most prominently to Chaduranga Kantharaj Urs, a nephew of the former scion who is now engaged in a court combat over the succession. The royal family is already entangled in a protracted legal battle over its right to the estate properties acquired decades ago by the Karnataka government.
Can the 23-year-old “king” shine a deserved spotlight on Mysore? His predecessors made Mysore a thriving cultural epicentre in the region, extending patronage to the arts, building industries, dams and educational institutions. The new maharaja is just graduating with a degree in economics from a university in Boston.
It would be a pity if the new scion spends his entire time engaged in legal tussles rather than focus on reviving a city that was once a glorious capital. He could help revitalise the stunning Mysore Dussehra celebration and restore it to its heritage-event status. He could order better upkeep of the various palaces currently overrun by monkeys and sellers of cheap plastic toys. He could further the potential of Mysore as a global yoga hub. The contemporary maharaja with a 600-year tradition can step up and deliver, despite his modern-day “subjects” having zero expectations from him.