Oh, King Krishna, Lord of the earth, ……you are resplendent with the blessings of Goddess Chamundeshwari…. You are the lord of the Karnataka, …. This golden umbrella of the golden throne which you have inherited from your illustrious ancestors, evokes the awe of the whole world.’
This verse dedicated to Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1794-1868), is engraved into solid gold, in one of the most magnificent pieces of royal regalia ever created in India – the ‘Ratna Simhasana’ or the Golden Throne of Mysore. Weighing 70 kgs (of gold), the throne is the chief attraction of the Dusshera celebrations at the Amba Vilas palace in Mysore. This is the only time of the year that the throne is brought out and thousands of people line up in a queue to see it.
Of Myths and Legends - Pandavas to Wodeyars
The throne is made of Fig wood with panels of thick gold beaten into it. As per the old legends of Mysore kings, the throne is said to have originally belonged to the eldest of the Pandava brothers Dharmaraja Yudhishthira, from the epic Mahabharata. It is said to have passed through centuries to various kingdoms in southern India, who revered it as a symbol of divine kingship- the throne of the ‘Dharmarajas’.
As per the historic accounts of the throne, found in various Mysore chronicles, it was originally in the possession of the Raya Kings of Kampili, a kingdom covering Tungabhadra region, who ruled from Penukonda in the early 14th century. It later passed on to the Vijayanagara emperors. Following the decline of the Vijayanagar empire in the late 16th century, the Wodeyars of Mysore, who were originally vassal chieftains of Vijayanagara, began to assert their authority and took over the vast territories of their former overlords - as well as this throne.
In 1610, on Dusshera day, Raja Wodeyar (r.1578-1617) declared himself independent and ascended the throne at Seringapatam, their old capital. He began the tradition of the lavish Mysore Dusshera festivities which was continued by his successors.As per the oral tradition, this is the very throne on which the Vijayanagara emperors used to sit, but this cannot be historically verified.
During the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan from 1761 to 1799, the throne was locked up in one of the rooms of the Tipu palace. It was only restored back to the Wodeyars after the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799. The throne was repaired and enlarged in 1940-45 and took its present form.
Kurmasana – The seat of the divine tourtoise
As the throne of the ‘Dharmarajas’, the Mysore throne is covered with religious symbolism. In the front is a golden lion which represents Goddess Durga as well as Sovereignty. Around the throne are the figurines of Ashta-Dikpalas or the guardians of the eight directions, along with those of the elephants on the east, horses on the south, soldiers on the west and chariots on the north. The reliefs of Brahma in the south, Maheshwara in the north and Vishnu in the center which represent the ‘Trimurti’ are found in the center. On the backrest, is craved the ‘Gandabherunda’, the royal emblem of the Mysore kings below which is engraved the motto ‘Satyamevoodharaham’ (I shall uphold the truth always) in Sanskrit.
Protecting the throne from above is the golden umbrella studded with precious stone on top of which is placed a celestial bird called Huma, with an emerald gem in its beak.The seat on which the Maharaja sits is called the ‘Kurmasana’. It is a bejeweled cushion shaped like a tortoise and is an allegory to ‘Kurma’, the divine tortoise in Hindu beliefs, on whose back the world rests.
The Great Rituals of the throne
So sacred is this throne of the ‘Dharmarajas’, that there are great rituals in place even for the Mysore Maharajas to sit on it. It begins with the tying of the sacred gold threads, on the Maharaja’s wrist to protect him from the ‘evil’ eye and other impurities. This is followed by an elaborate ritual bath, in which the waters from 32 different water bodies are brought to the palace in silver pots or ‘Kalashas’. Each ‘Kalasha’ represents a deity who is invoked to bless the King, who is then ritually bathed with these waters. After the ritual bath, the King circumambulates the throne thrice, bows the throne and ascends it. The sacred sword of Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed next to the King.
This tradition, which began in 1610, continues unchanged to this day. Following India’s independence in 1947 and the merger of Mysore, the Government of Karnataka began to sponsor the Dusshera celebrations. Today, the Gold Throne of Mysore remains the biggest attraction for visitors, who come to admire its grandeur and opulence. But are generally unaware of its great religious and historic significance.
If you enjoyed this article, you will love LHI Circle - your Digital Gateway to the Best of India's history and heritage. You can enjoy our virtual tours to the must-see sites across India, meet leading historians and best-selling authors, and enjoy tours of the top museums across the world. Join LHI Circle here