Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reminiscences of a Former Sawar

The history of the Mysore Lancers whose daring in battle is celebrated every year in Haifa, Israel, trace their roots to First Mysore Horse, an Imperial Force raised by the Maharaja of Mysore.The dash and panache of the Mysore Lancers were seen in the early Dasara processions of the ‘50s when the splendidly attired men and their horses marched in the famed Jumboo savari. The Mysore Lancers then maintained by the Maharaja consisted of one regiment of Lancers, one squadron of Mysore Field Infantry and three Infantry battalions. Sept. 23, 2010, is the 92nd anniversary of what is reputed to be the 'Last great cavalry victory of the Mysore Lancers.' It is celebrated in Haifa, Israel, and during war reunions of the great Cavalry regiments of the world. But unfortunately not so in Mysore where the Mysore Lancers took its birth.

Eshwar Rao Chavan, aged 77 years, is still sprightly and looks ageless as he recounts, “We would be on guard duty, astride our horses and the Maharajah would drive by. Sometimes he would tell his driver to stop in case he wanted to speak to one of us, “Aa goobe na kari.’’ (Call that owl!) He would say so with a lot of affection. He was the kindest man I have ever seen.”
Eshwar Rao Chavan is reminiscing his life as a Sawar with the Palace Body Guards, descendants of the famed Mysore Lancers. Plainly dressed, he carries himself straight; even when he is sitting down, he sits erect the way he would sit astride his horse.
He is one among the proud breed of cavalry men around the world about whom there is even an immortal poem, “Into the valley of death rode the gallant six hundred….”
Born in 1933, Eshwar Rao joined the Palace Body Guards in 1951 along with his three brothers after their father retired as a Guard. He retired in 1991. He spoke to us regarding his experience and life in Mysore in the years gone by.
An upright Body Guard: Eshwar Rao in his early years.

After seeing Dasara during the time of Wadiyars, what do you think about the celebrations being carried out now?
Eshwar: Dasara has become a ‘Gombe Aata’ (puppet show) now. In those years, the King would sit on the throne at 7 am on all 9 days of Navratri or 10 days of Dasara. Beautifully printed invitations would be given to dignitaries who in durbar dresses – black coat, white pyjama, peta and valli – would be present with the king. During the procession, horses, Guards, 3rd infantry, Palace Infantry, Whole Infantry, etc would take part. The procession would go around the city and return to the Palace, despite rain or shine. Men in uniform carrying oil lamps and multi-coloured footlights were a feast to the eyes. It’s not the same now and my children and grandchildren take it as a joke when I describe the Dasara that I have witnessed.
How did Jayachamrajendra Wadiyar treat you and the other guards?
Eshwar: We never interacted directly with the king, but he was very kind to us. The king treated all as equal and none were considered inferior.
Eshwar Rao Chavan
During those days, two pure white horses were kept especially for puja purposes. What happened to them and those rituals?
Eshwar: They were called ‘Pattada Kudure’ (royal horses). These horses were selected carefully after considering the stars and the ‘suli.’ They were brought from Kunigal Stud Farm and raised and trained from a young age. These horses would not have even the smallest black spots and were of pure white up to their legs. There were also ‘Pattada Aane’ (elephant) and ‘Pattada Hasu’ (cow).
Now the tradition is gone. They bring a white horse for the puja which may not be pure bred.
What changes do you see in Mysore now?
Eshwar: The city and its people have changed a lot with time. Earlier, two guards mounted on horses were stationed at the Palace gate. People would flock in to see them in particular. Now they have stopped that practice. Mysore Lancers were incorporated into the regular Indian army. Some are seconded to the President’s Guard, others to the Indian Remount Corps and some of us to the Mysore Police.  
Your life - then and now.
Eshwar: There were not many cars or bikes and people had to travel by rackety buses, but life was comfortable then. Once we received the salary, three to four neighbours would take a cart and go to the market for buying monthly ration. After retiring from Palace duty, I have also worked at Jaganmohan Palace. We were getting a decent salary. And above all we were respected.
Now no one cares who we are. I am getting pension from State Government now, but that is not really sufficient [shows his father’s pension book, with Rs.7 written in it !].

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Sept. 18, 2010)


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