A heritage city, that which is famed for the splendor stemming from its erstwhile royal identity, Mysore is one of the most enchanting places in the southern part of India. One of the most prominent cities in Karnataka that which was in fact earlier known as the State of Mysore, Mysore is a city of riches in its culture and legacy, in its history and heritage and of course in its charming antiquity. Dwelling still in the quaint realm of traditionality yet by every means a modern Indian city, Mysore is one of the most unique lands to chance upon in its prestigious identity, that which has seen it lend its name to a host of exclusive treasures stemming from and exclusive to the place.
The cultural capital of Karnataka, replete with the riches of the arts and the feisty vibe of its life, Mysore is an extraordinary traveler’s haven. There is so much to explore, be it the ravishing extravagance of one of the most beautiful palaces in India, the namesake Mysore Palace as well as a host of other such stunning and majestic monuments or its reputation as a shopper’s paradise, there’s no end to just how pleasantly this vibrant city will stun you. In its many legacies that stems not just of its distinguished royal presence of the past but also of its continuing unique traditions, a jaunt to this part of the country will buy you a basket of not just memories but also real goodies!
One such destination to trip about in this heritage town is one that is comfortably cradled still in the present day city but that which boasts a lineage tracing back to royalty. We are alluding here to the Devaraj Market of Mysore which is one of the prominent presences in the city. Courtesy its heritage distinction as well as in its repertoire of stuff that which range from the ordinary to the exclusive, the mundane to the exciting, this is a market that remains resplendent in an atmosphere of its own.
Tracing its origins back to the times of Tipu Sultan during the 18th century, the market has been in existence in some form since about 1886. A small weekly market then, the present area sprawls over some 3 acres of land housing some 800 small and big shops that set up their fare there everyday for some minimum monthly rent. A visit to this heritage market is every bit a delight for everyone, taking a fancy to the lively vibe and the hustle and bustle of its premises is a given for tourists who make it a point to amble along its stacked lanes of fruits and vegetables and flowers and spices and incense and kumkum and gur and sarees and sandalwood and essential oils and what not! Not to forget the sweet shops in the vicinity from which wafts the enticing aroma of a bevy of sweets, most particularly the rich and decadent Mysore Pak that which is Mysore’s greatest gift to the sweet world.
Located in the central and old part of Mysore, the Devaraja Market is a riot of colors and smells and sounds that are so ordinary yet so inviting that keeps every visitor engrossed. From marveling at the beauty of the many fragrant flowers that line a certain section of the market to losing your mind over the constant haggling and bargaining, from scrounging through tons of common and rare fruits and veggies to find your perfect pick to having your spice necessities met, from finding the fragrance that suits you right to being spoilt for choice among the arrays of colorful bangles and bindis, the Devaraja Market is a delightful conglomerate of routine and revelry. Step into the confines of this huge market and you will inevitably decipher a festive spirit so characteristic of India. The action here unfolds much before sunrise and continues much after sunset with vendors loading and unloading wares, luring customers with them and the constant din of arguing over the prices by tourists and locals alike, pretty much like every other daily market anywhere in this part of the world. But what again makes the Devaraja experience one not so readily encountered besides its royal history is also it’s identity as a ‘green’ market. As the crowd starts thinning and traders call it a day after long hours of incessant activity, the market closes to quite a unique sight. The wastes of the many fruits and vegetables are left in heaps by the roads, to be devoured by cows who are let to made their way inside the premises once the market is sufficiently deserted. In thereby being the part of a sustainable chain, the Devaraja Market is the proud bearer of more legacies than one, that which makes it all the more worthy an experience coveted by tourists.
In also its encompassing exclusivity, the Devaraja Market is indeed one of the most iconic presences to tread upon while in Mysore. Be it treating your tastebuds with the most authentic Mysore Pak at the sweetshop there where the dainty sweet is made to perfection by descendants of the royal cook who came up with it or being invigorated by the smell of the Mysore mallige that dominates the flower alleys of the market or even the fragrant Mysore sandal soaps that you can find at just about ever corner of the bazaar, the Devaraja experience is an authentic summing up of the many identities of Mysore in one place. Venture beyond however and the heritage city has lend its name to a variety of other things too, that are as uniquely reminiscent of Mysore in all its charm. Of all things ‘hardcore’ Mysore to explore and covet, let’s take a tour through what the essence of Mysore feels like in its many treasures-
Of the endowings instantly recognisable and most celebrated from the region of not just Mysore but Karnataka as a whole is the sinfully delicious Mysore Pak, an Indian sweet unlike any other. A super sweet, super rich dessert, Mysore Pak is made from gram flour loaded with ghee and sugar. As south India’s most iconic sweet and one that makes fans out of whoever happens to take just a bite of it in its every indulgent morsel, Mysore Pak makes Mysore all the more beloved and celebrated an identity the world would forever hold in sweet spot.
Mysore sandal soap
As an erstwhile kingdom that had been the largest producer of sandalwood in the world, Mysore has had a long history of dabbling in sandalwood products. And the Mysore sandal soap is one such very popular churning out of the fragrant wood that which is the exclusive product of a company that was set up during the times of royalty! The Government Soap Factory of the early 20th century that which is now Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited manufactures the Mysore sandal soap, another very prominent assertion of the Mysore identity.
An Indian variant of the pancake or at least close to it, dosas are one of the much loved south Indian foods. Versatile in that it serves both as meal and as snack, is hearty and nutritious as well as tasty and delectable, dosas can be enjoyed in as many ways as you like. Plain, with stuffing, with or without masalas but definitely with some chutney on the side. The Mysore dosa or more specifically the Mysore masala dosa is one that is made with the addition of a spicy red chutney that which makes it all the more irresistible a favorite among spice lovers and dosa ravers alike. Pretty much the basic dosa but with some real zing to it, this lipsmacking version originating in Mysore is yet another reason that the city of palaces will never lose a loyal following making a beeline for it.
It only is fitting for a state like Mysore that houses such exclusivities that it also is the only source of indelible ink in the country. Having provided indelible ink to the Election Commission of India since 1962, the Mysore ink produced by the royal origin Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited has been powering India’s democratic prestige for close to half a century now. And why just India, the ink is also exported to other countries of the world where it also powers the democratic process there.
An important form of classical South Indian painting that originated in and around the town of Mysore during the times of royalty, Mysore painting is a painstaking work of intricate art. Not just decorative pieces however but also steeped in imagery of the divine, these are paintings noted for their grace and beauty and of course the fineness of their intricacy.
Another delectable addition hailing from the region of Mysore to the gastronomic scene of India is a very popular snack that which is a type of fritter popular as the Mysore bonda. Fried dumplings made with flour, spices and yogurt, this simplistic but delicious preparation is one of the most popular south Indian snacks that go deliriously well with a cup of steaming tea or even better with filter coffee. Crisp to perfection on the outside and fluffy from within, these are really addictive bite sized munchies that which owe their taste and popularity once again to Mysore.
As one of the largest producers of mulberry silk, Karnataka is a state that sizzles in its churning of the luxurious thread. And with most of the production being concentrated in and around Mysore, the city too is a proud associate of the shining legacy. Patented also as the Mysore Silk and having received Geographical Indication, the silk is used to produce various products of clothing, most notably the Mysore silk sarees that are one of the most expensive variants in India. In being also among the heritage handicraft treasures of India, Mysore types of silk sarees aren’t just attires to don, they also speak of an enduring legacy, that of the resplendence of Mysore silk.
Mallige or jasmine is the queen of flowers. In its exquisite scent and pristine prettiness, this is a flower that grows in many different parts of India. Mysore mallige as the name suggests is the variety that grows mostly in and around Mysore and is an even superior pluck with its even more pleasant fragrance that lingers for long. Used at weddings and in garlands both in auspicious and ceremonial occasions, the malliges also are often used by women down south to adorn their hair even on a daily basis. No wonder the Devaraja market is a pleasant whiff of the Mysore mallige every morning when the flowers arrive in truckloads to meet the ever consistent demands.
Mysore Mallige Idli
Like dosas, idlis too are one of the staple foods of the southern part of our country. The steamed, cake like discs of immense health and nutrition are so popular a delicacy that they even have their own day, the World Idli Day! But while idlis come in many types and varieties, there is one particular idli from Mysore that is an impeccable presence, both in its vision as well in its taste. Known as the Mallige Idli after indeed the Mysore Mallige, this is a speckless dish of white that which is somewhat different than the other variants.
Mallige Idlis or Kushboo Idlis translate literally as Jasmine idlis, that is a derivation of their jasmine white color. These idlis make use of a batter that incorporates not just rice and dal but also tapioca pearls and rice flakes which makes them even softer and fluffier, almost pillow like! In such distinct characteristic, this is another of the unique cuisinal encompassments of Mysore exclusive to it.
Mysore filter coffee
We know it simply as filter coffee or uniquely as kaapi but this brew so integral to the southern expanses of India also is popular as the Mysore filter coffee. In its strong aroma and flavorful taste both of which please the senses, this is a method of coffee making that is particular to south India and that which find takers all across the country. Nevertheless, in still lending its name to this characteristic brew of the south, Mysore wins us all over once again with its assortment of delights.
The classical royal head gear of the erstwhile royalty in Mysore, the Mysore Peta still holds place of prominence as a traditional wear that reflects and honours the tradition of the state. Made up of a single piece of cloth with decorative zari border, the peta is further adorned with metal pendants in a prominent display of its past royal status. Even in its continued prevalence that which sees the peta make for distinguished awards in various functions, Mysore has managed to keep the dignity of its customary headgear intact.
Mysore Betel Leaf
Native to the Indian subcontinent, betel leaves anyway occupy an important place in the cultural traditions of India. But Mysore has even its own variant of the betel leaf known as the Mysore betel leaf or ‘Mysore Chigurele’ (Mysore sprout leaf). Having been granted the Geographical Indication status in 2005, this variety of the betel leaf is unique as far as its texture and taste is concerned. Grown first in the gardens of the Mysore Maharaja, these betel leaves became noted for their smooth texture and hot taste that which is a derivant from the soil qualities of the region. Specifically, it is the presence of black clay in the soil along with the hot, humid climate of Mysore that gives this namesake betel leaf its special characteristics. In being a Mysore specialty and one that holds immense importance in the cultural realm of the state, this is one rather uniquely Mysore thing that the city sure is more than proud of.
Mysore Rosewood Inlay
Of the many artistic charactersations of Mysore is its many inlay works on rosewood that which has earned the place another of the Geographical Indication tag. Referring to a range of techniques used by artisans in and around the area of Mysore in sculpture and the decorative for inserting pieces of contrasting in a rosewood object to produce such elegant artifacts that Mysore is so famous for, these are artifacts uniquely reflective of the region and the design and style used by the local artisans and therefore form an exclusive category of art by themselves.