Of a chieftain and his dreams

My article on Ulsoor, Bangalore, titled ‘Of a chieftain and his dreams‘ was first published in Deccan Herald, Spectrum, in September 2012. It is reproduced as a blog here.

Mention Ulsoor and the immediate associations are those of the Someshwara Temple and the lake. The famed temple still stands proudly in  the bustling locality. The lake, said to have been built by Kempegowda, the Yelahanka chieftain who founded modern Bangalore, continues to be one of Ulsoor’s major attractions, writes Poornima Dasharathi.

A king, tired, after a long enjoyable hunt, lies under the shade of a tree. His eyes close and soon sleep overpowers him. As he slips into the world of dreams, the mighty Lord Someshwara appears before him in all his glory. 

Even as he marvels at his luck, the Lord smiles as he gives the king a task. “Erect a temple here in my name,” he commands. To aid the king, the Lord reveals the location of a hidden treasure. As the vision fades, the king opens his eyes, wondering about the truth of the divine experience.

But to his amazement, he discovers the treasure at the very location as told by the Lord himself! The king is convinced now. He has work to do. He employs a sculptor from Belur, a descendant of the famous Janakachari himself and constructs a temple dedicated to Lord Someshwara.

Soon the king, who has a penchant for building cities, creates a small hamlet around the temple for the Brahmins who maintain it. A royal decree is made – “From all the thirty three villages surrounding the Someshwara temple, one kolaga for each kandaga of grain would be given as endowment for the maintenance of the religious services at the temple”.

The narration (slightly dramatised) is a colourful medieval tale on how Ulsoor was founded. The king is none other than Kempegowda, the Yelahanka chieftain who founded modern Bangalore. The Someshwara Temple is the temple which stills stands proudly in the bustling area of present day Ulsoor. Kempegowda is also credited with building Ulsoor lake for irrigation and water for the surrounding villages, thus making it one of the oldest water bodies in the City. 

Much older than thought?

Though the area, the temple and the popular Ulsoor lake are credited to Kempegowda, historians believe that the area was older than his times. As evidence to this, they point to the architecture of the Someshwara Temple, which dates back to the Chola period.

S K Aruni, historian, ICHR, classifies the construction to three different periods – the Cholan period (inner most sanctum sanctorum, inner hall and its enclosing wall), the Vijayanagar period (outer pillared hall – mukhamantapa and early colonial period (Kamakshi Amman temple, the nandimantapa and balipeeta). The inner hall (navaranga) has beautiful Vijayanagara columns with sculptures and the outer bigger mantapa contains the popular yali pillars of those times.

On the inner wall of the temple complex that encloses the shrine, there are many reliefs; one of them in a cloak holding a stick is believed to be that of the Bangalore founder. The huge gopura of the temple, built in the typical Dravidian style, undoubtedly makes one marvel at the art of temple building.

As we come out of the temple and skim the pages of medieval history, we see that Lord Cornwallis first camps here while mulling over methods to overpower Tipu Sultan. 

As new lands are conquered by the British, the area transforms into a Cantonment; the lake is spruced up and becomes a water source for the troops. Post the colonial period, the area transforms into a residential area, the lake becomes an entertainment spot, a lung space. Boating, regatta events take place.

Pages from history, even as recent as 35 years back, describes Bangaloreans watching in awe the fireworks held by TTK in the islets of the lake.

Today the villages are gone, the jackfruit orchards that might have given the area its name (Halasuru) have also vanished, but some foundations of the story of Ulsoor remain. 

The temples are still revered, the lake still used, albeit for leisure, the area has still got a thriving economy and is a commercial hub. 

The British history remains through the names – Murphy town, Kensington Park and, of course, the MEG that embodies the military station.

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