History

A glimpse of the pete

Narrow, gully style, often crowded, the streets of the city market can be harrowing for a first timer in the city. The gutter filled roads -traffic choked with zig-zagging vehicles does not make things easier. Yet appearances are deceptive as I discovered today. The old streets in the city is full of surprises that peels off layer by layer as you go deeper in to its interiors.

The BVK Iyengar road is a mess- road repair, widening , busy traffic, bustling crowds  everything happening at once. But if you can take a moment to pause and look around, you will see its vivacity beneath the dusts. The murukku or the chakli stands apt for the kitchen, the fern filled green glass bottles for home decor, the colorful handcrafted door hangings, never before seen herbs and the common kitchen spices and out of the blue- some pretty blue and pink dolls sitting on the pavement. Sure takes your breath away at the myriad colors in the streets.

A slight turn, a twist here, a bend there and I reach Balepet. In the cacophony of stores- some selling bedding,bags jewelry, clothes etc you can sense something different here. And when you halt for a moment you discover that this street has some oldest musical instruments shops in the area. Mridangam,tabla,harmonium, acoustic guitar.. So famous is the street that even CV Raman, the famous Indian scientist was a frequent visitor here to buy the instruments.  Stop to chat at these stores and you realize that the owners are multi talented. They are musicians creating music,  performing shows in the city, training youngsters… And surprise, they craft the musical instruments and repair them too! A big salute for these few artisans left in this old part of the city.

A few moments later I reach the Tawakaal Mastan Saheb Dargah at Cottonpet. The dargah is that of a Sufi saint and was built around Hyder Ali’s time. I hesitate a bit here as I have never been inside a dargah before but I have heard a lot about it and so I enter in. Instantly I am at ease. No one stops me and I see plenty of devotees  inside the shrine. I see a mother carrying a small baby asking the Muzaveer for blessings, another devotee silently sitting head bowed seeking solace, yet another making a wish and tying a thread. There are locks hanging in the window railings- wishes that need to be fulfilled, dreams that need to become reality and most importantly health and spirit that needs to be reinvigorated . Raghu from On a Pedal later tells me that the Hazrath Tawakkal Baba is famous for curing ailments and giving hope. And that perhaps explains the devotees of all religions fervently praying here.

The City Market and its narrow lanes are famous for innumerable things- silks, imitation jewellery, computer parts, electronic items, stationary  to name a few. This is no surprise as pete boasts more than 40 % commercial activity in its premises. The communities living here are diverse as well. You see Marwaris, Muslims, Jains, Gujarathis, Tigalas, Devangas and more doing business here. They have their own blocks, places of worship, meeting grounds, festivals and fairs. And so the pete is always busy; busy teeming with tradesmen, artisans, weavers, salesman and hawkers. To get a glimpse of this interwoven yet diverse identities come join us on our walk Life in pete happening this month end.

–Usha

 

 

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The splendor of Navaratri

PC:By Arulraja 

Dasara always reminds me of my childhood. Dressed up in red green pattu Pavadai(or langa davani in Kannada) , me and my friends used to go to metu mami’s home to sing.
Metu mami was a tall thin lady, hair tied in a bun and drapped in a traditional silk saree. Her customary greeting as we crossed her Kolam filled threshold would be ‘Vango Vango’ to all us little ones.
For a few seconds we would be mesmerized, for mami always had a fascinating Kolu display during Dasara days.   There would be tier of steps all covered in white. The steps were always odd in number- sometimes 5, 7 and if mami had help 9. And each tier would have a different theme. There would be Siva-Parvati dolls in one step and scenes from Ramayana in the next. Sometimes mami would have arranged an entire row of goddess Durga in her various avatars. The tiers also boasted of Pattada Gombe- royal dolls of sandalwood symbolizing the King and Queen.

PC:By Bootervijay

For me the fascination lay at the bottom of the steps- a tiny little farm complete with a pond,a garden and animals.
Mami had explained to us the significance of this. ‘ Our Gombe display is incomplete without the pond and garden.October is the harvest time for pulses. So pulses like Chickpeas, Moong and even Ragi, mustard are sprouted,’ she used to say in her sing-song voice. And she had even showed us how to do it.
‘ Take some ragi seeds and immerse them in water. Then drain the water and allow it to sprout. You can then take these sprouts and sprinkle them in the mud. ‘
Today I know Navaratri is not just remembering the goddess but is also a way of saying thanks to the harvest.
After our starry eyes could take all that , mami would ask us to sit cross legged and sing bhajans. We prattled away the songs of gods and goddesses learnt at our music school and were rewarded with sundal at the end of our power packed performance. Sundal is a salad of sprouted channa bean blended with roasted spices and a sprinkling of fresh coconut. Yum’s the only word for it.Till date Sundal happens to be my go to comfort food.

The significance of Navaratri:

In May I happened to attend a friend’s wedding in Mysore. The bride was given lovely gifts by her mother and one of them was this Pattada Gombe set. It was a male-female pair dressed in red and gold zari, decked up with jewels. ‘ It is to help her start her Kolu arrangement during Navaratri at her new home,’ explained the bride’s mother when I questioned the bride as to why she needs a doll set during her wedding day. Perhaps it signifies compatibility for the new bride in her new household.  On an other note Kolu means royal presence. And the Mysore Dasara has always been a State ritual boasting of Wodeyar’s presence. So the Pattada Gombe could be the symbol of Kingship as well.

The tradition of Dasara goes back to Vijayanagara times where Navaratri was an elaborate nine day ritual complete with entertainment, battle scenes and sacrifices. It was a public gathering with the King beginning the festivities after offering prayers to the goddess at the Vijayanagara capital. The Navaratri also saw the exchange of gifts and good will by the lower ranking chieftains and officials to their king. And these festivities also gave the chiefs an opportunity to display their power and wealth. They used to come with their troop of elephants,horses and men.

Many of the sixteenth century rituals have been carried out in Mysore Dasara rituals as well. The procession, the worshiping of weapons, the battle between goddess and the demon Mahishasura etc. to name a few.

However Navaratri is not just about royal presence . Navaratri is the worship of the goddess Shakthi in her nine forms. It is the triumph of good over evil when goddess Durga defeats the demon Mahishasura. Be it the Durga Pooja of Bengal or the Navaratri Golu/Kolu/Bomme Habba down south the focus is on worshiping the different forms of Shakthi on different days and incorporating her qualities.

The book ‘Kingship and political practice in colonial India’ gives a different perspective to the festivities. It mentions that these festivities reinforced the belief in the public that both the king and the goddess were the true custodians protecting dharma and maintaining peace and prosperity in the State. Together they slew the demon Mahishasura.

Navaratri in the city:

Things have changed now, yet most of the rituals still remain. The temples especially in South India are decked up-the goddess is worshiped in her nine forms- Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. The temples become a cultural hub showcasing  dance performance, yakshaganas and song orchestras.

The city wears a festive look. Durga Pooja pandals, Dandiya nights not to mention the Golu dolls spring up in the city. And for a moment the city forgets its dust,traffic and pollution inviting Durga with open arms.

To get a peek a boo of the city during Navaratri join us on our two walks, Basavangudi and Military coming up this weekend.

 

Reviving Bavadis as water source

Amazing isn’t it? Vijayapura  is turning towards its 500 year old ancient open wells to overcome water scarcity in the city. Taj Bavadi, Chand Bavadi- the wells of Vijayapura that were hitherto mere tourist destinations and were mushy, filled with garbage are now fulfilling their original purposes- that of providing water to this water scarce city. The city requires a mammoth 65 million litres per day.

Bavadis, vaav, pushkaranis, keres were some of the ways that ancient India dealt with water shortage. The dry, arid climates of Gujarat and Rajasthan led to the creations of step wells or vaavs. Similarly the  frequency of droughts led to water harvesting schemes like bavadis in Bijapur. While some were built in the memory of the beloved, some were just constructed by the rulers to replenish water sources and as a cool retreat. For instance the Rani ki Vaav at Patan, a 11th century vaav was built by queen Udaymati in memory of her husband Bhimdev. The fine architectural works on the columns, walls of the well has earned it the UNESCO world heritage tag.

CC:Bernad Gagnon

Similarly the 1549 Chand bavadi in Bijapur was built by Ali Adil Shah for his queen Chand Bibi while the biggest well Taj bavadi , a 1620 structure was built in honour of Taj Sultana- wife of Ibrahim Adil Shah.  The city of Vijayapura boasted about 1030 wells in 1830 out of which 700 were stepless.

The astonishing thing about these wells is that it served as water sources even during the harsh summer  months.  While bore wells have to be dug very deep say 200 feet or more , the water in these bavadis can be found around 50-60 feet. Not only that the presence of wells significantly improves the ground water levels. A win- win situation all around if the wells are kept in good condition.

But with the advent of water pumps and pipes supplying water to the city the bavadis are also in a state of neglect. While the Chand bavadi has become a dump yard, the Taj bavadi has become a dhobi ghat cum a place to wash vessels. The Mukhari Masjid bavadi near to a temple sees devotees throwing flowers, coconuts , shells in the well.  However things are slowly changing. The Taj bavadi, Chand bavadi along with a couple of others are getting revived. Silt and garbage are getting cleared to hold water. When the bavadis are revived it is estimated that it can satisfy 5 million litres per day water requirement.

Finally the city is waking up to its ancient heritage and water wisdom. Hope our city with its 300 keres too soon follows suit.

–Usha

 

Unhurried walk with Nestaway

We had a gala time last Sunday with Nestaway. Some 27 walkers joined us  on a Sultan Tour to understand Tipu Sultan-King Of Mysore a bit. The half a day tour encompassed cycling and walking through some beautiful hidden places of Bangalore.

tipu-summer-palace

After a brief stop over at the Summer Palace where the participants came to know the life and times about  the ruler, his ingenious warfare methods like the beloved Tipu’s rockets ,they then headed out to Tipu’s armoury at Kalasipalyam.  Tipu built ten armouries during his time, most of them at Srirangapatna. The one in the city is more than 200 years old. Pity it is not in a great shape. “People were playing cards here. The yesteryear ammunition dump has now become a garbage dump with plastics, bottles all thrown around,” said Arman a Nestie.

PC: On a Pedal

The next pitstop was at Siddapura Nursery where the green thumb of everyone became visible. After a refreshing hob -nob at the nursery, some came back armed with saplings to tend them at home. We then cycled back to Lalbagh.

PC: On a Pedal

A two hour unhurried walk at Lalbagh gave the walkers a glimpse of the times of Hyder and Tipu and their passion for horticulture. The once 40 acre garden due to the interests of these rulers and the vision of the British superintendents who came after them has today blossomed in to a 240 acre park with more than 1858 species of plants. While there was a sense of awe standing beneath the majestic Silk Cotton Tree, and amazement looking at the 400+ old Kempegowda’s watch tower, there were sniggers while passing by Rain tree, when the walkers understood how it got the name.

The walk was fruitful. The participants from all over India- Jammu,Allahabad,Kanpur,Nagpur,Kerala,Hyderabad etc got a glimpse of the Bangalore past. Mavalli Kere made them recollect the existing lakes in the city. When they realized that Bangalore hosted 262 lakes in 1960 and now it had dwindled to 34 lakes there was a sense of loss. Why was it called Pensioner’s paradise? What led to the unplanned growth in the city? These were some interesting questions that popped up after this.

After this action packed tour, we reached VV Puram Chat Street to fill ourselves. The yummy masala dosa,the spicy curd kodubale and sinfully wicked Gulkand ice cream more than made up for our tiredness.

If you would like to join in the fun then why not book a city walk with us?

–Usha

Mangalore styled Houses- Heritage that refuses to fade

All around me are skyscrapers. But I have hopes. I turn left and find myself on a narrow cobbled street with laterite stone bricked hedges and bougainvillea blooms. I walk down the street, find myself on a dead end and turn left again. More apartments, huge bungalows with manicured lawns greet me but I plunge on. Another dead end and lo just to my right I finally see it- a Mangalore tiled house nestled among coconut trees complete with a verandah, tiled roof and the red oxide flooring. The house is dilapidated, the clay tiles are broken, doors are in shambles but the house or what is left of it is still beautiful. The Tulsi in front of the home is thriving – no doubt some passerby continues to water this holy plant everyday.

 

Mangalore tiled roof 20071228

The house eerily  reminds me of my grandpa’s home now in the hands of a stranger who has plans to convert the place in to a seven storied apartment. Grandpa’s home was a delight surrounded by Jackfruit,Mango and Coconut trees and two wells. There was a spacious veranda- a pillared gallery with grilled windows and sit-outs  that opened out to them. I remember counting stars at night, swinging my legs out of these sit-outs.

The verandah led to a living room that had multiple doors. Each door led to a different room-bed room, storage but not the god’s room.The devarakone or the god’s room was at the center of the living room ,huge with miniature paintings of various gods and goddesses. There were various wooden boxes where my grandfather kept small deities and the sacred saligramas. Each morning the gods would be taken out of their boxes for the pooja and dutifully kept back -intact once the pooja would be over.

The kitchen  was huge, the ceiling above made of wood with plenty of storage space to stock food items . I remember the storage room above the ceiling. It was always noisy at night, squeaking, perhaps due to mice foraging for food . So there was no question of sneaking in to the kitchen for Jaggery or milk powder at nights. Who wanted a mouse accidentally falling down on their heads ?

The wooden panels, the clay tiles,  the verandah, grilled windows,laterite bricks, the lime plaster finish – these features kept the house refreshingly cool. It was a delight to sleep on the cold red oxide floors. They were cool to touch and provided the perfect setting for the afternoon slumber. The Mangalore tiles overhead kept the sun out. If there was a slit, we kids knew about it immediately. The dark rooms would be lit with a small shaft of light pouring in from these broken tiles.

Structures like these are slowly disappearing from Mangalore giving way to multi storied apartments. But Mangalore still has some of these- the government colleges, schools and libraries.  They don’t scream for attention like the skyscrapers but they can be found in nooks and corners still. Go near them and you will be lured by their old world charm and simplicity. For a few seconds at least you will leave behind the rush life and embrace the slowness that only a clay tiled home can offer.

–Usha

Lake to a stadium- Sampangi Lake’s journey

The sports stadium near Cubbon Park, Hudson Circle entrance is named as Kanteerava. Kanteerava was a soldier who challenged the greatest of wrestlers in the city of Mahamallapuram -Rajaraja Chola and defeated him. I admired this story and was rather proud of it as well- a common solider defeating a royal wrestler and Bangalore stadium remembering the deed and naming a sports stadium after him.

sampangi

Things however changed when I went to the Kanteerava Stadium Walk organized by Neralu with walk guide Hita Unnikrishnan. I learnt that the stadium was once a 35 acre beautiful lake boasting of trees, open spaces. It was a source of water for the British Cantonment of Bangalore and for the Pete(old city)residents of the city during the colonial period. The story of how a splendid lake that supported different communities- fishermen, brick-makers,horticulturists,agriculturist transformed in to a stadium is an unfortunate one.

Prior to 1870 the lake had Ragi and paddy fields, the north and south spaces boasted of gardens. Kalyanis(tanks) were all around the lake, full of water as they were continuously recharged from Sampangi kere. The lake was protected as both cantonment and pete were dependent on it. The water channels from the lake fed Miller tanks that fulfilled the water requirements of  cantonment. The lake had religious significance too for pete residents. The Vanhikula Kshatriya community of pete used the lake during their famous 9 day karaga festival. The lake deposits were used in the creation of the holy pot Karaga.

After 1896 the Hesarghatta reserviour started supplying water to the cantonment and so the dependency of the lake ceased. Things slowly started changing.  The wetlands started getting used for institutions, playgrounds etc. A brewery had already come up in the area where once lush paddy fields thrived. The British were interested in maintaining the aesthetics of the lake. So any kind of digging, pits, excavation without the government approval was not allowed. They also drained a part of lake and used it as polo grounds.

On the other hand horticulturists,landowners  depended on the waters petitioned to the government of Mysore saying that they were not getting enough water as the water channels were either closed or diverted. They wanted to deepen the channels. Due to a slew of buildings not to mention a brewery in the lake vicinity, the British Civil and Military Station were opposed to this. The discussions continued, yet at the end of 1935 the hitherto 35 acre lake had become a small tank. I assume that the tank was not fully closed and let out because the Karaga festival still needed the lake.

By 1949 the lake had transformed in to an indoor stadium. The farms and kalyanis had given way to slums and layouts. Many of the communities migrated- Hita showed us a cattle rearing community still existing near the lake vicinity.There is only one dried up kalyani now- it is now being used for martial arts training.

If I close my eyes I can sense how this traffic filled streets and the stadium might have looked way back in 1900 with a lake on one side, cubbon park at the other end. Full of open spaces, trees it would have been a micro ecosystem by itself. Sigh… I can only hear the noise of development now. Guess good things do not always last.

–Usha

 

References:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Sampangi-Lake-From-a-thriving-lake-to-sports-arena-today/articleshow/51677090.cms

 

 

The Summer Residence of Tipu Sultan

I touch the teak wood and I am in awe. I am whisked 200 years back because that was when this teak wood became a part of this summer palace. Sometime in 1781-1791, the foundation stone would have been placed,next would have been the stone walls, the wood pillars, beams, the intricate brackets supporting the beams, the decorative arches- what forethought would have gone in designing this ‘Abode of Happiness’ for Tipu Sultan, the then ruler of Mysore kingdom.

Tipu Sultan’s father Hyder Ali started this summer palace in 1781.After his death, his son took over and by 1791 the palace got built. Today more than 200 years later, only a fraction of the palace survives. But what remains, is enough to show you the magnificence of the old palace.

tipu-palace

From outside when I look I imagine that it was one single storey. But as I look closer at the Indo-Islamic structure I gather that it is two storeyed. The misconception resulted because of the teak pillars that stretched out from ground to the first floor giving it the appearance of a single tiered building.

The ground floor houses the museum of Tipu Sultan today. You learn plenty of things here. For instance you may have known that Tipu was an able administrator, was proficient in several languages and boosted the economic prosperity in the State. Yet you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that he was the pioneer of early rockets. The early rockets during the Tipu era  had a bamboo/wood pole with an iron cylinder containing the explosives and a rocket man used to light it. The rocket would shoot up or travel horizontally, light up the ammunition, scatter horses and were a menace to the British. These rockets caused heavy casualties in the British army during the Polilur war which Tipu won.

After Tipu’s death in 1799 in the final British-Mysore war, the British took care to take these Mysore rockets along with them. They were studied, improved upon and were used in the wars against Napoleon.

tipu-summer-palace

From the ground floor there are stone steps to take you upstairs to the cantilever balconies and the Zenana quarters. Tipu apparently held his durbar here and the rooms above(Zenana quarters) were for the ladies to tune in to the court proceedings. The beautiful floral motifs on the ceiling and on the walls makes you realize how splendid the palace would have looked with teak-wood pillars, wooden banisters and pigmented motifs covering the bare walls and ceilings.

The tour of this palace takes you a mere 40-50 minutes. Located on Albert Victor Road it is open on all days. Combine the visit with the nearby Tipu’s armory and the old fort.

–Usha