bangalore

Shrines of Old City

There is something pleasant about being in Pete in the early part of the day. For one there is no crazy crowd that you see in the mid-afternoons or evenings. And another is the chime of temple bells at the various shrines of Pete- signaling that the early morning prayers to the numerous idols of Shiva, Vishnu, Venkateshwara, Ganesha, Shanmukha are in progress. The myriad lanes of pete be it Aralepete, Cottonpete, Cubbonpete, Nagarthapete, Tigalarapete are full of temples. And an interesting thing about these! There are some 44 plus temples that are associated with the old communities of Pete. Don’t believe me? Then here is a brief overview of some of these shrines and their backgrounds.

Take for example the Chenigaraya temple at Ganigarpete. It is a temple belonging to the community of Ganigas. Ganigas are oil-pressers who used to reside in Ganigarpete and extracted oils such as castor, sesame oil manually. With the demand for such cold-pressed oils disappearing, this community has slowly moved out and has taken up other businesses in the city. What remains today after their profession is the stone oil press –gana in Kannada in front of the Cheluvarayaswamy temple. This gana is said to have belonged to an oil merchant-Doddana Setty. Both wooden and stone presses were in vogue. The last of the oil presses disappeared some 50-60 years ago. The only memory of this once thriving community is the temple of Cheluvarayaswamy -their patron deity.

A couple of minutes away at Nagarthara Pete is the famous Nagareshwara temple for the city merchants or the Nagartha community. Nagareshwara happens to be their patron deity. The temple of 1884, has an idol of Shiva installed in the shrine. The linga is said to have been brought from Kasi. An inscription outside the temple declares this. There are beautiful idols of Nataraja, Shanmukha and the blissful idol of Annapurneswari made of Saligrama stone. Another interesting fact about this temple is that the Tigala community and the Ganiga community visit this temple when they want to start the auspicious process of writing a wedding invitation for marriages in their communities.

A temple closeby the Kamateshwara Kalikamba temple is a shrine that sees the followers of Vishwakarma community-craftsmen, goldsmith, carpenter, etc. When I entered the shrine of the goddess a priest was predicting the future looking at a persons’ horoscope. Apart from the beautiful idol of Kali there is also a statue of Nandi at the entrance of the temple. Another attraction here for foodies is the Lakshmi Nataraj Refreshments that serves smooth idlis with equally delightful red and green coconut chutneys. It has an interesting history behind it but that’s for another day.

Just a few minutes away is the Dharmaraya Swamy temple of Tigala community that specialized in agriculture and horticulture activities. It is a beautiful Dravidian style temple dedicated to Pandava brothers and Draupadi. The famous city festival-karaga begins its festivities from here when a male priest dressed in a saree carries the Karaga pot and weaves his way through the narrow lanes of Pete. There is also the idol of Potharaja- the brother in law of Pandavas who plays the important role of cleansing evil from the earth and has a day dedicated to him in the eleven-day Karaga festival.

There are shrines dedicated to Ganesha and goddess Muthyalamma as well. A lady draped in silk saree forbids me to enter the shrine inside. When I look inside the sanctum I realize that just adjacent to the inner sanctum of the Muthyalamma there are the idols of Yellamma,Uyallama-swing goddess kept in the room and equally revered by the community.

At Balepete main road, you have an interesting temple dedicated to Sugreeva. Sugreeva is the monkey king who helped Rama during his battle with Ravana. The idol is six feet high. Next to it is a  shrine for his brother Vali.

Incidentally, it is said that the idol of Sugreeva was rescued from the Kempambudhi tank and brought here. Opposite to these idols is the Venkateshwara idol. This temple is patronized by the tank diggers of the Woddaru community. Though there are no inscriptions the temple plaques mention that the time period of this structure is 1680.  The priest community resides inside the temple. Their tiny homes are neat, clean and in religious piety with numerous frames of gods and goddesses tucked inside their prayer room.

As you go towards Chikpete there is another special temple endorsed by the Jain community-the Adinatha temple. It is a beautiful marble structure but when the temple started out in 1918 it was a wooden structure. Inside the shrine, there are blissful idols of Adinatha, Parsvanatha, Mahaveera, Neminatha, etc. The ornate work of the temple is stunning, so are the marble inlay work and the figurines of dancers and musicians carved on the numerous pillars of the temple. In contrast, the Jain devotees are plain- in a posture of submission and prayers- some chanting on beads and some hymns.

Pete is thus a vibrant community full of colorful stories. Be a part of this enriching experience by booking our Life in Pete Walk.

–Usha

Of Forts and Defenses- a Photo Story

Kalasipalyam -a place busting with people, traffic, not to forget cows! Not an inch of space at this crowded site, yet bang in the middle there is silence. A silence that astonishes you, for you don’t expect to find it in this cacophony. Yet it is there, thanks to the strong stone fort 500 years or older standing here. You enter the fort, pass the huge wooden gate and lo- a sense of calm descends. The thick walls of the fort reflect the outside sound – only silence and an inherent sense of peace greets you inside.

From ancient times forts have been defensive structures protecting the city and its inhabitants. The kings used it to mark boundaries, protect treasury, royal family; the powerful zamindars used it for protecting their property … They served as excellent places to hide as well.  It was difficult to enter these premises- the surrounding moat, ditch or bush of thorns around fort making things tougher for such attacks.

There were different categories of forts. The one at Kalasipalyam and the interconnected fort for the old city or Pete was a city fortress surrounded by a moat and had thorny bushes all around it making the city invincible. It was a mud fort before transforming in to a stone fort, complete with bastions after Hyder Ali and later Tipu Sultan came in to power.

But not all forts were built like this. At Savandurga, Nandi hills,Shivganage outside the city –the forts were parvat durg or giri durgs.

The forts were located on high hills- the boulders, the rocky outcrop making things tougher.

Battlements, bastions, loop-holes were other strategies to make the fort invulnerable. Even today the walls, bastions and towers remain on the durg perhaps telling the stories of sieges and battles. A trek at Savandurg or Shivgange makes you aware of this. The slopes, the steep ascents, the bastions at regular intervals- makes you aware of the planning gone behind building such forts.

Srirangapatna –the harbour of Tipu was an excellent Nadi-Durga/Jal durg. The city was on an island surrounded on all sides by Kaveri.

And during monsoons when the river was in full, the fort would become impregnable. Natural and artificial defence strategies were effectively used here as well.

There were other fort types as well- dhanva durg, vana durg, nara durg etc. While dhanva durg was protected by desert, vana durg was surrounded by forests, nara durg by strong men etc.

The toppling of fort was not just victory to the enemies or the replenishment of supplies. It also meant breaking the morale of the enemy camp. The capture of Bangalore fort by the British was a blow to Tipu’s army. Most of the forts came in to the hands of the English after this decisive victory.

Today what remains of this oval fort that once protected the palace, armoury, treasury etc. is just two and a half bastions and a gateway. But it does its job- retelling history effectively.

–Usha

 

CITY HERITAGE – or the lack of it?

 

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Telugu Church Office, Richards Town

(Image Courtesy: Poornima Dasharathi)

Bengalureans are usually surprised when I say the city is very old, at least a thousand years old! Many continents and countries weren’t yet discovered when our city was a big bustling place!

So why do we think Bangalore isn’t old ? The answer is usually ‘the lack of heritage structures’.

Heritage Law

Many countries have a robust heritage law for both public & private buildings. These include

  • proper identification, planning and conservation of structures
  • interaction & encouragement to private owners through tax reliefs, higher property value and certain structural change restrictions.

I was also told that in some places in London, there’s a law that certain city views cannot be altered!

In the News

Two recent events by individuals or organisations have raised this fact.

One is a fellow heritage enthusiast, Udaya Kumar’s research on Inscription stones & his experiences of the process – the interaction with the locals and their pride when they came to know its significance.

The other is heritage building demolition inside Lalbagh by the Horticulture department as it was ‘beyond repair’ and heritage organisations & Individuals’ protest.

While this is just one known demolition compared to several others that have gone or will go unnoticed in & around the city.

Since the last decade, many public & private structures have gone down drastically. Here’s some statistics by INTACH (a heritage awareness organisation), Bangalore.

Those who do raise our voice for heritage awareness feign helplessness when our own heritage homes are demolished to create a plush suite of flats or worse still sold to be used as a commercial structure!

Problems & Solutions

So what is the solution? It’s a very complex answer. Here are some  points and observations through various discussions with travellers, experts, civic planners, fellow bangaloreans on problems & solutions to preserve heritage structures.

  • The government has to create awareness of heritage and preserving old buildings to the common man. For example, how old is ‘heritage’? Is a 100 year old building heritage while a 90 year old one is not?
  • It has to create a robust heritage bill – however ‘no government will to create one due to rising real estate prices in Urban cities’ is the opinion of many.
  • With public structures, money is not an issue as government funds are surplus. Usually it’s just ignorance or just flippant attitude to an ‘old building’.
  • Instead of tax reliefs and subsidizing the cost of maintaining a heritage home, most private ancestral home owners also have the burden of a huge property tax. Some preserve for the love of it while many demolish it for an easier to maintain home with modern facilities.

(I personally know many owners who complain that the walls ‘just give away’!)

  • Joint families going nuclear and shared ownership also results in division and demolition of properties.
  • The lure of real estate value for both middle class and upper class families is one of the biggest reasons for private buildings going down.

Awareness is the first step I feel. Awareness and the will to maintain goes a long way. Ours is an old city, an important city, let’s preserve it. That will be a real tribute to Kempegowda!

 

 

My article, titled, ‘A Temple Replete With Many Legends and Myths‘  was first published in Indian Express on  Nov 13, 2014. The article is presented here as a blog with some more photos.

Kadu Malleswara Temple

Kadu Malleswara Temple, Malleswaram

Set in a busy market-like area, just off the popular Sampige Road is Kadu Malleswara, a centuries old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Set on a top of a hillock in a forest, this simple temple is a kshetra (a pilgrim centre) for Shaivites.

If legends are to be believed, this is a place where sage Gautama is supposed to have meditated. However, there was no temple then.

An elderly man who visits the temple often had a few more legends. The story is set in 17th century when a betel leaf merchant rested near a stone on the top of a hillock. He kept another stone next to it and created a fire to boil rice. But the rice turned red with blood spilling out!

On seeing this, the merchant fell unconscious. Lord Shiva then appeared in front of him and explained that he was the stone (lingam) and that it was a holy place. On the lord’s direction, the merchant built a temple in the typical Dravidian style of that era.

The historian in me could not keep quiet and I told the man about a 17th century inscription (that still stands) that states that a grant was given to this temple by Venkoji, the famous Shivaji’s step-brother, when he ruled Bengaluru. As we exchanged notes, what struck us was the period in which the temple received the grants. Whether it was the merchant or the local ruler, the temple’s structure as it stands today dates back to the 17th century, while its legends and myths precede the date.

The architecture of the temple is quite simple, no highly carved pillars or huge audience halls. Clearly, this temple was a place of worship for a village or a small settlement that lived near this kadu (forest). The lingam is very simple, rising just off the ground with no pedestal. There’s a small nandi in front of the lingam. A bigger nandi built outside the temple must have been an addition made later.

Apart from Shiva, Ganesha and Parvati are also worshipped here. The inner sanctum sanctorum leads to a small passage that goes to the devotees’ hall (navaranga). The hall is supported by simple carved stone pillars.

Beyond the hall, as we come out is the mandatory nandi. A small girl whispers into the ears of the nandi to make her wish come true. A tulsi plant and small shrines are set around the main temple within its compound. A separate temple for Subramanya is situated next to the main temple complex. A lone bilwa tree stands in between these two complexes.

As we sit by the shade of the tree exchanging stories, the vast garden in front of the temple with the many trees, including the huge peepal that gives shade to the many naga stones, and the chirping of the birds still created the ambience of a forest. The lord who gave the area its name ensured that at least a part of it still looks like a kadu or at least a well-maintained garden.

Author: Poornima Dasharathi 

Bungalows of Bangalore

Image courtesy: Maureen MacDonald

My article, titled, ‘Where time stands still‘  was first published in Deccan Herald on  April 2, 2013. The article is presented here as a blog with some more photos. 

As I pass through some bylanes of Bangalore, I can’t help but stop and admire a charming bungalow standing still as a reminder of a bygone era. The bungalows of Bangalore that were once the rich man’s home have quietly made way to newer structures, radically, in the last two decades. But a few still stand tall, maybe because its owners wait for the right price, or maybe because of the families’ care for them.

How did these bungalows come to Bangalore? Where did they originate? The history of bungalows is as charming as the bungalow itself.

Janet Pott, the author of ‘Old Bungalows of Bangalore’, South India, states that the name and the form of the bungalow originated in Bengal. ‘Bangla’ or ‘bangala’ referred to the indigenous Bengali huts of the 17th century.

Origins aside, how did this basic peasant housing, made of locally available materials, become an Officer’s or even a Commissioner’s prestigious bungalow?

In his book, ‘The Bungalow: Production of a Global Culture’, Anthony King describes that the period of the East India Company’s rise from being just ‘traders’ to keeping an army and ruling the country (1757-1857) also led to improvements in housing its men.“The basis of Company rule was military strength”, he states. 

The first permanent military camps or cantonments were established outside Patna (Bankipur) and Calcutta (Dinapur, Behrampur & Baraset) in 1772. Indian and European troops were housed in tents and barracks; their European officers in a rapidly evolving version of the bungalow. The emergence of the bungalow, he narrates, as a culturally distinctive house form, is inseparable from these developments.

Soon, the bungalow became a symbol of power. In 1857, when the rule was transferred from East India Company to the British government, there was extensive adaptation of Indian forms. Though the European Resident kept improving on the basic model, e.g. converting the verandah into rooms, the main characteristics borrowed from the Bengali peasant’s hut — free standing, single storey, plinth, pitched, thatched roof and ‘virandar’ (verandah) were largely present.

Bungalows of the City

In Bangalore, bungalows first started to appear in the Cantonment region. The early bungalows were “typical white or cream washed”, describes Elizabeth Stanley in the book, ‘Monkey Tops – Old Buildings in Bangalore Cantonment’. These bungalows were to the South of Parade Ground, i.e., on St Marks road, Museum road, Residency road and Richmond road.

The structure consisted of a flat-roofed portico with support pillars and behind it a curved verandah. Its size varied, based on the owner’s social stature. 

The general basic plan is usually a verandah with support pillars, a living or a drawing room and a dining room in the centre. The bedrooms and dressing rooms open to each side of the living room.

The front of the bungalow was imposing and offset by huge gardens. A servants’ quarter, a stable and other necessities like poultry or a cow shed were present in the backyard. In the leisurely life of the pre-Industrial era, the bungalows sometimes included tennis courts or putting greens. The building, with its stone work, balustrades marking roof levels and imposing look contributed to the ‘classical’ look, she concludes.

An example of the classic bungalow is the Raj Bhavan, which was once the home of Sir Mark Cubbon, the Commissioner of Mysore (1834-1860). Raj Bhavan is out of bounds for visitors and there aren’t many bungalows of its kind left to look at. But I had some luck. Maureen MacDonald, who recently visited the City, shared a picture postcard of her grandfather and his home in the City in the 1850s.

 A typical white bungalow with flat roof, it looks straight out of the Victorian era — spacious home, horse carriages, the burra sahib, ladies in long white gowns and hats and children in their European dresses. But she did not know the address and hence we don’t know its current avatar. For her and many others, these homes live in memories.

Monkey tops

By the early 20th century, the fashion of classical buildings gave way to ornamental buildings that were taller and had high-pitched roofs. The flat roofs were now pyramidical and tiled; the balustrades gave way to battlements, towers with high-pitched roof and bastions. 

The most important change was the pointed roof for the windows called the ‘monkey tops’. These lovely pointy wooden roofs can still be seen in the few bungalows or even old public buildings that still exist today.

As I walk across into Usha Kumar’s home, the first thing I notice is the beautiful monkey tops that decorate the front windows. Though the wooden trellis work of the front door was beautiful, it’s the patterned sunlight falling in the living room that made me truly appreciate the architect’s plan. 

Homes, in those days, looked good from the outside as well as the inside. The verandah is covered. But the high-pitched roofs, the high ventilators, the single storey are reminders of the erstwhile ‘bangala’.

In today’s world, what does it take to live in an old charming bungalow? For Usha and her family, the home has many memories. She recalls her childhood memories of living in a bungalow and of the fun she and her siblings had. Her son Akhilesh points at a mango fallen from a tree in the compound; it reminds him of the delicious pachadi they make during Ramanavami. 

But it also means, a lot of hard work – repairing fallen plaster, getting the right material and labour for repair and keeping the compound and home clean. Huge compounds do attract unwanted debris or construction material from a local construction site.

Though the bungalow is European, the name is very Indian. Usha has named it after her parents. There is a tulsi plant at the entrance. This cultural contrast comes up in many anecdotes and conversations with her which I find charming.

The Cantonment was, and is, a very multicultural place, informs Mona, the curator of ‘aPaulogy’, artist Paul Fernandes’ gallery on the Bangalore of the 60s and 70s. She recalls her neighbours were a mix of different communities. 

Though culturally diverse, there was always harmony and co-existence, she declares. The illustrations in the gallery do illustrate this fact.

I walk around the gallery, lost in Paul’s  Bangalore where cycles had dynamo lights and police wore half pants and the streets showcased monkey tops. 

For many of us today, owning a bungalow can only be a dream. But the few bungalows that still exist bring memories of another era; a way of life that gave this city the ‘Garden’ adjective.