heritage

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!

 

 

Unraveling the secrets of Srirangapatna – Photo Story

This weekend Unhurried had a fun bike trip with TVS group of Mysore.  The City trails event organized by Sona Motors, TVS and Autosense India, for their customers was a fun filled episode to unearth Srirangapatna’s history and and discover many of its untold stories. Unhurried along with On a Pedal  team went about organizing this in quite an innovative way.

Unlimited masti, fun quiz and a gripping treasure hunt followed by a sumptuous lunch were the highlights of the day. Here is an overview.

23 participants assembled at Sona Motors,Lakshmipuram around 10 in the morning. The event was flagged off at 10:30 by Rudra of TVS Motors.

The team on TVS vehicles reached Srirangapatna around 11. After a brief introduction to the city and its rich history, the participants were divided in to four teams.

A fun quiz session saw each team compete to get the maximum number of points. The team that won got a five minute lead for the treasure hunt and were given the clues first. The enthusiastic team breaking their clues headed off on their vehicles to their destination where the next clue awaited them.

After a gripping two hour hunt that saw teams zipping up past memorials, mausoleums, palaces and ruins the event ended at Hali Mane for a delicious lunch.

Here is a brief video.

 

Exploring Cantonment with Kids

 

Cantonment

A tale of two cities in Bangalore,” says Aryan in our walks. The 10 year old kid was surprised to find two different cultures existing in the city-one the old pette and the other, towns of Cantonment.

Away from the buzz and traffic of the city we took school kids to Richards town, Cleveland Town and Frazer town and here is what we learnt from them.

Fraser Town

 

How do you have photographs of Mr.Frazer,” asks Ankita after she sees a couple of mobile pictures of him. I say, from the net and she is not impressed. She was in truth trying to find out who had photographed Frazer and were there cameras back then?

There were barrage of other interesting questions too.

Hazi Ismail Sait who did so much for the community, what business was he in? Why did he care so much about the education about girls? Krumbiegel  has contributed so much for the city. How is he remembered? Are there any roads,statues or establishment at least named after him?

These kids aged between 10-12 sure could think was what I thought, listening to their flurry of questions.

Why are British statues still here?,” a somber Anurag asks and adds quite politely, “We should remove them“. He is not impressed with Queen Victoria’s haughty statue inside Cubbon Park.

Cantonment Bungalow

 

Seeing the different Bungalows in the walk, the would-be investors wanted to know its present cost.  And they started with the initial price of 10 crores going on till 100!

“Are there any ghosts from British era?,” asked one smart alec. I had to invent some. Peter Colaco’s book came in handy as well. The headless beauty and faceless man stories flowed from my tongue.

It pays to walk with kids. They are always eager to learn more, especially if it is stories. And history is very easily conveyed through stories. The importance of heritage is also communicated.

“The fort that existed should not have been dismantled madam. I wish there were some laws to protect heritage in our city,” says Kiran seriously. I convey to him gently that Bengaluru has not yet got the heritage tag. For these innocent questions and more, I love going on walk with these smarty-pants.

Check out our school programs page if you are interested in sending your kids to an educational tour with us.

Disclaimer: The names of the kids have been changed to protect identity.

Usha

 

 

 

 

 

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.