Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Hindu Heritage Series 1: The Bean City

This is the first of a fortnightly series on the heritage of Bangalore city
The Hindu

BANGALORE IS the fastest growing metropolis in Asia. With sobriquets such as Silicon Valley, Garden City and Pensioner's Paradise, the city has been able to retain its traditional charm, despite the onslaught of modernism.

Second oldest

Among the metropolises in India, Bangalore is next to Delhi in antiquity. Though the Begur inscription dated 900 A.D. mentions the name Bengaluru, it is Kempe Gowda I who is credited with founding Bangalore (Bendakalooru) in 1537. During medieval times, a village in which a fair was held became a town and got a charter. That is probably the story of Bangalore too. Kadale Kayi Parishe, the fair with a mythical background, held in November in the premises of Basavanna Temple in Basavanagudi, explains how Bangalore came to be regarded as a town.

But Bangalore was also an important commercial centre as is proved by the discovery of Roman coins by B.L. Rice in 1891, while the railway track was being constructed at Yeshwanthpur. The coins, dated 21 B.C. to 51 A.D., belonged to the era of Roman emperors such as Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius. Again in 1965, when labourers were digging for laying the runway at the HAL Airport of Bangalore, they noticed 256 silver Roman coins. It is quite likely that there was a Roman settlement near Bangalore during the early centuries of the Christ era. Bangalore, then, was also known by the names Kalyanapuri and Mangalapuri. Kalyana is the Sanskrit word for prosperity and Mangala is its synonym.

Great climate

Bangalore may have attracted settlements due to its salubrious climate (situated 3042 ft above the sea level), fertile soil and numerous tanks (the Vrishabhavathi river, a tributary of the Arkavathi, flowed through Bangalore once upon a time), all essential elements for habitation.

Kempe Gowda I erected a mud fort and built the temple of Basavanagudi. He expanded the Gavigangadhara and Someshvara temples and constructed the Kempambudhi Tank (now an amusement park is being constructed there), the Dharmambudhi Tank (the present bus stand in Majestic) and the Sampangi Tank (the Kanteerava stadium premises).

His son Kempe Gowda II erected the four towers at the four cardinal points at Bangalore. At present, these towers can be found at the Lalbagh, Kempambudhi Tank, Ulsoor Lake, and behind the Ramana Maharshi Ashram on Bellary Road. Both Kempe Gowda I and Kempe Gowda II invited traders and artisans, especially weavers, to settle down in Bangalore. They were, in a big way, responsible for the development of Bangalore as an important commercial centre.

In 1638, a large Bijapur army led by Ranadulla Khan, accompanied by Shahji Bhonsle, defeated Kempe Gowda III and captured Bangalore. Shahji was granted Bangalore as jagir. He lived in a palace called Gauri Mahal in the present Chikpet area.


The Marathi work Shivabharath, while speaking of Bangalore during Shahji's time, mentions that the city had huge fortifications and deep moats. There were many tanks around the fort. Some houses in the city had their walls decorated with attractive paintings. There were streets full of shops selling valuable merchandise. The city had plenty of pigeons and peacocks and big, beautiful temples. The Kempe Gowda family that had ruled over Bangalore as the subordinate of the Vijayanagar Empire represented the entire culture of Vijayanagar by continuing the religious festivals, and various forms of music and dance.

Shahji's son Shivaji visited Bangalore as a boy in the 1640s and was inspired by the religious and cultural atmosphere of the place. His marriage with Saibai Nimbalkar took place in Bangalore in 1641. After the death of Shahji in 1664, his son Ekoji succeeded his Bangalore jagir. But in 1687, the Mughal general Kasim Khan captured Bangalore from Ekoji and leased it to Chikkadevaraja Wadiyar, the ruler of Mysore.



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