The Indian Analyst

History of Bangalore



 By  Soumya Sitaraman

Bangalore, a city that evokes memories of overcast skies spilling muted light on flaming blossoms of the Gulmohar arched over beautiful streets. This is a city where stately raintrees lace green fingers making large expanses of sky green filigree with their canopies above. Bangalore was the escape from the oppressive heat and humidity of surrounding cities, a sleepy, small army town with its prominent cantonment area, army barracks, parade grounds and the large famous promenade called MG road.

This beautiful place with its cool weather inspired a languid pace, where one could literally stop to smell the phenomenal roses that flourish in the front gardens of many a gray cut stone bungalow. It is a city where the flower markets flourish and the environment lent itself to developing a lush landscape. City planners of yore planted the trees along streets and avenues that now can relate fifty years of change and development.

The area that is now Bangalore has seen trade and habitation for over 2000 years. Archeological digs have unearthed Stone Age implements and Roman coins. Many of these ancient burial grounds remain largely unexplored beneath the mushrooming modernity that belies the antiquity of land use. According to some Puranic geographers, this is the region referred to as known as "Kalyanapuri" or "Kalyananagara". This was an earstwhile Auspicious Town. A wayside milestone from the Mauryan Empire circa 850 AD mentions a place called 'Bengalooru'. The Mauryan Emperor, Chandragupta chose to become a Jain and renounced his throne 157 km near modern Bangalore at the awe inspiring Jain pilgrimage center Shravanabelagola. According to epigraphic evidence, Chavundaraya the Minister of the Ganga King Rachamalla Sathyavakya installed the giant granite statue of Sri Gomateshwara, a Jain Thirthankara, in 988 A.D. 

Further, a 9th century inscription found in a temple in the village of Begur from the Ganga rule (350 A.D. to the end of 10th Century) mentions Bengaluru as a small hamlet. Researchers see that location of the Bengaluru mentioned in the Ganga records coincides with modern Halebengaluru near Kodigehalli, not far from the area now popularly nown as Hebbal. The Gangas controlled the present districts of Kolar, Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya and Tumkur.

Later about 1015, the Chola Empire extended its northern borders and their kingdom included the area now occupied by Bangalore City. The Chola kings left their distinct mark in this area with their signature temples. Two temples, now more than a millennium old still remain within the limits of Bangalore, in the areas Domlur and Ulsoor respectively. The Chokkanathaswamy temple in Domlur is the oldest in the City. Domlur was referred to as Tombalur in the Chola inscriptions. The Chola territory at the time covered North Bangalore. The area they named Illaipakka Nadu is none other than the present day Yelahanka. In Ulsoor, the Cholakings built the Someshwara temple.

Domlur and Ulsoor continue to bear their ancient names from a distant past. The construction, survival and continued patronage of these temples for over a thousand years indicate a strong and uninterrupted presence of an active population in this area. This is representative of the endearing beauty of India, where the fabric of life is not torn, rather, time serves to add intricate pattern and color to the weave. 

After the Cholas, the Vijayanagara kingdom overran this area and exerted their influence over the land and the people. A popular story that spread like wildfire is attributed to Veera Ballala II (Ballala the Brave). Tired and deepinto the forest, he was refreshed by a simple meal of boiled beans offered by an old pesant woman. Sated and grateful, he is supposed to have nicknamed the area 'Bele benda kalu ooru' or ‘Area of Boiled Lentil beans’. If this instance did happen, he may have made his tongue in cheek remark keeping the name Bengaluru, now already over ahundred years old! It is however probably just a popular fabricated story as the sources that tell it cannot seem to agree on whether he was a Hoysala or Vijayanagara king and to nitpickj, bele is actually a lentil, benda kai in Kannada is Okra, ladiesfinger, and not beans!!!

The landscape of the region, when surveyed in the 1500's consisted of expansive tracts of cultivated and uncultivated land. The plains in this area was and continues to be distinctly marked with innumerable keres, natural and man made tanks that are temporal low lying water catchments. These Keres filled with every rain and recharged the ground water table for the farmers until the next season. They must have contributed vastly to the wonderful and cool weather of the region. 

The Kempegowdas, one of the prominent feudal lords of the Vijayanagar kingdom, were the then surveyors of the area. They controlled the Bangalore-Magadi area. By several accounts, they were originally from Yelahanka with roots relating them to the Nadaprabhus. Kempe Gowda I (1510 - 1570) built his new capital here around 1537. He called his capital Bengaluru to honor the birth place of his mother and wife, the hamlet of Halé Bengaluru (Old Bengaluru.). Kempe Gowda built a mud fort and with the help of the Vijayanagara King Achutaraya. The exterior perimeter had eight gates or points of entry and exit. One of the gates was in Ulsoor. Within a larger area protected by the fort, Kempegowda encouraged habitation and an urban area soon developed with a growing population, active trade and bustling markets. The area got subdivided or sectioned based on trade guilds amont other considerations. Some that continue to thrive are Chickpet (little locality), Doddapet (large locality), Taragupet (grain market locality), and later, Cottonpet (cotton market area). These areas thrive today as wholesale markets in modern Bangalore City. Chickpet is especially known for its wonderful bargains and teeming variety.

Kempegowda’s successor and son, Kempegowda II defined the perimeters of the expanding urban area under his control by erecting four mandapams strategically placed to the North South, East and West of a determined pivot to demarcate the limits he set for Bangalore. According to archeologists, each mandapa was a small granite four-pillared structure with a raised tiered roof. Kempegowda II is credited with the expansion and continued patronage of the Ulsoor Someshwara Temple built by the Cholas. Kempegowda II, a patron ruler and devout Hindu, refurbished the Gavigangadhara temple and is credited with building the great Bull temple at Basavanagudi. As part of his civic consciousness, he built many tanks to hold rain water within the limits and at the perimeter of his urban town. Of these the most famous is the Sampangi tank. Another is the existing Karanji tank in the area now called Basavanagudi. 

The Kempegowdas ruled headquartered at Bangaluru until the Vijayanagara Empire fell. The weakened Empire fell prey to more dominant rulers in adjacent areas. The larger Bangalore landscape was conquered by Mohammed Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur. This marked the beginning of a tumultous time of political upheaval and social change. The Adil Shahi Sultans held on to the territory until 1638. At this juncture, they were overrun by the Marathas. Shahji Bhonsle ruled the area for 50 years until he lost it to Aurangzeb's Mughal armies at a fateful battle 1686. The city was captured and leased to the Wodeyar rulers of Mysore, Chikkadevaraya.

Aurangazed probably needing money for his advancing armies ended up selling the property to the Wodeyars for 3 lakhs in 1690. Chikka Devaraya Wodeyar (1673 - 1704 AD) invested in his new acquisition by rebuilding the fort in granite. He also developed the city towards the South and built the Venkataramana temple. He is credited with developing amenities lie storehouses and encouraging education in special areas called agraharams. His successors, Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar (1704 - 1714 AD), and Dodda Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1732 - 1734 AD) maintained their inheritance. Their successor, Krishnaraja Wodeyar - II (1734 - 1766) turned out to be weak. A siege at Devanhalli in 1749 brought a hired free-lance mercenary soldier to the attention of Nanjiraj, a minister at the court of the Maharaja of Mysore. The man, Haider Ali, the great grandson of a wandering Islamic fakir had served with an exemplary and distinguishing ability. This earned him an independent command from the Maharaja. Haider cleverly made himself indispensable over the next twelve years enslaving the Maharaja to his will. He assumed control, a Muslim soldier-adventurer who was. Haider Ali took over the reigns of Bangalore in 1759 after the Wodeyar gifted him the area. He reinforced the forts and exerted control over the entire region including Mysore. Haider trained his son Tipu to following his steps. They were both patriotic to their land and Tipu was one of the Indian kings to resist British occupation. 

Surrounding one of the mandapas erected by Kempe Gowda to define the limits of this fort-city, Haider Ali is said to have been the one to reserve about 250 acres for a garden along the lines of the vast Mughal gardens in vogue at the time. He sought all kinds of exotic plants from foreign countries and kindled a love for greenery among those who settled here. His son Tipu added to the collection of rare plants with his political connections, soliciting plants from France, Persia and Afghanistan. Roses did particularly well in the landscaped gardens and are said to have flowered profusely. It is apparently Tipu’s exclamation when he beheld a field of red roses, “Lal Bagh!” that gave this garden it’s name. Roses continue to be cultivated and grown in this wonderful fresh air lung of the City.

After Tipu Sultan lost his battle against the British, the invaders came into the picture and began to exert their imprint on the landscape, Lalbagh was no more the Sultan's garden. However, in the spirit of the project, the British retained Lalbagh and demarcated it to serve as a "depository of useful plants" and a "botanical garden" so that all naturalists interested in plant identification, classification, propagation and transplantation could experiment and learn from this living library. 

Lal Bagh, like a regal lady has grown more beautiful with time. Her trees, once gawky saplings are stately breathing monuments that proudly bear their botanical nametags. They are the silent witnesses to the changes of our society, hoarding our stories in their indecipherable rings. Lalbagh has retained its charm. Well maintained flower beds and carefully tended plants pools and fountains make this a popular spot for city dwellers and a must-do fir visitors. A large and gorgeous glass conservatory was built in the garden later for flowers. This was recently refurbished and thrown open to the public. Lalbagh hosts one of the largest flower shows in the country and boasts of a constant patronage by locals and avid plant lovers form far and wide. 

At 3,113 feet (949 m) above sea level, the beautiful dry and cool climate of Bangalore attracted many to maintain a summer home here. Its small town ambience and the gardens and greenery that artistically sheltered the city from the visual concrete chaos that pockmarked other modern Indian city landscapes earned it the poetic title, "garden city". Bangalore was not always a garden city. It was once a vast stretch of fields that turned unto an urban area thanks to the defining initiatives of Kempa Gowda and Haider Ali. Planners planted and landscaped the environs to give the city its botanical trump card, several well-developed gardens and parks, of which Lal Bagh and the Cubbon Park are the largest and most famous.

Another green lung was created for the old city that was soon developing a modern dimension. In 1864 by Sir Richard Sankey, the then Chief Engineer of Mysore set aside and planned a large park of a few hundred acres within the city. He named it after Sir Mark Cubbon, Bangalore's longest serving Commissioner. The Park was built with thoroughfares, secluded lawns, and beautiful grassy expanses and planted profusely with trees. Within the limits of this park, he set the Library. The current Karnataka High Court buildings are to one side, just outside the gates and the Park nestles within its expansive folds a tennis stadium. It is a space well planned and thought out because after over a hundred years, it is still beautiful and continues to serve the public with a space to walk, jog, meditate, meet, court and play. In addition, it is the centre of a cultural hub of the city with the Visveswaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, Government Museum, and the Venkatappa Art Gallery all around this beautiful and inspiring island of peace. The park is children friendly and its Aquarium and play area for children are modern India’s most recent additions to it.

In 1791 Lord Cornwallis defeated Tipu. After the arrival of the British, Bengaluru became the very English sounding "Bangalore". Lord Cornwallis once again strengthened the fort. In 1809 he established a Cantonment that served as a base for the British regional administration. 

The Wodeyars continued to own property within the city and in 1887 they built a castle for their stay in Bangalore fashioned after the European castles of the time. The plague of 1898 ironically hastened the modernization of Bangalore. Infrastructure for telephone lines were laid to help coordinate plague- relief efforts. Sometimes,to Bangaloreans, it seems that these very same archaic telephone lines serve modern customers, especially when a little rain disrupts all communication. 

Similarly, Civic authorities suddenly alert to the danger of vermin passed new regulations for construction of houses and the maintainanceof city wide sanitation to be supervised by a health officer. The Victoria Hospital was constructed and made operational after its inauguration in 1900 by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy. The old hospitals continue to exist and operate, side by side with the modern high tech new hospitals that have mushroomed all over the city. 

1906 was a benchmark year. Bangalore became the the first city in Asia to have electricity generated and drawn from the hydroelectic plant situated in Shivanasamudra. In a few months, the project will mark a century of existance. The service for the modern IT industry and the new, young blood the money is attracting, true to its age, is like a cranky old retainer: sometimes functional and sometimes not. 

In 1954, the Vidhana Soudha or the State Secretariat was built. This beautiful building was recently expanded along its original lines and the palm tree lined street in front of it improved. The Vidhana Soudha is located very near the Cubbon Park and one can see the red brick of the Karnataka High Court from its balconies. 

The Indian army maintains the Ulsoor Lake, the largest lake within the city environs. This beautiful blue oval has several small islands in it with enormous raintrees spreading their perfect umbrella shaped canopies for a variety of migratory birds to nest on. Egrets, Herons, Pelicans and Kingfishers frequent the lake, nest noisily on the trees and dive into the inviting waters for a quick snack. The lack is stocked with fish by the city. It is usable as a recreational facility. The army trains its troops in water worthiness here with kayaks, inflated rafts and dinghies. 

The large administrative and bureaucratic presence of government and Army in Bangalore resulted in the establishment of several research institutions that focused on Military and Civil scientific progress. The famous and prestigeous University, the Indian Institute of Science and several others of equal stature like the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, and the Raman Research Institute, make this a very high center for scientific research and advancement. As a natural result, heavy industries and critical research, development and manufacturing centres such as the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) are located here.

Today, Bangalore has branded herself the "Silicon Valley of India". Growing rapidly to keep pace with the IT business Bangalore has actively wooed, the city and it has spread well beyond the original boundaries of the cityscape urbanized by its ancestral planners. Bangalore is capital city of the southern Indian state of Karnataka remains the largest city in the state. A cosmopolitan city with a heafy influx of pleople from the neighboring states and now,expatriatesd from the United States and elsewhere, Bangalore continues to fervently protect and advocate the use of the native tongue, Kannada, the official language of Karnataka.

Environs: The quaint rocky outcrop of Nandi hills is a must for those interested in landscape geography and religion. Daring monkeys mingle with arrogant ease among the thronging tourists who visit the temple at the peak f the outcrop and get breathtaking views of the plains below. Nandi hills is a prime catchment areaand the place of origin of the once humongous river Palar.

Whitefield, once a quaint old British colony with lovely inset bungalows is also home to the Brindavana Ashram of Shri Sathya Sai Baba. Sai Baba makes this his summer retreat when the heat becomes unbearable in his primary Ashram at Puttaparthi. Devotees throng here seasonally for a glimpse of the saffron robed guru, and itinerant vendors throng to cater to the temporary needs of the devotees. Once considered 20 km east of Bangalore, this area is now part of the growing city. Bangalore has spread tentacles in all directions improving the Industrial belt in Tumkur and Peenya in the North, Electronic city along another main artery and the IT heavyweights in the East. Many "mini suburbs" modeled along the middle range American suburban communities have mushroomed to accommodate the number of expatriates pouring in to cash in on the IT boom here. With this demand, acres that were once valued at 2-4 Lakhs in 1999 are now asking at 30+lakhs. 

Another significant development for Bangalore is the presence of a magnificent and new ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) Temple and the unique lotus motif inspired center for the Art of Living foundation.

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