Where the music played
The bandstand in Cubbon Park has always been a favourite spot for Bangaloreans. It is an artefact of a development in popular western music, especially in the United Kingdom, called the Brass Band movement. Today, not only is the cultural legacy dead, the physical structure, too, is in danger of disappearing, observes Meera Iyer.
In the middle of some of the finest greenery in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park stands a structure that once echoed with music and laughter. Today, it stands silent, dilapidated and dying, and no trace lingers of an earlier time when people gathered here to have their spirits lifted as they listened to some jolly music played by a band.
The bandstand in Cubbon Park has long been a favourite spot for Bangaloreans. Interestingly, it is an artefact of a development in popular western music, especially in the United Kingdom, called the Brass Band movement.
In a nutshell, two things catalysed this movement: the invention of valved brass instruments like the cornet and the tuba; and the need for entertainment among the working classes in Industrial Revolution Britain. Brass bands, which had evolved from earlier military and church bands, became immensely popular in the 1800s. By the late 1800s, it is estimated that there were around 40,000 brass bands in the United Kingdom. Concerts in parks were especially big draws for people who now lived in increasingly crowded cities and were starved of public open spaces. And so it was that bandstands began to sprout all over parks in the United Kingdom. People gathered around them in their hundreds, and sometimes thousands, to listen to free concerts by brass bands.
The first such bandstand was built in 1861 in the Royal Horticultural Gardens in Kensington near London. Bangalore didn’t take long to jump onto the bandstand bandwagon. According to S Narayanaswamy, Senior Assistant Director of Horticulture, Bangalore Development Authority, the bandstand in Lalbagh was built in 1863. We don’t know exactly when Cubbon Park got its bandstand but photographs show that by the 1870s, Cubbon Park, too, had a bandstand.
Cubbon Park’s first bandstand was not the one we now know. Old photographs show a bandstand with double pillars, and almost at ground level. What’s more, the original bandstand was not where it stands now. A map in ‘Mysore: A Gazetteer’ compiled for the government by Benjamin Lewis Rice, published in 1897, shows the bandstand standing roughly where a petrol bunk stands today, near Bowring Institute. Archival photographs corroborate this as they show the bandstand much closer to the St Mark’s Church. Sometime in the first decade of the 1900s, the old bandstand was demolished and the new avatar built where it stands today.
Though built some years after Queen Victoria died, the bandstand we now have in Cubbon Park is still typical of the Victorian period. Most of the bandstands that were built during that time and which can still be seen in parks in the United Kingdom have features similar to our bandstand — cast-iron columns with a timber frame, cast-iron railings and decorative roof-line details, sloping roofs, octagonal shapes and a raised plinth. It was fashionable in the Britain of those days to have Chinese elements in parks and gardens, which is possibly why most Victorian bandstands, Cubbon Park’s included, have roofs vaguely reminiscent of Chinese pagodas. The bandstands were fitted with false roofs which served as sounding boards for the band playing there.
And finally, many bandstands also made arrangements for seating for people who came for the brass band concerts. When the new bandstand was built in Cubbon Park, the Horticulture Department laid out gardens around it and built terraces nearby so that people could sit comfortably when they came to listen to music.
And come they did. Regardless of its location, the bandstand used to be one of the main attractions of Cubbon Park and a much-loved venue for holding concerts. In its early days, both British and Mysore army and police bands used to play here at least a week. One of the grandest concerts is said to have taken place during the celebrations of Silver Jubilee of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV in 1927. Lewis Rice in his Gazetteer describes the weekly gathering here as “a gay and varied assemblage”. During the Raj, it was also a favourite haunt of the British young set and many a romance blossomed under the benign eye of the Cubbon Park bandstand!
The popularity of the bandstand did not wane after Independence. The Cubbon Park bandstand continued to host orchestras and the public continued to flock to listen. Murali Mohan, a retired banker, reminisces about the early 1970s, when he was a frequent visitor to the bandstand. He recalls his old Sunday routine when he used to go from Tata Silk Farm near Basavanagudi, where he lived, to MG Road for a leisurely walk, then take the children for a ride on the toy train in Cubbon Park and round off the day by heading over to the bandstand to listen to music. “It was quite an entertainment,” he says. “There used to be people selling groundnuts and other eats. Hundreds of people used to come to listen to the orchestra, which used to play Kannada film music.” This was also the time when the Chinnaswamy Stadium was built, so sometimes, says Mohan, they used to attend a cricket match, and then walk across to the bandstand to listen to the orchestra.
But gradually, television and other forms of entertainment took the place of outdoor concerts and slowly, the bandstand’s musical nights faded out. It has been more than thirty years now that the bandstand has remained silent. In 2008, an NGO named Prakruthi attempted to resuscitate this musical legacy and for a few short months, gaiety returned to the bandstand as the music played once more. But with no financial support, this revival died an early death.
Today, not only is the cultural legacy dead, the physical structure, too, is in danger of disappearing. The bandstand’s false roof is literally falling apart, its timber supports are rotting, many portions of the decorative roof details have fallen out, its cast-iron columns have rusted and much of its cast-iron railing is missing. The bandstand comes under the purview of the state’s Horticulture Department. Jagadeesh, Deputy Director, Horticulture Department, and in charge of Cubbon Park, says the heritage structure is soon to be restored by the PWD. Meanwhile, the bandstand stands decrepit and in danger of imminent collapse, a victim of that implacable enemy, neglect.