Lore of the bean town

Lore of the bean town


Lore of the bean town

Poornima Dasharathi paints a picture of Bangalore from the time a fort was first built to today, when old localities like Chickpet and Avenue Road are bursting at their seams.

Most of us know that ‘modern’ Bangalore was founded by a chieftain called Kempegowda. We have also heard the charming story of ‘Benda kaalu ooru’ (‘city of boiled beans’); a story all historians and writers state is just a popular legend. When did Bangalore come into existence? Is not Kempegowda’s Bengaluru, the real Bangalore?

The history of Bangalore is like a jigsaw puzzle with a few key missing pieces. What we do know is that a village or a town called ‘Bengaluru’ existed even in the ninth century. However, the exact location of this ‘settlement’ is a topic open for discussion. In the 16th century, we come to know, a fortified city called Bengaluru was built by Kempegowda, a chieftain of Yelahanka, a small principality, in the large kingdom of Vijayanagara. Kempegowda I was the son of Kempa Nanje Gowda and the father of Kempegowda II, who built the famous watch towers in and around Bangalore.

‘Morasu Vokkalu’ clan

Kempegowda I belonged to a community of agriculturists called ‘Morasu Vokkalu’. The first Gazetteer on the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom, authored by B L Rice, narrates the colourful history of the ‘Morasu Vokkalu’ clan. It describes the story of seven farmers with their families arriving at the foothills of Ramaswami hill near Nandi durga. Having arrived in carts (bandi kapalu), the book narrates, that these families were of Telugu origin and in possession of ‘greater wealth’. They were worshippers of, not the main Hindu Gods, but Bhaira Deva and his consort Kempamma. The eldest of the brothers Rana Bhaire Gowda, had been forced to flee from Alur, near Kanchi, in order to protect his eldest daughter, Doddamma, from a forced alliance to powerful suitor of a lower caste.

The fugitives, while escaping near the Palar river, were nearly caught when the girl prayed to sacred Ganga and threw her earring into the river. The river then miraculously divided and the families crossed over to safety!

Rana Bhaire Gowda had a dream in which he was ordained to create a settlement in the neighbourhood and accordingly built Ahuti or Avati, north of the present-day Devanahalli. The seven brothers separated and each went and founded new villages or settlements. The youngest brother, Jaya Gowda founded Yelahanka and ruled as a feudatory of Vijayanagara rulers. He is the great grandfather of the illustrious Kempe Gowda who founded Bangalore.

However this story is rejected by other historians who debate that the community must have lived in these parts as traditional chieftains, even earlier to Vijayanagara and Hoysala reigns. Historian Annasamy supposes that ‘gowda’ is a short form of ‘Gangadikara’ or ‘Gangavadikara’, inhabitants of the earlier ‘Ganga’ dynasty.

He traces the ancestors of the Gowda dynasty to one Devarasa Gowda who lived in the 13th century. Such warrior clans usually did not worship the mainstream Hindu trinity and had fierce customs. The Mysore Gazetteer states that the community had a custom of amputating the ring and little fingers of the right hand of their daughters before marriage. The custom was finally put to an end by Kempe Gowda while he lived in captivity in Anegundi near Hampi, and was exposed to a culturally richer civilisation.

Kempe Gowdas

While the ancestry of the feudal chief who ‘founded’ Bangalore is hazy, the story of Kempe Gowda is much clearer. He lived during the times of the Vijayanagar sovereigns, Krishna Deva Raya and Achyuta Raya and was patronised by them. He found a suitable place called Sivasamudram, 10 miles south of Yelahanka and requested the permission of the then Vijayanagar sovereign, Achyuta Raya to build a fort. He was granted the permission and built the fort, in 1537, on the same lines as Hampi. He named it after a nearby existing village, Bengaluru. The fortified city became ‘Bengaluru’ and the village to its north was called ‘Hale Bengaluru’ (Old Bangalore); quite similar to the concept of New Delhi or Navi Mumbai, only 500 years back!

Kempe Gowda, in his zeal, made one mistake; he established a mint in the name of his family deity Bhaira Deva. This was seen as a threat and he was thrown into prison in Anegundi, where he lived for five years. In this time, he was exposed to a much richer culture and adopted many customs and traditions from here; one such was his worship of Shiva instead of Bhaire Deva. He was later released and continued his rule from Bangalore and was loyal to the Vijayanagara empire. During the end of his tenure, the great Vijayanagar Empire fell to the combined attack of the Deccan Sultanates.

His son Immadi Kempe Gowda lived through turbulent times. Once Hampi fell, there was a lot of infighting among the chieftains of smaller territories. The Deccan Sultanates also started expanding southwards. The Mughals had an eye on the South. However, Immadi Kempe Gowda was made of sterner stuff. He further strengthened the fort and built the famous watch towers all around Bangalore. The principal reason was to defend rather than setting the town limits. He ruled commendably and built many tanks and expanded his territories. In 1628, the prosperous Bengaluru city was finally taken over by Shahji Bhonsley, father of the great Sivaji, and who served Adil Shah of Bijapur. From then on, until the siege of Magadi in 1728, the Gowda dynasty ruled the Magadi and Savandurga principality.

Sketch of the City

How was Bangalore back then? It was one of the big cities modelled after Hampi, the capital of the feudal lord, Kempe Gowda, who was close to the sovereign.
Considering such factors, Bengaluru must have been a flourishing City. From the maps of British cartographers, one can perceive that it was an oval fort with ramparts, parapets and eight gates leading out of it. Of the eight, the four principal directional gates were Yelahanka gate in the north, Ulsoor to the east, Sondekoppa to the west and Mysore to the south. Inside the fort, the two principal streets were Chikkapete, running east to west and Doddapete (Avenue road), running north to south, intersecting at a square.

The houses were spacious with many temples dotting the area. The fort itself was built of stone and there was a moat surrounding it. The streets were (and still are) named after the kind of trading community that lived, such as Akkipete, Ragipete, Balepete, Muthyalapete, etc.

Writer and historian Fazlul Hasan provides a translated narration of Bangalore from Shiva Bharat, a chronicle of Shivaji’s achievements. It says – “This town of Bingrul with its massive fort gates and strong fort walls is an impressive place. Deep ditches, full of water drawn from big tanks, which are existing in its close proximity surround the fort walls. Within the town are fine buildings, the most prominent being the palace.’ He further narrates, “There are many commercial streets in this town with an array of shops displaying costly goods. At some of the squares of the town fountains have been built from which water springs giving a pleasing appearance.’

As the city created by Kempe Gowda lost its status as a capital and became an acquisition from ruler to ruler and dynasty to dynasty, it lost its sheen in the gradual course and became a not much improved ‘pettah’ under the rule of the British.

The same city, in 1817, is described very differently by a British missionary, William Arthur. In his book, ‘A Mission to Mysore’, he describes the city as ‘Pettah’ which is very different from the Cantonment. As he entered through the gate of the “mud walled” town, he narrates, “Here you have a native town in all its perfection...You see a long, moderately narrow street, with houses of one low storey, flat roofed, whitewashed and windowless. Parallel to them is a thinly planted avenue of coconut trees. Monkeys countless are scrambling up the side walls, playing antics up the roof, bounding from houses to the trees, and peering everywhere in search of plunder.”

Two hundred years after William Arthur’s visit, the area has not changed much. The low roofing is gone and the monkeys are fewer, and it is now a congested but thriving commercial area that we associate as ‘Chickpet’ or ‘Avenue road’.

If we fly through a time machine from 1537 to 2012, Bangalore has re-emerged as a metropolis but urban planning has taken a backseat!

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