Uneasy lie the fallen here

Apathy

Uneasy lie the fallen here

Centuries ago, France sent her sons to fight under Tipu Sultan, and who were laid to rest in peace at Harohalli. Today, Mahadeva B finds that peace disturbed thanks to encroachment, government apathy and ignorant locals.

An angel’s arm can’t snatch me from the grave; legions of angels can’t confine me there, says poet Edward Young. The dead French soldiers who lie buried in the Harohalli cemetery on the outskirts of Pandavapura in Mandya district, however, do not feel that they are safe in their graves.

For, the beautiful French cemetery, which has an immense historical significance of 250 years, now lies in ruin and decay.

The cemetery has around 35 graves, with several of them covered by shrubs and weeds. The local residents say that just a few decades back the cemetery had many graves of inestimable value. Nonetheless, majority of the graves have been demolished by the local people for the precious marble stones installed on the graves.

Historians at Srirangapatna say that the French army had camped at Pandavapura, the place later renamed by the French soldiers as French Rocks, during Tipu Sultan’s reign. The French army had come to help Tipu in his wars against the British.

Whilst a few French soldiers and their family members died of fatigue and diseases like malaria, some others died during the Anglo-Mysore wars. They were buried at the Harohalli graveyard (French cemetery). Tipu Sultan had granted this piece of land to the French army to bury their dead at Harohalli as Pandavapura was their camping ground.

The graveyard site has immense historical significance. Though well connected with the war history of Srirangapatna, the graveyard has not even been officially accorded the status of a war memorial yet.

Neglected

The graveyard where many French soldiers and their family members lie buried is one of the most neglected war memorials in the State. It is completely occupied by bushes.

The graveyard once had a good number of graves of different styles and structures with architectural significance. Each tomb had marble plaques on which the name and other details of the deceased - including the date, designation and cause of death – were inscribed. Also, selected quotes from the Bible were engraved on the stones. Several tombs were enclosed with iron grills and railings.

Now, the magnificent tombs at the graveyard are on the brink of collapse. The cemetery is completely covered by weeds and bushes. The tombs are lying unnoticed. The thieves have stolen the iron grills, railings and marble slabs from most of the graves at the graveyard. At present, only two graves have marble plaques on them.

Nature’s contribution

The condition of the French graveyard at Harohalli is shocking. While the thieves have been erasing history by stealing the details-rich marble stones, weather has been weakening the structures. The locals have completely destroyed the protective boundary of the graveyard, besides badly disfiguring the tombs.

The villagers have demolished several tombs and taken away bricks and marble stones to be used in constructing and strengthening their houses, say locals.

The marble stones on the two graves state that the graveyard was in service (operational) up to 1855. Conversely, there are no details when the first burial took place at this graveyard as the plaques with details have been stolen by the miscreants.

There are also graves of children at the graveyard, whose study may unearth interesting historical accounts. But, almost all details are erased from the graveyard. It will be a challenging task for the authorities concerned to retrieve the surface evidence about the soldiers as the graveyard was not declared a “war memorial.”

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials say that they cannot take measures to save the graveyard from decay and destruction as it [the graveyard] does not come under their purview. Interestingly, the officials at the Department of Archaeology [Karnataka government] claim that they do not have any details about the people who were buried at the cemetery.

Agreeing that the Harohalli graveyard represents a slice of history, a senior officer at the Department of Archaeology promised to “look into the matter of initiating conservation measures to save the graveyard.”

Reminder

The war memorial at Harohalli serves as a reminder of several important past events. Majority of the locals never understand the importance of the historical monuments at the graveyard, which are all treasured monuments. The graves have historical and political value which is far greater than any price. It is high time there were efforts to protect the graveyard as most of the gr­aves have already been demolished at the site.

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