When parks were a lark

Green legacy

The city of Bangalore, popularly known as the Garden City, is dotted with parks. They are not only a sight for sore eyes, but justify the sobriquet too. Michael Patrao recounts the fascinating history behind some such parks.

What took nearly 200 years for Bangalore to earn its reputation on the strength of its parks, gardens and lakes was lost in a matter of few decades. But, Bangalore was not always a hospitable place. Sir Arthur Wellesley, Commander-in-chief of the British Army, declared, “We can’t station British troops at Bangalore. It might be healthy up there, but there’s not enough water.” In 1805, Wellesley left India, and the British troops who were first stationed at Srirangapatna after the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 were later shifted to the Bangalore Civil and Military Station in 1809, mainly on the ground that Bangalore was conducive to good health. The salubrious climate of Bangalore attracted the ruling class. 

The earliest rulers of Bangalore knew that even a small community could only survive on the Deccan if water was carefully conserved. Artificial lakes were created round the city and were joined by water channels. While lakes like Halasuru  and Kempambudhi lakes were created by Kempegowda’s successor, Kempegowda II, Sankey Tank was constructed by Col Richard Hieram Sankey (RE) of the Madras Sappers Regiment, in 1882. Avenue of flowering trees were planted for every season of the year. Some of the city’s streets were famous for their canopies. The Cubbon Park was created in 1870 and soon there were parks across the city. Victorian bungalows and their shady gardens were once the trademarks of Bangalore, earning it the moniker, ‘Garden City’.

Given this greenery all around the City, fans were unheard of, despite the fact that in 1906, Bangalore became the first city in Asia to have electricity, supplied by the hydroelectric plant situated in Shivanasamudra. Bangalore came to be known as the ‘air-conditioned city.’

Richards Park, in Richards Town near Bangalore East railway station, laid in 1905, is one of the oldest parks in the City. It has a bandstand, called the Wheeler Pavilion, for the Army, Air Force and Police bands to play. Coles Park, Cubbon Park and Lalbagh are the other places which have a bandstand. One of the antiquities of this park is the six stone carved benches that are more than 100 years old.

Something for all

Coles Park, located in Fraser Town, has been in existence since 1914. Although it has been renamed as Freedom Fighters’ Park, it continues to be popularly called Coles Park.

Named after A H Coles, a resident of Mysore, it has an area of 27,280 sq mt. It has a children’s play area, joggers’ path, roller skating rink and a bandstand where the Band of Bangalore Rifle Volunteers played. This park has been made disabled-friendly with a ramp at the main gate. However, after seven years, the equipment for disabled children has become non-functional. This park had three tennis courts, and one of these was used by the YWCA Club in that area.

The Bugle Rock Park in Basavanagudi is one of the oldest parks in Bangalore and its history can be traced back to Tipu Sultan. The rock tower from where a soldier would play the bugle, to warn people of the city to the arrival of intruders, still stands tall at the highest point of the park. It is a natural park with a number of trees and a rock garden. A statue of poet D V Gundappa has also been installed in the park.

The Silver Jubilee Park is one of the earliest parks to be credited for heralding the tradition of establishing gardens in Bangalore. Sri Krishna Rajendra Silver Jubilee Park was developed in 1927 to celebrate 25 years’ rule of Krishna Raja Wadeyar IV. The park is spread on an area of 12,089 sq mt and features fountains, attractive landscaping, gazebo and a children’s play area. The park was renovated and inaugurated in November 2006.

The M N Krishna Rau Park in Basavanagudi is named after the Dewan of Mysore, who laid the foundation for this park in 1940. It is one of the few green patches of pre-Independence era. Despite the burgeoning urban sprawl, this park continues to be popular with people of all ages.

The Bannappa Park along the busy Kempegowda Road may not be an impressive park, but it is steeped in history. It has been used by various popular movements right from the days of freedom struggle. Until recently, on average, at least two rallies, attended by hundreds of people, were held here every week, off Hudson Circle. Many leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, have given inspiring talks and awareness speeches in this park. A recent addition to the park is the charkha. Just next to the park is a basketball court of an elite divisional team, Devanga Union.

The 85-acres Jayaprakash Narayan Park (J P Park) in the North West of Bangalore is the biggest park after Cubbon Park and Lalbagh, with hundreds of plants of various species, flowering plants, shrubs and medicinal herbs. The rich biodiversity of the park is fittingly complemented by the two water bodies, totalling 25 acres of area, attracting a variety of migratory birds. The park has mini groves called Nakshatra Vana, Rashi Vana and Navagraha Vana and here each star in the zodiac constellation has a particular plant or tree ascribed to it. The spectacular rock garden in the park has been modelled after a similar garden in Almatti. The park has a 4.5 km jogging track, bamboo garden, palm garden, play area for kids and women’s playground with dedicated shuttle and tennikoit courts.

Steeped in history

The Cariappa Memorial Park is situated in the heart of Bangalore city as a part of the Parade Grounds on M G Road. The 22-acre park is dedicated to the memory of Field Marshall K M Cariappa, who served in the Indian Armed Forces. It was laid out in the year 1996 by the Indian Army, and also maintained by them. It has a games and play area in military themes like Tarzan swing and Burma bridge, enabling children to improve their physical and mental abilities in a fun way. At the entrance is the seven-feet-tall monolith statue of Cariappa. The park boasts of a 1.8-km-long walker’s path. The eco-friendly park is thick with indigenous and foreign species of flora and fauna. But a cursory look at the park reveals that people are hesitant to go inside the park. The defence authorities need to make this park more people-friendly.

The City is dotted with several other interesting parks too. The Kempegowda Gadi Gopura Park has a historic edifice in the form of gadi gopura, the border tower built by Kempegowda, in the centre of this park. This park, near Mekhri Circle, is spread across 18,432 sq mt. The Gayatri Devi Park in Rajajinagar, spread across an area of 46,022 sq mt, has large trees with wide-spreading branches along with natural landscaping. It has a children’s play area and a gazebo. Though Jayamahal Park is small, occupying 1,436 sq mt, it has beautiful landscaping and murals and figures in plaster of Paris, large trees and play areas for children. 

The Lakshmi Devi Park, with a temple of the same name, is a nondescript park with an area of 1,192 sq ft. It is named after Lakshmi Devi, the daughter-in-law of Kempegowda. Legend has it that in the course of constructing a fort to demarcate his new capital, Kempegowda was advised by a soothsayer to conduct a sacrifice to appease the gods. His pregnant daughter-in-law took her own life as a sacrifice.

Laws and rules are drafted with good intentions. And, if those relating to parks and public areas were strictly implemented, the City would not have lost its ‘Garden City’ tag. Civic amenity sites earmarked for the laying of parks by the Bangalore Development Authority were either encroached upon or diverted for other use. In fact, there are instances where, in connivance with the corporators, sites earmarked for parks have been deviated for commercial use. Most corporators do not care much for parks or their maintenance.

However, under the Right to Information Act, some of the residents’ welfare associations have found that funds allocated for the maintenance of parks have been misused.
Today, Bangaloreans can feel the heat, literally. Gardens and parks are only a part of the gated communities now, but the borewells of these gated communities have also run dry. When there is hardly any water for domestic consumption, where is the water for parks and gardens? Well, that’s a million dollar question.

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