The Tigalas of Bendakaluru

Back in time

The Tigalas of Bendakaluru

Tigalas, known for their green fingers, helped Hyder Ali fashion Lal Bagh. Today, they run nurseries, saplings from where green many homes in the City. Nirmala Govindarajan traces the community’s roots...

Close on eight decades, Krishnamma reminisces her childhood in Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar’s palace orchards. “My father Munimuthappa joined the palace when he was just 10 years old. During my growing up years, I loved plants. I fashioned flowers which were set up for the grand flower show. Now, my daughter grows her own vegetables and flowers,” she says. Gardening has been in Krishnamma’s lifeblood for generations. “My grandpa Sanjeevappa worked with the corporation and was responsible for planting trees in Malleswaram and Basavangudi,” says Krishnamma in a mixed dialect including words from Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.

Krishnamma is representative of the Tigala community, with whose help Hyder Ali fashioned Lal Bagh, as quoted in Peter Colaco’s Bangalore: In 1759. The Fort of Devanahalli and adjoining areas were conferred on Hyder Ali, a foot soldier who had risen from the ranks by bravery and military genius. The Wodeyar dynasty was on the decline. Court officials were corrupt. The British were growing powerful and Hyder Ali assumed military command, but he ruled in the name of his king. His son Tipu, who was educated as a prince, later assumed the title of Sultan. 

Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan spent so much of their time in battle, it is remarkable that they found the time and the vision to develop Bangalore. Mysore city had been the capital of the Maharajas of Mysore. 

Hyder and Tipu preferred Srirangapattana, an island in River Kaveri, which was easier to defend. Immediately relevant to us though is the contribution they made to the building of Bangalore. In the course of a campaign, in what is now Tamil Nadu, Hyder Ali observed the horticultural skills of the local farmers (Tigalas). He invited them into his service to cultivate a 40 acre tree plantation (Lal Bagh). Lal Bagh was further developed by Tipu as a landscaped pleasure garden and enriched with still more botanical species by later administrators.

Today, just off Lal Bagh’s Eastern Gate, around 25 Tigala families still keep the environs green — they run nurseries, saplings from where green many homes in Bangalore. Krishnamma is married into one of these families. Her husband and owner of Samsons Nursery, Krishnappa, reminisces the time when he started the Nurserymen’s Co-operative Society in Lal Bagh. “I was closely associated with M H Marigowda, founder of the Horticultural Nursery in Lal Bagh. Back in 1964, we approached the government to enable some space for nurserymen and, with Dr Marigowda’s help, we set up the society in the Lal Bagh premises in 1966. Thereafter, the grape grower’s society was established as well,” he says.Tracing ancestry

Centuries ago, Hyder Ali too recognised the skills the Tigalas had in growing plants. “But,” says Krishnappa’s son Lokendra Babu, “the Tigalas find their origins as a warrior community. We are believed to be offshoots of the Veerakumaras who protected Draupadi. Every year, we celebrate the Bangalore Karaga at the Dharmaraya Temple in Nagarthpet, where a large section of our community lives. In fact, we trace our ancestory to the Vaniyars in Tamil Nadu. The Vannikulakshatriyas have their main deity in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.”

Lokendra goes on to explain that the Tigalas, who speak a mix of Tamil, Kannada and Telugu languages, perhaps had their own script at one time. 

“But the script seems to have been lost when our ancestors migrated after two factions of our community warred against each other. When our ancestors moved to Bangalore, they settled near water bodies and also grew their own food,” he says.

Krishnappa confirms that their ancestors settled in Siddapur Village — now the land bordering Lal Bagh’s Eastern Gate, which was once famous for fruit trees and flowers. “In time, as we set up our nurseries, we started growing foliage-rich ornamental and flowering plants,” he says.  

Over time, the Tigalas excelled in the field of horticulture and plant production. But, with an increasing number of members from the community opting for other jobs, like Lokendra and his brothers Jaikumar and Shivaprakash, what is the future of keeping their fingers green, for the community?

“I still wish to grow guavas, oranges, sapota, mangoes and citrus fruits,” says Krishnappa, adding, “But, it requires a lot of land and effort from family members. Also, there’s a dearth of skilled labour.”

While Shivaprakash supplies flowers and seeds to the Nurserymen’s Society, Lokendra, after his retirement, is keen on cultivating fruit trees. “I want to do so by recycling sewage water for economical treatment and good yield,” he says.

Preserving the tradition

In fact, Lokendra’s wife Lalitha, who is a director in the Nurserymen’s Co-operative Society, is actively involved in keeping the Tigala tradition she is born with, alive. “I am into red earth mixing and leaf manure and supply it in bulk to Central Government offices. I am also into landscaping and terrace gardening,” says Lalitha, adding, “I am inspired by my father B M Ramanna, who was responsible for setting up the Vegetable Merchant’s Association and the Krishnarajendra Wholesale Market.”

Among the new-age Tigalas, the ideas are green and the roots run deep. As Gen Now pursue careers of their choice, like Srinivas, Lokendra’s son, who is studying Commerce, and Varshita, his daughter, who is learning to be a architect, there are sparks of hope for their traditional trade. “No matter what career I choose, I will preserve our gardening tradition,” says Srinivas. 

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