Reliving Kempegowda's legacy

Reliving Kempegowda's legacy

Reliving Kempegowda's legacy

Shruthi Srinath delves into the conquests of the Yelahanka dynasty and explains attempts of their documentation in a museum.

In his novella ‘The Sense of An Ending,’ author Julian Barnes defines history thus: “It is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” 

A walk around the silent, bright and spacious first floor of Mayo Hall , the red-and-white heritage building on MG road, invokes this thought.

Kempegowda Museum, situated in this building, tries to paint a picture of Bangalore’s growth between the 16th and 17th centuries under the reign of the rulers of the Yelahanka dynasty.

A knight’s museum

The Museum houses a gallery of photos, printed on life-size scrolls arranged in a systematic rectangular shape, at the centre of which is the replica of the statue of Kempegowda I (Hiriya Kempegowda), which is atop Shivagange.

 It is a hillock located in Bangalore rural district. According to the information displayed in the Museum, Kempegowda and other rulers studied at this religious place.

The display also says that Bangalore city stood and expanded under the visions of Kempegowda I, a 16th Century chieftain of the Yelahanka dynasty, who shifted capital from Yelahanka to Bangalore to develop the latter.

With funds bestowed by Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagar empire, he sought businessmen to turn the city into a commercial hub with petes (markets) for each product and built water tanks and gardens. 

History has more to say to those, who have the patience to listen: That after Kempegowda I’s death, his warrior son Kempegowda II also was responsible for Bangalore’s commercial expansion until he moved capital to Magadi when attacked by the Bahamani Sultans.

 His son, also Kempegowda (III), was interested in agriculture, and built many water tanks for farmers, the most popular one being Kempa Sagara. A popular myth knows him by the name ‘Male Kempegowda’ (rain-bringer Kempegowda).

 It says that he prayed to the rain god during a drought, following which a downpour brought relief to the parched lands of his territory. But history fails to discern their precise contributions to the development of the city. 

Four photo-bearing pillars have been set up at the four corners of the museum, symbolic of the four watchtowers Kempegowda built to guard his territory in Bangalore. They can now be located at Ranganathapalya near Mekhri circle, Halasuru (now Ulsoor), a military fort then, in Lal Bagh and on Gavi Gangadhareshwara hillock (Kempegowda nagar).

The floor boasts of the first Bangalore survey map by the British, blown up and encased in glass. Photos of temples, lakes, scriptures, forts and historical snippets drawn from the time of Yelahanka dynasty make up pretty much everything the Museum has in store. 

“The materials for the gallery were collected within three months,” says Devarakonda Reddy, historian and former special officer of the Museum. He had a fallout with the corporation body responsible for the upkeep of the Museum, soon after the Museum opened in 2011.

 He contests that Mayo Hall is not a suitable place to set up a museum. “The bright light pouring through the windows steals the show and attention away from the objects displayed,” he says. 

Problems galore

Digressing a little, he stressed that the Mayo Hall, built as a tribute to Lord Mayo, a 19th Century Viceroy to India who was killed on a prison visit to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is poorly maintained. “The heritage place has a pipe drainage system on the roof that gets clogged with autumn leaves resulting in water leakage into the museum during the rainy season. This could prove ruinous to the wooden floors and pillars there.”

 Elaborating about the carelessness, he adds, “Corporation bureaucracy is quite dismissive of a historian’s suggestions. And empathy is a far cry. In this case, caste politics also plays its part. Kempegowda’s name has become synonymous with only the Vokkaliga sub caste.”Also, building a museum savours time, and sometimes, it is a long-drawn task.

 “It entails travelling to remote locations to get objects belonging to that era. Mediators and confidants put us in touch with the owners of historical objects. Some are forthcoming, some talk through money and some refuse any negotiations because of its sentimental value.

 All this needs time and patience. Nowadays, people have a hard time trusting us, because of swindlers. For instance, Kempegowda’s kin at Hulikaldurga were cheated and their artefacts are lost now!” Some artefacts like earthen pots of the bygone era are available around the fringes of Doddaballapur.”


To wonder about the museum’s upkeep and development would be to ride on the hopeful projects Krishne Gowda, the Museum’s curator (special officer) and the former officer at the Visvesvaraya Museum, has on his pipeline.

“Starting in July, the museum will invite all high school students in Bangalore for an educational tour, along with expert lectures from historians about Bangalore and its creators. I have spoken to the education officers in BBMP, and they have obliged. Next, the Museum’s expansion will see the interactive models of yesteryear Bangalore.

 On the ground floor, we plan to start a library and reading room dedicated to the history of Bangalore. Of course, this means financial implications and man power requirement and that lies in the hands of BBMP.”

The curator rues that the museum turns into a waiting room for people visiting the courts within the same complex. But, there are visitors like Dibyaroop Padhi, a history buff working in an IT company in Bangalore, who says, “It’s a good start.”

On his second visit to the museum, he declares that “Kempegowda was a warlord, poet, warrior and an able administrator, and we are enjoying his visions now. I have a great respect for the grand old man and will probably name my child Kempegowda.” 

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