Of heritage and modernity

Of heritage and modernity
The 147-year-old University College in Mangaluru has set another landmark by obtaining the ‘special heritage status’ from the University Grants Commission (UGC). Formerly known as Government College, it is one the 19 colleges selected by the UGC across the country and is the only one in Karnataka to get the heritage tag. The UGC’s scheme is part of the 12th five-year plan for providing special heritage status to colleges and universities which have been functioning for 100 years and contributed tremendously in the field of higher education and in maintaining the cultural, social and moral fabric of the society.

The College was started as a provincial school in 1868 by a nine-member committee with an endowment of Rs 65,000. In the beginning, it offered education from first standard to matriculation and was housed in a rented building. It got its own building in 1870. As many of the students were unable to pursue their higher studies in Madras, efforts were made to start degree classes in the College. Hence, strong recommendations were made by the Director of Public Instruction to start degree classes in the College and subsequently, the FA (Fellow of Arts) course was introduced in 1879.

Later, in accordance with the government order, which asked for uniformity between Madras and Bombay presidencies in 1879, the provincial school was designated as the Government College, Mangalore. The lower classes were gradually transferred to the Municipal Middle School, Mangalore.

Women students were first admitted to the College in 1902. The 1920s saw a surge of academic and cultural activities under the dynamic stewardship of G K Chettur, an academician and scholar par excellence. The Karnataka Sabha, the Malayalam Association, the Students Co-operative Stationary Society, and a Pupil-Teacher Association are to name a few. The College Times, a weekly wall magazine started with an intention to explore the hidden talents of students, turned out to be a highly potent forum. The Government College Miscellany, the brainchild of G K Chettur, was a journal reflecting the creativity of students and teachers of the institution. The College still continues to publish this magazine under the name  Mangala Gange.

Progressive path
With the reorganisation of states on linguistic basis in 1956, the Government College was affiliated to Karnataka University in 1957 and in the following year, the affiliation was shifted to Mysore University. During the year 1959-60, BSc course was started and new subjects in BA were offered. To house the departments of chemistry, botany, zoology and statistics, a new science block was constructed in 1966. A centenary building housing physics and mathematics departments was constructed in 1978. In 1993, it became a constituent college of Mangalore University and it was renamed University College.

An interesting aspect of the College is the long list of its distinguished alumni. They include Kannada writer Panje Mangesh Rao (who was a student in 1892 and a teacher in 1896), Rashtrakavi Manjeshwar Govinda Pai, former governor of Reserve Bank of India Benegal Rama Rau, eminent social activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, freedom fighter Karnad Sadashiva Rao, Jnanapith awardee  litterateur Shivarama Karanth, social reformer Kudmul Ranga Rao, leader of the co-operative movement Molahalli Shiva Rao, bankers Ammembal Subba Rao Pai, A B Shetty, Sooryanarayana Adiga, well-known librarian S R Ranganathan, journalist M V Kamath, Justice Jagannath Shetty and Brigadier Mahadev Gokhale.

Unique architecture
Though Mangaluru city has a unique architectural character that is reflected in many of its historical structures, there are hardly any “red buildings” — red-coloured with Mangalore tiles, pitched roofs and timber ceiling. Thus, the red building complex of the University College, spread over an area of eight acres, stands out for its colour and design. The complex, situated at the heart of the city, comprises an auditorium building, a library, academic blocks (science, arts and commerce), classrooms,  administrative office and the Principal’s chamber. The heritage buildings built in Indo-Saracenic or Indo-Gothic style were constructed using laterite stones and wooden trusses and the buildings are plastered with red colour, without using cement. All the buildings have pitched roofs with Mangalore tile cladding, constructed between 1876 and 1905.

The auditorium, also known as Ravindra Kala Bhavan, is named after National Poet Rabindranath Tagore who visited the college in 1922. Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were also kept on display in this hall. The design of the building, the wooden ceiling and the supporting wall in the mezzanine floor are very attractive. The hall has also witnessed many Shakespearean plays besides mock parliaments, wherein even judges were taking part as an audience, recalls a teacher. Interestingly, many ‘mock MPs’ later became people’s representatives in real life. The auditorium was named as ‘Ravindra Kala Bhavan’ in 1996 in memory of the poet’s visit.

Motto of serving people
The educational institution which started with 315 pupils has stuck to its primary objective of providing education to the economically weaker sections of the society. Now, even after one-and-a-half century of its beginning, it is open to all without any distinction of caste, class or creed. In fact, even to this day if a student fails to get a seat in any of the hundreds of colleges in the undivided Dakshina Kannada district, the doors of the University College are open to him/her. This might have affected the results of the college, but no student is deprived of education, a truth known to every Mangalurean.

At present, the College has over 1,600 students and 58 full-time teachers. Many associations offering a platform for students to get involved in cultural and social activities, two units of NSS, and two units of NCC (Army and Navy) reflect the vibrant character of the College. The campus, which is located in the heart of the city boasts of a 1.5-acre ground for cricket and other sports activities, besides a state of the art multi-gym facility.

There is a dire need to conserve and preserve this unique cultural treasure. Principal (in-charge) Sunanda U said that a detailed conservation proposal has been sent to the authorities concerned. It includes a proposal for setting up a museum, construction of additional class rooms, setting up a heritage facade, provision for new boundary wall, gate and landscape features. She added that plans are on the anvil to display old photographs, historic furniture, medals, awards and books in the proposed museum.

The UGC has made provision for grant under its scheme to renovate and restore the heritage structure and sanctioned Rs 1.86 crore. This has come as a ray of hope for thousands of students who passed out of the portals of the University College.
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