A hostel that transcended caste

A hostel that transcended caste

On March 4, 1914, a 35-year-old man decided to make a will. In his will, Bangalore Kote-Marishamanna Mariappa directed that his properties be used to establish a trust that would run a free hostel for poor and deserving students.

On March 8, Mariappa added a codicil (an annexure), specifying that the trustees could revoke all his loans and sell his properties to raise money for the hostel. He also added an important clause: the hostel, he specified, would take in 45 students of which 15 would be Nagartha Lingayats like himself, 15 would be Brahmins and the remaining 15, Hindus of any other caste.

Four days after adding the codicil, B K Mariappa died of unknown causes. Mariappa’s will provided for his wife, Girijamma, and also left instructions for conducting puja in four temples in the city. But it is his revolutionary decision to open a hostel where caste didn’t matter that has made Mariappa’s name live on. As per the will’s instructions, the first six trustees – among them, H Ramaiah, Sir M Visvesvaraya’s uncle – sold Mariappa’s properties and recalled his loans to raise about Rs 1.5 lakh, a princely sum in those days. Again, as per Mariappa’s instructions, they deposited half this amount in a bank, creating a corpus. With the rest, they bought four cottage sites in Chamarajpet, Bengaluru where they built the new hostel. This initial groundwork took seven years. Finally, in July 1921, the hostel was inaugurated.

Chamarajpet’s streets have a gentle old-world charm to them. There are redolent with culture and you can still come upon some beautiful old houses here. But nothing prepares you for the imposing façade of the B K Mariappa’s Charities Hostel. The hostel is a handsome, symmetrical structure. A colonial-looking colonnade and verandah run along the front. The imposts, semi-circular Roman arches and their keystones are nicely delineated in a contrasting colour. The once-open balcony is now covered with a wooden trellis except at the centre where there is a bust of the benefactor, B K Mariappa. Like in most old buildings, there are interesting little details in the decorations, for example, the gandabherunda — the double-headed eagle that was the symbol of the Mysore Wodeyar dynasty — which adorns every iron baluster in the staircase.

In the trust’s office, we meet 91-year-old N Puttarudra, managing trustee since 1995. He informs us that little is known about why their benefactor made his remarkable will. Mariappa was a merchant, childless and uneducated. In those days, many villages lacked access to education and so people flocked to Bengaluru to study. Mariappa and his wife used to take in some of these students, providing them a safe and comfortable home. T Siddalingaiah, former Congress president and later a minister in the Mysore government, was one such. Writing in the Diamond Jubilee souvenir of the hostel in 1982, Siddalingaiah says, “Their residence was a home of sympathy and charity to all poor and deserving students.” Clearly, Mariappa was as generous in life as in death.

Although the hostel has grown, it has stayed true to Mariappa’s aim of abolishing caste distinctions. “We still take one third Brahmins, one third Lingayats and one third other Hindus,” says Puttarudra. In fact, the three boys who share every room are all from different communities. The determination to transcend caste makes B K Mariappa’s hostel very unusual. Retired IAS officer G Asvathanarayan, who spent three years in the hostel, says, “The type of camaraderie we shared, irrespective of caste, was absolutely unique.” He also credits the hostel with instilling a spirit of service in him.

This spirit of giving is what has enabled the hostel to grow over the years. Recently, the trust built a hostel for girls, thanks to a generous donation from an old student, K Dinesh, one of the seven co-founders of Infosys. Both Dinesh and his father were students of the hostel. Like Dinesh, Mariappa’s will has enabled many others to complete their education and go on to do great things in their chosen fields.

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