The people's palace

The people's palace

Bangalore first became the capital of Mysore State in 1831. The Bangalore Fort Palace was made the administrative building. But, later, the palace partly fell in and was deemed unsuitable. Hence, in 1868, the administration was moved into the Public Offices building inside Cubbon Park. This two-storied, Grecian building, surrounded by verandahs, was later to be called the Attara Kacheri, meaning 18 offices in Hindi. The name came because Mysore had 18 administrative departments. The British transferred powers in the Mysore State to the Maharaja in 1881. The State headquarters was moved back to the city of Mysore. That year, C V Rungacharlu, the then Dewan of Mysore, founded the first Representative Assembly of British India in Mysore. Thereafter, Bangalore’s Attara Kacheri came to house the High Court of Mysore.

The Assembly had 144 members to begin with and comprised landowners and merchants. It would meet twice in session every year at Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore. In 1891, the first Assembly elections were held for citizens above the age of 18. The Legislative Council was founded in 1907 with the view that it would assist the Government of Mysore in making laws and regulations. While the semi-annual Assembly sessions continued to be held in Mysore, the budget session came to be held in Bangalore’s Town Hall.

On August 15, 1947, Mysore was made part of the Indian Union. Bangalore became the capital of Mysore State, once again.

K Changalaraya Reddy was the first chief minister of Mysore State. The Assembly was held in the Library Hall of Attara Kacheri. This was continued until a separate hall was built on the third floor of the same building. The Council was also held on the third floor. The joint session of the two houses would be held in the Town Hall by the rajpramukh, the Maharaja of Mysore.

The need was felt for a separate and more spacious building. In 1948, the government wanted the chief engineer to construct a suitable office building. In 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. Under the new constitution, the first Mysore Legislative Assembly was formed. It had 99 elected members and one nominated member. Mysore came to have a bicameral legislature, with two houses: the lower house (Legislative Assembly) and the upper house (Legislative Council).

Symbol of democracy

The House of Legislature was first planned and decided by the K C Reddy cabinet. B R Manickam, a government architect and chief engineer, prepared the design. It was to have an Assembly hall for 200 members and a gallery for 500 visitors. It was also meant to accommodate a joint session of 261 members. In April 1951, plans for constructing the House of Legislature were ready. Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone on July 13, 1951. In February 1952, the plans and estimates for the roof of the auditorium were conveyed by the legislature secretary to the government. In April 1952,
Kengal Hanumanthaiah succeeded KC Reddy as the chief minister.

Hanumanthaiah dismissed the first design citing that the design was like that of a plain, American building. Meanwhile, members of a Russian delegation who were taken around the city stated that all the notable buildings in Bangalore were by Europeans. They further enquired whether there were no buildings that were designed and built indigenously. Subsequently, Hanumanthaiah travelled across the country to gain ideas on how to build an administrative structure. He started preparations for a building which combined the two legislative houses, the offices of ministers and government secretaries, a library, archive rooms, party rooms, etc. Funds were allotted in the 1952 budget and the work began in the same year.

Manickam led a team of engineers and architects from the state public works department. As many as 5,000 people were employed as unskilled labourers and almost all of them were convicts. Over 1,500 chisellers, masons and wood-carvers were also employed. The result was the neo-Dravidian Vidhana Soudha legislative building, completed in 1956. Vidhana Soudha, the largest state legislature and secretariat building in India, is spread over 60 acres.  Known as the ‘people’s palace’, it is built entirely of granite.

On November 1, 1956, Coorg (Kodagu), as well as the Kannada-speaking parts of Bombay, Hyderabad and Madras were integrated with the old kingdom of Mysore to form the new Mysore State. This resulted in the elected assembly seats increasing from 99 to 208. The first sitting of the Legislative Assembly in the Vidhana Soudha happened on December 19, 1956. In 1973, the then chief minister D Devaraj Urs renamed Mysore State as Karnataka.

Vidhana Soudha has 172 rooms, the largest among them is the chief minister’s office. The front portion has a 20-metre central dome with the four-headed lion capital of Maurya Emperor Ashoka above it. The main foyer has eight columns. Enclosed balconies, each called a jarokha, a traditional Rajasthani feature, are seen jutting forward from the walls. The top of the building has the motto ‘Government work is God’s work’ engraved upon it in Kannada and English. According to the Karnataka Shilpa Kala Academy, the Vidhana Soudha domes were designed by the Mysore royal family’s sculptor Sri Siddalinga Swamy and his son, Nagendra Stapathi. The pillars and the arches were chiselled by Nagendra Stapathi and his disciples.

Elaborate patterns

The northern wing has a ground and three upper floors. The southern wing has a cellar floor, a ground floor and three upper floors. The central wing has a banquet hall on the ground floor and the Legislative Assembly Hall above it. Floral designs, ornamental motifs and geometric designs decorate the walls and ceilings. Inspired by Dravidian temple art, the lotus and other floral patterns are distinct and have not been repeated. The inner passages also have floral designs. The wooden doors have fine details. Some of the pillars are of different colours. Most of the chisellers employed were highly skilled and were from Soraba and Sagara regions. Porphyry has also been used along with granite. Different coloured granite stones such as the Magadi pink and the Turuvekere black have been used.

The Legislative Assembly Hall can seat 254 members and with some adjustments, it can accommodate 100 more members. Its visitors’ gallery has 500 seats. Teakwood panels enclose the hall. The ceiling is curved and is made up of acoustic material. Uniform illumination lighting is provided in order to avoid shadows. Ventilation is provided by an evaporative cooling system. The Cabinet room has a door made of sandalwood. The Speaker’s chair is made of Mysore rosewood.  The Legislative Council Hall can accommodate 88 members. Its gallery can have 250 visitors. The Banquet Hall has 800-seat capacity. The Secretariat accommodates ministers, secretaries and general staff.

With all these unique features, Vidhana Soudha is not just an epitome of democracy, but also an architectural wonder.

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