K Dhanapal, a BMTC driver by day and a historian in his spare time, narrates how his search for Chamarajendra Wodeyar X’s place of rest took him on an unexpected journey to Kolkata’s Kali Ghat...
Bengaluru, the city where I have built my life, inspired me to study history. The more you study the city’s past, the more there is to unravel. I set out to gain insight into the lives of several stalwarts who have contributed to the city’s growth over centuries. Their lives and lifestyle, their residence, related documents, apart from memorials and tombs in their dedication, drew my attention. I began looking for memorials and went around several burial grounds in and around the city. I came across tombs of Sir Mirza Ismail (statesman and dewan ), Dr Krumbiegel (botanist instrumental in designing Lal Bagh), Kannada cinema actors Kalpana, Tiger Prabhakar, Sajjanrao (philanthropist), B D Jatti (former vice president of India), Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy (former president), Kengal Hanumanthaiah (former chief minister), among others.
As I delved deeper, I began looking up details of Chamarajendra Wodeyar, one of the most noted rulers of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom. Unexpectedly, this research took me all the way to Kolkata.
Born in 1863, Chamarajendra Wodeyar was adopted by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar in 1865. While under the British rule, the Mysore kingdom was controlled by various commissioners, in 1881, once Chamarajendra Wodeyar turned 18, the kingdom was given back to him.
This 23rd Maharaja of Mysore was a scholar. His contributions are manifold. He initiated several developmental works in Mysuru. From setting up mines in KGF to rail networks and more than 1,500 acres of irrigation works, his initiatives are numerous.
Initiating the Mysuru Civil Services exams, beginning Dasara exhibition (agricultural and commercial exhibition), and Bengaluru Palace, Lalbagh Glass House, Oriental Research Institute are among his other undertakings.
Several European scholars who have documented the reign of Chamarajendra Wodeyar have nothing but praises for his able administration.
The Wodeyar king met with an unfortunate end as he succumbed to diphtheria when he was just 31. He passed away in Kolkata on December 28, 1894, and his final rites were performed in Kalighat.
Finding his memorial was not easy. In 2018, I participated in a summit on Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar and met historian Nanjaraja Urs. From him, I gained more insight into the life of Chamarajendra Wodeyar. He also informed me about the memorial in Kolkata.
A few days later, I learnt that the director of Archaeology department Dr R Gopal was headed to Kolkata and I discussed my interest with him. He visited the place and shared his experience. This again triggered my desire to travel there. But this came at a cost. I had to spend more than half of my salary to get there. My family was hesitant at first with this expensive proposition. However, after I narrated the legacy of Chamarajendra Wodeyar, they came on board with the idea.
I found a companion for my travel in Kannada activist Kona Nagaraj. We soon booked flight tickets. I spent the next 90 days in restless anticipation.
In September, we landed in Kolkata and headed to Mysuru Udyan in Kalighat. Not many locals were aware of the existence of a memorial there.
A verdant space
Mysuru Udyan is a beautiful garden. There is a crematorium on either side and Chamarajendra Wodeyar’s place of rest is right in the middle. At the entrance of the memorial, one is greeted by a sculpture of the Buddha. There is Swami Vivekananda’s statue on another side, an idol of Goddess Kali nearby, along with sculptures of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his wife Sarada Devi.
The main entrance to the garden resembles the entrance of Mysuru Palace. The pillar at the entrance hosts the sculpture of Mysuru-style Gajalakshmi, flanked by Venugopalaswamy on either side. There is the inscription of an elephant on the left side of the main entrance.
Once you cross the main entrance, you are greeted by lush green trees. As we walked further, we came across a temple. The quadrangle is surrounded by Vijayanagara-style sculptures of dashavataras.
The temple’s main door displays Gandaberunda, the insignia of Mysuru Kingdom. There is a prayer hall in the temple, where a photo of Chamarajendra Wodeyar has been placed.
In the sanctum sanctorum of this place rests his shrine. Having reached my destination after painstaking efforts, words failed me when I saw the sanctorum.
It’s said that the king had helped with funds for Swami Vivekananda’s travel to Chicago. It is indeed a coincidence that both their places of rest are in the same city.
The Kolkata municipality has done justice to maintenance of the memorial.
Back home, I feel that the authorities can begin by the upkeep of Chamarajendra Wodeyar’s statue in Cubbon Park.