Spectrum: Ballari’s colonial heritage

A view of the Deputy Commissioner's office in a colonial building in Ballari.

I vividly recollect my maiden visit to Ballari as the train chugged into the city’s railway station a few years ago. The city, otherwise famous for its sultry weather, was still wrapped in the cold in the early hours. The sunrays were just finding their way into the concrete jungle to warm up the city.

As I walked away from the railway station, I turned back to have a look at its facade. Among the floating clouds, the whitewashed building stood pretty on the red soil. The central portion of the building flanked by two towers with huge windows, arched entrances and the long-winding stone platform, seemed to beckon travellers.

Traversing the city 

During my stay there, I was impressed by the city’s rich history and culture. I came across various buildings constructed during the British Raj. Each building has a story to tell. The buildings stand as a testimony to the bygone era and share gripping tales.

Just opposite to the railway station, one cannot miss out on the majestic colonial building which houses the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office. The building looks like a palace from the colonial era. The three-floored structure is constructed with numerous arches and alleys.

With sections for each department, it also houses the additional deputy commissioner’s office, the assistant commissioner’s office, among others. The ambience infuses a sense of neatness, decorum, discipline and efficiency. 

In the earlier days, Ballari was under the rule of Mauryas, Satavahanas, Pallavas, Kadambas, Badami Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Kalyani Chalukyas, Kalachuris, Sevuna Yadavas, Hoysalas, and the Cholas. It has imbibed the best of art, culture, tradition and religion under these rulers.

After the fall of the Vijayanagara empire, the city came under the control of Hande Nayakas of Ballari, subsidiary of the Adil Shahi sultanate. The Marathas, the Mughals, the Nizam, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan have left their footprints in the city. The Nizam ceded a large part of the Deccan including Ballari to the East India Company, following the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799.

This began a new chapter in the history of Ballari, which was subjected to nearly 147 years of British rule. No wonder, the religious, educational and administrative reforms of the British have seeped into the soil of Ballari, not to forget the Christian missionaries, who have also played a major role.

Coming back to the city’s heritage, amid the bustling traffic, I could spot the Brucepete police station on Old Bengaluru Road, built in memory of a collector. I also visited Millerpete, named after another collector.  

The Church near the Kote Malleshwara Temple, the centuries-old court building, the soldiers’ residential quarters, the ammunition house in the fort located on Ballari hill are all important landmarks.

Structures & stories

The DC bungalow on Ananthapura Road, the Judge’s bungalow on Taluru Road, railway staff quarters on Shirguppa Road, the Wardla High School, the London Mission Kannada Medium School, the Girls High School, the Teachers Training Institute in Radio Park and the post office in the fort area are heritage relics of colonial India.

The Ballari Jail or the Central Prison, that housed war prisoners and the freedom fighters, was constructed by Sir Thomas Munro, the first collector of Ballari in 1884. Along with this, another jail was constructed on the outskirts of the city at Allipur. During the freedom struggle, the Allipur Jail gained prominence, after a number of freedom fighters were lodged here. Thousands of prisoners of the Mappila riots in Kerala were also kept here. The prisoners of the Anglo-Turkish War in 1807–09, were also brought to this jail.

The tombs of the various war prisoners who died in the prisons are still visible. After the struggle for the Indian independence, the Allipur jail lost focus. The structure now houses the Vijayanagara Institute of Medical Sciences (VIMS). The barracks of the soldiers have been converted into doctor’s residences. The ‘Swatantra Soudha’ has come up in place of the cells that once housed the freedom fighters.

A walk down the lanes of the city is like walking through the pages of history, revisiting the past that defines the city.

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