City Market: An ornament in Bengaluru's cityscape

City Market: An ornament in Bengaluru's cityscape

History Our neighbour

K R Market in Bengaluru. Photo by Aravind C

Bengaluru's City Market, which reopened to business a few weeks ago after a long Covid-induced closure, is the city’s largest and also one of its oldest markets.

The area where the market now stands was close to a large water body called Siddikatte that lay between the pete and the stone fort. Around the 1840s, a gentleman named Gundopanth, who had been an official in the British Commissioner’s administration, built a small agrahara on the bed of the Siddikatte tank. This settlement of brahmins serviced temples in the vicinity, including Gundopanth's private temple.

By the late 1800s, maps show that several informal markets had sprung up in and around this area, including one that was called City Vegetable Market, or City Market.

It was around this same time that, around India, markets, along with Town Halls, began to be seen as essential components of urban public infrastructure. New market buildings were built in several cities. Such markets in British India were designed to impress, with imposing frontages and majestic gateways. Stalls were provided in the interior. A lofty clock tower was de rigueur. Mumbai’s Crawford Market, Kolkata’s Stuart Hogg Market and Chennai’s Moore Market are prime examples.

For better hygiene

In Bengaluru, in the early 1900s, the Mysore Maharaja’s government decided to build a new market, primarily for reasons of health. The old market areas were prone to flooding, and maintaining sanitary and hygienic conditions was becoming difficult.

Plans for the market were made as early as 1907, but finance and other hurdles meant that the project began to take off only around 1913 when land acquisition began in the Siddikatte area. It was a few years more before the City Improvement Committee actually got going on the market.

The government picked Mumbai-based architect EW Fritchley to design the market building. Fritchley had worked in a junior capacity with Henry Irwin on the Mysore Palace. He later designed the Lalith Mahal Palace, also in Mysore.

Fritchley’s design perhaps took some cues from buildings in the vicinity. For example, the two tower-like structures topped with mansard roofs and ornate railings resemble Victoria Hospital’s towers. However, the market’s final form incorporated several modifications suggested by the Executive Engineer, JEA D’Cruz.

The City Improvement Committee debated every feature. Which would let more light into the shops, semicircular arches or segmental arches? Should the market have an arcade with ionic pillars, as per Fritchley’s original designs, or should they adopt D’Cruz’s suggestion of broad piers that were perhaps more in harmony with other buildings nearby?

And then there was the clock tower. Questions were raised on whether it was really required, especially given that funds were scarce. The committee argued that a clock tower was not mere decoration but was essential because of “the large number of people passing to and fro for whom time is precious.” Finally, a clock was indeed placed between the two towers on the facade.

New market 

The New Market or New General Market, as it was called, opened in 1921. Stalls in the interior were added a year later. Special attention was paid to the Market Circus, a large open area in front of the market that was laid out like a park and where the Municipality used to organise musical evenings. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a mutton market that was originally planned to be in the interior eventually came up at a site adjoining the main market. In 1946, this ornament in the cityscape was renamed the Krishnarajendra Market.

In recent years, the market that was so thoughtfully and carefully designed has been ravaged and scarred by successive ill-considered and insensitive interventions. In 1997, the BBMP constructed a poorly-designed building behind the market frontage. With not enough attention paid to basic infrastructure and services, the market that was built for reasons of better hygiene is now notorious for its uncleared garbage.

The Mysore Road flyover, which opened in 1999, eliminated the once-famed open space in front of the market. It also sliced off the façade of a row of shops adjoining the Mutton Market. Today, some of these shop owners valiantly dream of rebuilding that lost façade. One hopes the city government will support this brave idea of bringing back at least some of the lost character of what was once Bengaluru’s beautiful market.

(The writer is the author of ‘Discovering Bengaluru’ and the Convenor of INTACH Bengaluru Chapter)