What’s in a stone? A city’s age

This implies that Bengaluru is at least 1,129 years old. (DH Photo/B H Shivakumar)

How did Bengaluru get its name? The most famous legend says that Hoysala King Veera Ballala II, on one of his hunting expeditions, stumbled upon an old dwelling where lived an old woman. She served him some boiled beans. Overwhelmed, he named the place Benda-kaal-uru (the town of boiled beans), which later became Bengaluru when Kempegowda-I laid the first stone of the modern city in 1537, starting with the petes, now at the heart of the city.

However, facts don’t corroborate this story. The Hoysalas ruled between the 10th and the 14th centuries. Kempegowda lived in the 16th century. But, the very first instance of the name appears in a stone inscription at Begur Nageshwara Temple in South Bengaluru. The stone dates back to 890 AD, the Ganga period.

This implies that Bengaluru is at least 1,129 years old. The slab is also proof that a village by such name existed much before the Hoysalas and the Kempegowdas.

“Kempegowda I is rightly credited for building the infrastructure for Bengaluru and paving the way for today’s vibrant cosmopolitan trade town. However, Kempegowda could not be the founder,” says P V Krishnamurthy, an epigraphist and historian. This inscription, found in 1915 by R Narasimhachar — the then director of Archaeology Department for the State of Mysore — was documented but neglected.

Many history enthusiasts who have visited the Begur temple have written about the stone. But no one, including the government, cared until recently. The non-profit organisation INTACH (Bangalore Chapter) has reinstalled the inscription within the premises on a pedestal under a stone gazebo, to save it from elements of weather.

“Even if the government wants to bring it to the museum, the locals perceive it as a possession of pride and don’t allow us to shift it,” says Dr R Gopal, Director, Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage.

A similar inscription in the Madivala Someshwara Temple from 1247 AD mentions a ‘Vengalur’. Interestingly, it’s in Tamil, though it belongs to the Hoysala period.

Hoysalas are supposed to be Kannada kings hailing from Malenadu.

Recently, a group of inscription enthusiasts led by Udayakumar P L rediscovered over 40 such forgotten inscriptions in the city and helped tell their stories. He often conducts knowledge sessions that take enthusiasts down history lane. One such story is that of a Begur chieftain, Nagattara...

Nagattara pledged his allegiance to Ereyappa Arasu, the Ganga ruler at the time. The inscription installed by Nagattara refers to a battle of ‘Benguluru’ in 890 AD, in which Buttanapati, son of Nagattara, and Pervonasetti, adopted son or an attendant of Nagattara, die. But what happened to Nagattara himself? A Begur hero stone measuring 6’X6’ with carvings of battle scenes and war techniques, prepared by Ereyappa Arasu, says he died in the battle of Tumbepadi, fought between the dynasties of Gangas and Rashtrakutas. The inscription also mentions 10 localities in Bengaluru, which were villages back then and donated to another chieftain after Nagattara’s demise. The hero stone was moved to Bengaluru’s Government Museum around 1870.

Begur also holds more relics that throw light on the centuries-old history of religion, culture and practices that existed in what is now Bengaluru.

Another inscription on the wall of Begur’s fort mentions Tondabbe, Nagattara’s daughter, who died by fasting unto death, also known as sallekhana, a Jain ritual of ending one’s life, supposedly because her husband died in a battle.

As some inscriptions show, Begur is supposed to be older than Bengaluru — the name Begur appears in metal inscriptions of the 5th century.

The Begur area is also a living proof of Jainism that once ruled there. For example, there are remnants of an old Jinalaya in Begur and a 1426 CE inscription on a Tirthankara. They refer to Jain subsects of the time and indicate that there were Digambaras there in 1426 CE. This is supposed to be the last Jain inscription in Bengaluru. What happened to Jainism later? The headless statue of a Tirthankara only gives a glimpse into the possible dark alleys of history.

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