January 24, 2015

Bangalore Fort, Bangalore

"Bangalore, like Madras, had a fort, with a pettah, or fortified town, outside it. This lay-out was a feature of almost all the cities or settlements in India, the fort providing a place of refuge for most of the inhabitants if the pettah was in danger of capture. The fort at Bangalore had a perimeter of about one mile; it was of solid masonry, surrounded by a wide ditch which was commanded from 26 towers placed at intervals along the ramparts. To its north lay the pettah, several miles in circumference and protected by an indifferent rampart, a deep belt of thorn and cactus, and a small ditch. Altogether Bangalore was not a place which invited attack."
— Lt. Col. E.W.C. Sandes, "The Military Engineer In India, Vol 1", AD 1791

Glory forgotten - Bangalore Fort - Delhi Gate

The unheralded advent of the year 2015 witnessed me relocating to Bangalore as an Associate System Engineer at IBM Global Business Services (IBM GBS) and almost a month later, am still glued to the city’s effortlessly diverse but surprisingly overlooked cultural scene – even the most commonplace roadside temples are fascinatingly detailed with unparalleled and vibrantly colored sculptures of Hindu deities and mythological creatures while the “rangoli” (imaginative, intricate patterns inscribed on the ground with colored flour/powders) drawn every morning outside the houses' threshold can bewitch anyone who isn’t aware of the local religio-cultural practices; the final touch is added by the hundreds of mosques, big and small, that dot the landscape and endeavor to begin the day with heartwarming “azaan” (call to the faithful for prayers, issued via loudspeakers by the preachers) and continue to send out impossibly uplifting baritones throughout the day. I met some really warm people at office and made some genuinely kind friends too and some of us have taken to exploring the city little by little as and when we can steal some time from the unimaginably hectic office hours that leave little time for getaways and travel, but it is fun to be in the office too – the 300-acre Manyata Embassy Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Tech Park sited at Rachenhalli/Nagawara leaves one breathless with its enormity as well as the headquarters/offices of numerous technological and consulting firms it boasts of – probably the only wish we have is that it wasn’t located in Nagawara, which is literally at the outskirts of the city, but somewhere near the center so we could have easily hopped off over the weekends to other locations too. Of course I do desperately miss Delhi but it is now time to visit and explore other parts of the country. And the first place we visited in this part of the country the very next day after starting office happened to be Bangalore Fort, or at least whatever little remains of it.

Bangalore Diary: Chapter I

The Lord of Yelahanka principality, Hiriya Kempe Gowda I (ruled AD 1513-69), a vassal of the renowned Vijayanagar Empire and a legendary warlord-chieftain endowed with abundant leadership and administrative qualities, established in AD 1537 Bengaluru Pete, a well-planned and executed capital boasting of wide streets laid in grids, majestic gateways established in cardinal directions and several well-maintained marketplaces, possessing as its nucleus a mud fortress presently referred to as Bangalore Fort. Legend goes that while ruminating upon the fortress’ construction and strategic positioning, he chose this particular location after witnessing the unique event of a hare chasing a hunter dog. Another legend states that while the fortress was under construction, no sooner would its massive gateways and towers be raised during the day that they would collapse at night and the same was attributed to evil spirits demanding human sacrifice as appeasement – noticing her father-in-law’s utter predicament, one night, Lakshmamma, Kempe Gowda’s daughter-in-law beheaded herself with a sword outside one of the gateways. Kempe Gowda also had another fortress, oval in shape, built adjacent and connected to the first, to house his palace, arsenal, treasury and important state buildings. He embarked on a policy of unabated territorial expansion but continued to administer his kingdom very judiciously and humanely and consequentially the Vijayanagar Emperors conferred upon him several more principalities and townships. But shortly before his death, on charges of issuing his own coins and thereby defying territorial and sovereign authority of the Vijaynagar Emperor Sadasiva Raya (ruled AD 1542-69), his liege lord, Kempe Gowda was imprisoned and all his domains confiscated. He was freed from captivity five years later, regained the Emperor's confidence and his own titles and lands and continued to display unparalleled benevolence, jurisprudence and policies of social and moral upliftment towards his subjects.

A fortress adorned

In AD 1638, Bangalore was invaded and assimilated into his own kingdom by Mohammed Adil Shah (ruled AD 1627-56), the Adilshahi Sultan of Bijapur, whose forces were commanded by General Shahaji Bhonsle, father of the mighty Maratha warlord Shivaji. The mud fortress withstood numerous battles and sieges and was further enlarged by the Wodeyar king Chikka Devaraja (ruled AD 1673-1704), who purchased it from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (ruled India AD 1656-1707) who had captured the entire territory as a punitive measure against the Hindu Maratha confederacy, before being converted from a mud fort into a stone stronghold and established as a formidable military outpost respectively by Nawab Haider Ali (ruled AD 1761-82) and his son Tipu Sultan (ruled AD 1782-99). Some historians argue that it was Chikka Devaraya who constructed the oval fort garrison adjacent the gigantic fortress housing the entire city settlement. Tipu even deposed the Wodeyar lineage of their titular reign through which they had so far continued to nominally govern their territories even though the de-facto ruler was the Chief Minister and Commander-in-Chief Haider Ali. Details about some of Tipu's exploits against the rapacious British East India “trading” Company have been documented on this blog here – Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque, Calcutta. He is also said to have built unimaginably abominable dungeons within the fort and meted out most horrifying tortures on captured British soldiers here. His massive armies and superior technological and martial prowess brought him in territorial conflict with the British who besieged and captured the Bangalore Fort, a prominently tactical military installation for the former, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War of March 1791, besides also massacring at least 3,000 of his soldiers and subsequently, over a period of more than 120 years, demolishing and dismantling most of the fort’s protective installations, colossal bastions and frighteningly massive curtain walls.

Formidable - The second gateway and the bastion adjacent

What remains today, preserved for posterity, is only the fortress’ Delhi/Dehli Gate, which is actually a complex of three successive gateways, and some associated bastions. The first view of the structure is hardly awe-inspiring – hemmed in on all sides by iron grilles and surrounded by numerous haberdasher shops and small roadside temples, the gateway (“bagilu” – originally there were six – Ulsur bagilu in the east, Yelahanka and Delhi bagilu in the north, Kanakanahalli and Mysore bagilu in the south and Kengeri bagilu in the west) exists as a sole remnant of the erstwhile grandeur in a corner of Old Bangalore’s K.R. Market. The base of its roof and the edges of its semi-circular arched entrance are flanked by intricate bands of stucco artwork – flowers, curving and writhing flourishes terminating in blossoming buds, rosettes, bird figures, and huge pendants exquisitely carved in several floral and geometrical patterns; on either side of the entrance are two wider indentations complementing it and adorned with exactly similar ornamentation and one very thickly but dwarfishly constructed bastion exists on either side of the gateway structure. A staircase leading upstairs to the top of the bastion can be observed besides the gateway but remains grilled and locked firmly and perennially.

Unimaginably simplistic - The Ganesha temple

Stepping through the colossal gateway that in retrospection proves to be a fairly intimidating barbican through which even elephants might have passed once, one steps into a small open square in the center of which, flanked towards its back by another of the fort's bastions, sits a small rectangular temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha (the elephant-headed, pot-bellied Hindu God of auspiciousness and learning) and surmounted by a triangular roof further topped by a square pediment very exquisitely embossed with numerous flourishes and patterns etched in plasterwork, the most bewitching of which was the Gandaberunda, a mythological two-headed fearsome bird incarnation of Lord Vishnu (the Hindu God of life and nourishment) possessing immense physical strength and the ability to overcome destructive forces, that originally featured in the insignia of the erstwhile Wodeyar Dynasty of Mysore/Bangalore (ruled AD 1399-1947) and has since been adopted as the emblem of Karnataka state. On a granite platform in front of the temple and facing it sits a small sculpted idol of the rat "Mushika", the steed of Lord Ganesha. The temple, however, remained closed the entire time we were there and appears to exist in an ignored and very sorry state, but it is interesting to note how it reflects on the policies and image of Tipu, who allowed a temple to stand within his fortress and yet is often, especially in religious debates and discourses, considered to be a vitriolically religiously intolerant and cruel sovereign.

The mythological Gandaberunda - One of the most recurring symbols in Karnataka's landscape

Towards the left of the first enormous gateway and at a ninety degree angle to it is the second gateway, comparatively smaller but considerably large nonetheless, and the rough granite stone wall between the two is dedicated to floral sculptures, mythological figurines and small ornamental doors adorned with extremely beautiful decorative pillars (“pilasters”) surmounted by mythical bird figures. On its exterior face, the second gateway bears very minimal ornamentation in the form of especially intricate floral medallions tinged with slight indentations and pilasters fringed by slender stalks culminating into life-like buds; one can even notice the thick stone pivoting columns in which the massive wooden doors of the gateway would have fitted once, but the real eye opener is the other face of the gateway which, besides ornamental flourishes and embedded medallions, also displays remains of embossed etchings of a mortal battle scene between a human and a big feline – considered symbolic of uninhibited courage and masculinity in South India, especially by the medieval Hoysala Dynasty (ruled Karnataka AD 1026-1343) that featured the symbolism as its insignia and had it installed in their temples and fortresses. Here one steps into another courtyard hemmed in by the bastions of the gate on one side and the periphery walls of the fortress on the other side culminating into one final gateway again perpendicular to the one you just entered from and on the right of it.

Rock ornamentation - Sala battling the lion, from the mythological lore regarding the establishment of Hoysala Dynasty

The hard granite walls surrounding this small grassy patch of lawn and the bastions projecting to it again feature very interesting patterns roughly etched on stone – there are embossed elephants blissfully showering water and milk on a four-armed Hindu Goddess, lion faces and seated lions that appear so simplistic that one would expect them to be sketched by a child on his notebook, auspicious “Kirtimukha” (“Face of Glory”) which is the severed head of a monstrous self-consuming mythological feline demon created by Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, to destroy other demons but was eventually ordered by the Lord to consume himself till only his face remained and thus achieved an exalted position in the God’s companions and features especially, though not exclusively, on the pinnacle of the spires of south Indian temples as a protective deity. There is also a very exquisite "Shiva linga" (Shiva’s phallic symbol) embedded within a small rectangular frame surmounted by a rounded arch in the center of which exists another smaller Kirtimukha – again conforming to the same legend where Shiva accorded the demon his dignified station atop the temple’s spire and proclaimed that one has to honor the demon to honor the Lord.

Demon honored - Shivalinga framed by an arch surmounted by a Kirtimukha

Surprisingly, the clamor of vehicles and the noise of pedestrians, hawkers and shopkeepers suddenly dies as soon as one crosses within to the lawn – the unbelievably thick walls seem to cut off all noise and commotion amazingly well! The final gateway, not unlike the rest, exclusively features fascinatingly detailed and elaborate floral patterns and peacock figures bordering the arches and sides. It fills one with wonder about the rest of the fortress and also the oval fortress adjacent which have both sadly ceased to exist thanks to the rapacious and revenge-fueled destruction wreaked by the British till as late as 1930s when parts of it were dismantled to make way for roads and railway lines – old photos do exist but then they don’t throw much light on the defensive fortifications and glorious existence of the majestic citadel. The first monument in Bangalore and again the same lesson observed also in Delhi and Calcutta – the need to preserve past heritage for future generations to explore and learn from. Hope we do understand someday!

Standing outside the fortress and sipping wonderfully concocted filter coffee at the Tamil restaurant across the road, we spotted the small plaque embedded within the road-facing bastion and mentioning the frightful but strategically unsurpassable battle of March 1791 in just a single line –

“Through this breach the British assault was delivered. March 21, 1791.”

Location: K.R. Market
Nearest Bus stop: K.R. Market
How to reach: Buses are available from different parts of the city for K.R. Market. Alternately, one can reach Majestic bus stop and take a connecting bus from there.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant Link - Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque, Calcutta
Suggested reading - 
  1. Deccanherald.com - Article "A battle saga, one March night" (dated Jan 03, 2015) by Meera Iyer
  2. Guruprasad.net - How Kempe Gowda built Bangalore
  3. Guruprasad.net - The Story of Bangalore Fort 
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "A grand dream " (dated July 18, 2002) by K. Chandramouli
  5. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Second Tipu-era cannon unearthed at Metro site shows deep secrets lie buried in old Bangalore" (dated Nov 24, 2012) by Aparajita Ray
  6. Wikipedia.org - Bangalore Fort
  7. Wikipedia.org - Bengaluru Pete 
  8. Wikipedia.org - Gandaberunda
  9. Wikipedia.org - Kempe Gowda I