27 February 2015

Jama Masjid and Dargah Hazrat Bahadur Khan Shaheed, Bangalore


“It is a mistake to isolate architecture from its surroundings, because the main points of the physical geography, social progress and historical development of any country require to be understood by those who would study and comprehend its particular style.

In almost all countries and in India in particular, we find that the chief buildings are the outcome of the nation's religious beliefs. Nothing reveals the character of the nation so clearly as its religion, and nothing has more permeating influence upon its architecture.”
– A.H. Longhurst, Superintendent (1910-31)
Southern Circle, Archaeological Survey of India

That an aggrandized metropolitan agglomeration of shimmering glass and concrete, a glittering glimmering city such as Bangalore, the congested IT heart of developing India littered with enormous special economic zones (SEZ) and numberless posters screaming paying guest accommodations (PGs) and tutorial classes for network security and system administration, can be sublimely beautiful in its own singularly grotesque manner often hits one with the unanticipated suddenness of an electric jolt while traversing the glorified city’s myriad cramped bazaars and overflowing residential colonies.

Indeed the bulbous onion domes and the soaring slender minarets of the immense, glistening white Jama Masjid (Friday congregational mosque), protruding like a behemoth on a mammoth tongue of land surrounded on all sides except one by the perplexingly random and perennially overcrowded chaos of the historic K.R. Market, do enlighten one with the very realization.


Tranquility


Constructed in 1940 with pearlesque white marble from Rajasthan and capable of accommodating 10,000 devotees, the enormous mosque, were it grafted to any alternate location would not have been such an impressive site as it is here, surrounded by relentless flow of ceaseless traffic and a mushrooming of tiny roadside shacks and makeshift shops offering diced fruits, syrupy sweets, cheap ineffectual electronics, fake leather footwear and eccentrically-colored hosiery.

The over brimming, confusing anarchy of the slithering narrow streets of K.R. Market camouflage their legendary credentials – commissioned by and christened after H.H. Maharaja Sri Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (reign AD 1894-1940), the then affluent ruler of the opulent princely state of Mysore, the immense bazaar proudly boasts of the incontestable honor of being the first in the whole of Asia to get electricity! Furthermore, it is also the largest flower market in Asia and every morning, its otherwise polluted, garbage-littered and dust-ensconced streets (not therefore any different from most other across the whole subcontinent!) come alive with myriads of ethereal fragrances and vibrant colors when the flower-sellers unload several tonnes of jasmines, roses, tuberoses, sunflowers, marigolds and chrysanthemums sourced from several otherwise forgotten, distant villages encircling shimmering Bangalore.


Sweet! - The coconut-stuffed bread so ubiquitous in Karnataka


Lined with thick cylindrical pillars and cleaved into two halves by a raised black marble platform for ablutions, the mosque’s gargantuan interiors, somber soothing white interspersed with streaks of cream and black and flourish leitmotifs in brilliant gold, appear mesmerizing in their own subdued manner.

Set within an extremely narrow rectangular embossment, the intimidatingly tall gateway, flanked by soaring slender minarets and adorned with a dense profusion of skillfully inscribed calligraphy verses from the holy Quran, completes the visual composition. Sadly though, the hideous presence of a curved flyover maleficently limits the field of view and renders photography compositions almost ineffectual.

With utmost sincerity and complete honesty, I should however confess that it was actually the perennially crowded area around the colossal mosque, lined with roadside vendors cheaply selling heavenly delicious pan-fried chunks of spicy juicy beef and thick baked breads stuffed with dried coconut and sickly sweet fruit preserve (“murabba”), that so wondrously attracted me here!


A profusion of minarets!


“Wherever gallantry is recorded, Bahadur Khan, killedar of Bangalore, will hold a conspicuous place among the heroes of our times. True to his trust, he resigned it with life, after receiving almost as many wounds as were inflicted on Caesar in the Capitol."
– Lt. Roderick Mackenzie, British Infantry
(“A Sketch of the War with Tippoo Sultaun”, 1792)

Nearby glints against the unremarkably ordinary buildings and shop outlets the flamboyant sparkling green-gold profile of the dargah (hallowed tomb) of Hazrat Mir Bahadur Shah Al-Maroof Saiyyid Pacha, also otherwise known as “Hazrat Shaheed” (“Martyred Saint”), an unsurpassably valorous garrison commander in the regular army of Badshah Tipu Sultan (reign AD 1782-99) who fell courageously defending the nearby Bangalore Fort (originally commissioned by Hiriya Kempe Gowda I (reign AD 1513-69), refer Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort) against the avaricious British East India Company during the Third Anglo-Mysore War of 1791.


Glitter glimmer - Hazrat Bahadur Khan's mausoleum


Until the moment when he was shot in the head in the confused melee, the old bearded commander fearlessly fought and led the ferocious soldiers for 21 days despite being mortally wounded by numerous bayonet stabs. So deeply moved by his unshakeable loyalty and fierce martyrdom was the British General Lord Charles Cornwallis (later Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of India, 1805) that he immediately returned with complete honors his mortal remains to Sultan Tipu to be interred, venerated and remembered thereafter at the very site where he died. Local lore dictates that heartfelt requests beseeched at the soldier-saint’s grave always unfailingly materialize! As always, I didn’t wish any.


Spicy! - Beef outside the Jama Masjid


Location: K.R. (City) Market, approximately 2 kilometers from Majestic (Kempegowda Bus stand)
(Coordinates: Jama Masjid: 12°57'50.2"N 77°34'43.9"E, Dargah Hazrat Bahadur Shah: 12°57'52.5"N 77°34'38.0"E)
How to reach: Buses, taxis and autos are available from different parts of the city for K.R. Market. Alternately, one can avail BMTC bus service from Majestic bus depot.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20-30 min each
Relevant Links - 
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort
  2. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sir Puttanachetty Town Hall
  5. Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan's Palace and Kote Venkataramana Temple
Suggested reading - 
  1. Bangalore.citizenmatters.in - Article "Gifting flowers? Get a glimpse into Huvina Mandi" (dated Feb 12, 2015) by Varsha Parashivamurthy
  2. Bangaloremirror.com - Article "Faith is a fortress" (dated Aug 3, 2014) by Aliyeh Rizvi
  3. Deccanherald.com - Article "Bangalore's forgotten soldier" (dated Nov 19, 2015) by Meera Iyer
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "Divinity amidst the chaos " (dated Aug 14, 2003) by Aman Khanna  
  5. Tipu-sultan.org - When Tipu wept!

20 February 2015

Sir Puttanachetty Town Hall, Bangalore


“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
– Ibn Battuta, 14th-century Moroccan explorer

In acute contrast to the blitzkrieg of ultra-modern, glass and cement, glittering glimmering megaliths that sharply reflect the blinding rays of sun and define the cosmopolitan, thoroughly urbanized landscape of Bangalore, Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall, constructed in 1935 and marooned, like the carcass of an ancient leviathan washed ashore, as a besieged traffic island in the heart of the perennially crowded city, exists like a beautifully pristine beacon of Neoclassical architecture that seems to portray that not all is lost in this unbelievably rapidly developing, steadfastly mutating landscape. Christened after bureaucrat-administrator-philanthropist Sir Krishnarajapur Palligonde Puttanachetty (lived 1856-1938), who prior to serving as the first President of Bangalore municipality from 1913 to 1919 functioned as a government official in diverse capacities including Deputy Commissioner (Mysore Railways) and Member (Bangalore City Council), the double-storied hall, raised from its surroundings by a high plinth approachable by steps, was commissioned in 1933 by H.H. Maharaja Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (reign AD 1894-1940) and designed by the far-sighted administrator Sir Mirza Muhammad Ismail, then Diwan (Prime Minister) of the kingdom of Mysore. Its spell-binding architecture is completed by the presence of a massive mesmerizing facade comprising of an enormous triangular pediment supported upon giant columns.


A historic specimen of outstanding architecture (Photo courtesy - Wikipedia.org)


Gilded alphabets blaze upon the facade in both English and Kannada the nomenclature “Sir Puttannachetty Townhall” and the year 1935, while behind the stately pillars are visible glimpses of the two rows of long narrow windows, those in the upper row curved in a semicircle and the lower perfect rectangles. It is another matter that the iconic building, sporadically rented out now for cultural shows, ballads and commemorative events, has remained out of bounds for visitors for several months now in view of the ongoing restoration work, which has, among other consequences, ensconced the entire structure within a web of bamboo scaffolding. Occasionally, the citizens of Bangalore gather around it to protest against a particular ordinance or demand certain rights and civic facilities, but the demonstrations – the last I noticed was to demand better treatment and shelters for the city’s homeless canines – are subdued, sober affairs, treated more like happy get-togethers, so unlike the electric, energetic protests that rock Delhi, especially the Secretariat and Jantar Mantar areas from time to time (refer Pixelated Memories - Secretariat Blocks and Pixelated Memories - Jantar Mantar). In this case, at least, the more things have changed, the lesser they have remained the same!

Location: Intersection of Mysore Road and Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Road (Coordinates: 12°57'49.7"N 77°35'08.0"E)
Nearest Bus stop: Corporation/Town Hall
How to reach: The Town Hall is located a mere 2.6 kilometers from Majestic/Kempe Gowda Bus stand and one can avail a bus/taxi from there.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Other monuments/landmarks located in Bangalore - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort
  2. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens
  4. Pixelated Memories - Nandi Hills & Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple
  5. Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan's Palace and Kote Venkataramana Temple
Suggested reading - 
  1. Ninasam.org - Town Hall 
  2. Thehindu.com - Article "Town Hall in Bangalore becomes an octogenarian" (dated Sep 12, 2014) by Muralidhara Khajane 
  3. Wikipedia.org - K. P. Puttanna Chetty

16 February 2015

Bannerghatta Zoological Park, Bangalore, Karnataka


“Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world dull-eyed, underwhelmed... I can’t recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blasé: Seeeen it. I’ve literally seen it all... I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet...

It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters... It had gotten to the point where it seems like nothing matters, because I’m not a real person and neither is anyone else.

I would have done anything to feel real again.”
– Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”


Chill out zone - Bannerghatta National Park


Established in the year 1971, Bannerghatta Biological Reserve and National Zoological Park is unarguably one of the most well-renowned weekend getaways from the endless landlocked cement-and-glass agglomeration that is Bangalore, the glorified IT hub of India shining. Located on the perennially overcrowded Bannerghatta Road past the glittering glimmering offices of IBM, Adobe and Oracle and the massive sprawling campus of IIM-Bangalore, the gargantuan national park is a beautiful landscaped home to several species of flora and fauna, especially an immense variety of turtle species of affably unique shell designs, textures and hues (some might however argue it's a merciless jail considering that most of the larger animals are restless submissive captives constrained within several layers of thick wire mesh enclosures). Seamlessly managed by the Zoo Authority of Karnataka (ZAK), the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India, the University of Agricultural Sciences (Bangalore), and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), the colossal wildlife reserve is conspicuously partitioned into several divisions, including a wildlife safari park, a zoological reserve, aquariums and reptile and butterfly conservation enclosures – in fact, so enormous is the densely vegetated area contiguous with the 25,000 acre national park that it incredibly assimilates six villages in their entirety within its enclosing peripheries with another sixteen flanking it and naturally doubles up as an elephant corridor effortlessly connecting far-flung forestlands easily stretching several hundred kilometers!


Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide?


And while the wildlife safari turns the tables on the captive-captor relationship by entrusting enthusiastic visitors to the care of the confines of a well-barricaded jeep/bus while traversing the big-mammal territories of lions, tigers, deer, bears and elephants, the less talked about and considerably smaller (but nonetheless ceaselessly swarming with visitors) zoological park too is impeccably well-maintained and lets visitors observe and photograph several species of creepy crawly reptiles (fidgety Russel’s vipers, agitated monitor lizards (tasting the air with their long forked tongues), satiated boa constrictors (with huge lumps of deceased prey swallowed in its entirety showing through their thick scaled skins)), slothful amphibians (an endless array of multi-patterned turtles and scores of huge crocodiles stretched out lethargically basking in the afternoon sun), mammals (threatening tigers, obese hippopotamuses, bored leopards, confused elephants (inhumanely chained and thoughtlessly emotionally-brutalized by the endless swarms of boisterous visitors!), supplicating sloth bears (ferociously clawing the supple wire enclosures as if beseeching to be let out)) and birds (agile albino peacocks, vibrantly colorful parakeets, brilliant orange hornbills, and several species of ironically unwashed-looking waterbirds (fishing the murky waters for delectable prey and grub)).


Wonders of wonders


Interspersed by thick clusters of bamboo clumps, several of the animal enclosures are designed to exemplify animal conservation and well-being practices and spontaneously invoke the visual appearances of assiduously maintained near-natural habitats – densely vegetated stretches crisscrossed by numerous wide water channels for the monitor lizards, vast grassy knolls punctured by well-camouflaged caves for the leopards and deep, dark green water tanks continuously being bombarded by explosive waterfalls for the hippopotamuses. Permeating through the air is the all-pervading whiff of unevenly textured earth and dry grass and water runoff accumulating in the mud, altogether a pleasing fragrance endeavoring to draw one to the primeval simplicity interminably associated with Mother Earth and wildlife and a long forgotten pre-evolutionary past; unanticipated, it also does render one uncontrollably languid.


Sleepover party!


We foolishly did not opt for the more exotic safari managed by the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) since there (arguably!) were other prior commitments to be kept. Some colleagues from IBM however who did afterwards go for it could not stop gushing and repeatedly referring to it as a fascinating experience – it unquestionably does present better photography and visual composition avenues vis-a-vis the zoo where the thickset wiremesh enclosures and the substantial distances maintained between human walkways and animal territories negate all attempts at clicking high clarity and resolution photographs rendering one wretchedly and inconsolably disappointed at one’s own failure and the zoo authorities’ unintentional duplicity. There comes a depressing moment when the animals do not even seem physically real creatures whose brethren are being murdered and natural habitats ruthlessly threatened by merciless and avaricious human interventions.


Too distant to be properly observed, admired and photographed!


Nonetheless, the ecologically-rich zoological park is not merely an excellent retreat from the everyday inconsequential monotony of city life, but also a highly educational, diversely landscaped site teeming with an outstanding assortment of flora and fauna, especially considering its close vicinity to a burgeoning cosmopolitan stretching through its geographical limits and avariciously envisioning to quickly incorporate within its own physical existence every single open space adjoining it and sacrifice the same at the malevolent altar of rootless urbanization and soul-corrupting commercialization till all that remains is a horrific mushrooming of glass-and-cement superstructures that are not merely overwhelmingly ecologically disastrous but also visual eyesores dominating the verdant landscape. If only Bannerghatta was properly maintained and considerate to the physical and emotional requirements of the animals whose humble cause it pontifically claims to espouse!


Basking in the glory


Open: 9 am – 5 pm, all days except Tuesdays
How to reach: Regular BMTC buses ply to the national park from Majestic (Kempegowda Bus stop, Bus no. 365), K.R. Market (Bus no. 366) and Shivajinagar (Bus no. 368).
Entrance fees: Indians and visitors from SAARC countries: Grand wildlife safari (inclusive of zoological park cost): Rs 260; Zoological park: Rs 80; Butterfly conservatory: Rs 30; Zoo museum: Rs 5
Children aged 6-12 years: Grand wildlife safari (inclusive of zoological park cost): Rs 130; Zoological park: Rs 40; Butterfly conservatory: Rs 20; Zoo museum: Rs 5
Senior citizens: Grand wildlife safari (inclusive of zoological park cost): Rs 150; Zoological park: Rs 50; Butterfly conservatory: Rs 20; Zoo museum: Rs 5
Visitors from non-SAARC countries: Adults: Rs 400, Children: Rs 300 (inclusive of wildlife safari, zoological park, butterfly conservatory and zoo museum)
Photography charges: Rs 25
Video charges: Rs 200
Facilities available: Hygienic toilets and drinking water kiosk facilities, audio guides, dedicated parking (charges applicable), shopping complexes, regular to-and-fro local bus service from the city, numerous eateries offering several fares including continental and south Indian, boating facilities (Rs 60/person for 30 minutes).
Relevant links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in Bangalore -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort
  2. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid and Dargah Hazrat Bahadur Khan Shaheed
  4. Pixelated Memories - Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens
  5. Pixelated Memories - Panchalingeshwara Naganatheshwara Temple
  6. Pixelated Memories - Sir Puttanachetty Town Hall
  7. Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan's Palace and Kote Venkataramana Temple
Other national parks documented on this blog -
Suggested reading -

11 February 2015

Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens, Bangalore


"It is after all so easy to shatter a story. To break a chain of thought. To ruin a fragment of a dream being carried around carefully like a piece of porcelain.
To let it be, to travel with it, is much the harder thing to do."
– Arundhati Roy, "The God of Small Things"

I had been attempting to write about Lal Bagh ("Red Garden") Botanical Gardens for quite a while now, but in deed somehow the thread of imagination continued to be disrupted. Of course, this particular tale too, identical to the stories of most of the monuments and heritage spaces of Bangalore, begins with the legendary Hiriya Kempe Gowda I (ruled AD 1513-69) who established the medieval city that presently is known as Bangalore/Bengaluru (the city's history though extends several centuries prior to that in the form of small villages delineated from each other by dense forests) and involves in its flow Hyder Ali (reign AD 1761-82) who had, as the Chief Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Wadiyar King Krishnaraja Wadiyar II (reign AD 1735-66), appropriated for himself the territorial and militarily resources of the state of Mysore/Karnataka and his son and successor Badshah Fath Ali Khan Tipu Sultan (reign AD 1782-99).


A lazy afternoon in Lal Bagh


Regarded as one of the most densely forested cosmopolitan cities of India, Bangalore, "The Garden City of India", once possessed unimaginably expansive forest lands filled with a wide range of flora and fauna, large plains shrouded with layers of vibrant green grass and vast landscaped gardens. In recent years, however, in its unconcealed attempts to establish itself as an ultramodern, highly advanced IT hub with an assortment of massive IT industrial zones, uberexpensive restaurants, glitzy pubs and gigantic malls and skyscrapers that often project as disgusting eyesores against the skyline, the city has sacrificed its numerous public and heritage gardens and green spaces at the altars of burgeoning urbanization and greed-fuelled commercialization. Something similar plagued Lal Bagh and reduced it from an enormous heritage garden complex situated in the heart of the city to a moderately large tourist spot frequented predominantly by tourists and the IT professionals who, lured by the city's financial prospects and employment opportunities, have come to it from different parts of the country. Unarguably of course, most of them do not understand what the garden complex had originally meant to the city's historical timeline, nor what the city has irrevocably lost to become what it is today. The celebrated gardens, boasting of over 1,800 floral species, were declared a Governmental Botanical Garden in 1856 and have since been come to be regarded as a renowned center for horticulture research, conservation and botanical artwork. It is currently under the aegis of the Govt. of Karnataka's Directorate of Horticulture. Marshal Josip Tito, the President of Yugoslavia from 1953-80, had, in 1955, famously declared –

“If India is a garden, Lalbagh is the heart of it!”


Ancient! - The Gneiss rock surmounted by Kempe Gowda's watchtower


In a corner of the immense gardens, protruding steeply into the skyline and overlooking the vast limits of the city, rests an ancient rock face christened as Peninsular Gneiss and dated to be anywhere between 2,500-3,400 million years old (that's 2,500,000,000 years! Incredible, right?!). Indisputably regarded as the oldest landmass in the Indian subcontinent, the patterned rock face is surmounted on one of its peripheries by a small, four-pillared watchtower whose simplistic pyramidal, multi-tiered spire is reminiscent of Dravidian (south Indian) temple architecture – this was one of the four watchtowers that Kempegowda commissioned in the four cardinal directions delineating the extreme limits of his dominion. The four faces of the spire each depict, surrounded by statues of seated cows, a rather effortlessly carved simplistic sculpture of a Hindu deity - Shiva (the primordial Lord of death and destruction), Krishna (a flamboyant cowherd-king-statesman-warrior-philosopher who supposedly lived over 5,000 years ago and is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the God of life and nourishment), Ganesha (the elephant-headed, pot-bellied God of auspiciousness and knowledge and the younger son of Lord Shiva) and Kartikeya (the fierce, fearless young commander of the divine armies and the elder son of Lord Shiva). Presently, the tower is closely fenced in with iron grilles and a small carved stone plaque, miserably drenched with betel stains and spit, informs visitors of the tower's antiquity. Formed at high temperature-pressure conditions and composed of a complex mixture of granite rocks whose light and dark mineral constituents appear stratified into visible bands, the huge fragment of Gneiss rock projecting in the garden has been declared a National Geological Monument by the Geological Survey of India, though smaller deposits are found extensively all over southern India.


Unbelievably simplistic, given south Indian sculptural standards


Over two centuries later, after the rich territories had passed into the hands of the renowned administrator Hyder Ali, he commissioned Lal Bagh to be built as a massive private pleasure garden complex based on the Mughal "Charbagh" garden design that encompassed huge tracts of square/rectangular plots, subdivided by walkways and water channels, to be developed as verdant gardens enshrouded by lush grass and lined with rows upon rows of huge flowering, fruit-bearing and shade-imparting trees. Following Hyder's demise, Tipu Sultan carried the legacy forward and ensured that the aesthetically-designed gardens blossomed and were developed according to the original plans envisaged by Hyder. Given Hyder and Tipu's infinite interest in horticulture and natural landscaping. towering trees and flowering shrubbery was imported from different corners of the country to carpet the huge garden's numerous lawns. Presently though, the centerpiece is the majestic cross-shaped glass house that was commissioned in 1898, almost a century after Tipu Sultan's death in the Battle of Seringapatnam (1799) at the hands of wrathful British armies whom he had harassed numerous times in the past, and was built by John Cameron, the then Superintendent of Lal Bagh. Modelled after London's Crystal Palace, it is, for the past over 100 years, the site for mesmerizingly unrivaled bi-annual flower show held on Republic Day (January 26) and Independence Day (August 15) when the entire garden complex comes alive with the chatter and laughter of hundreds of thousands of visitors and the colors and texture of several hundred kinds of brilliantly multi-hued flowers dexterously arranged at the extravagant cost of several lakh rupees into the resemblance of a national monument or epic scene (more on that later).


Ornate fountains and a majestic glass house


There are two huge lakes too within the complex, one slightly but perceptibly smaller than the other, separated from each other by a narrow walkway. The wide walkways are intermittently punctuated by medieval circular towers, ornate fountains, English band stands and unusually interesting garden furniture such as petrified fossils of coniferous tree trunks over 20 million years old. While the immaculate walkways are lined with makeshift shops peddling roast corn, diced pineapples and watermelons, icecreams and cold drinks, Indian street-side snacks and colorful sweet candy, the gardens are ocassionally interspersed with large ancient looking circular edifices that might have once served as offices for the British Superintendents and gardeners who made several noteworthy contributions to the gardens' existence, beautification and horticultural collection. Another corner is dominated by a huge pedestal surmounted by an exquisite bronze sculpture of H.H. Maharaja Sri Chamarajendra Wadiyar X (reign AD 1868-94) who was a generous patron of horticulture, music and arts and under whose reign the 240-acre large gardens developed into the gigantic complex that they are today. Of course, this irregularly-shaped complex is exceedingly different from the original garden envisaged by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan which survives only as a small corner of the present complex with the rest largely been lost due to the careless interventions of the British horticulturists and agriculturists who overtook political and territorial control of the area after Tipu's death. Nearby is an enticing electric lawn-clock managed by HMT Watches where an upraised grassy circle embedded with floral divisions and surrounded by jovial statues of dwarves, deer and rabbits functions in the capacity of an interesting clock. Apart from these landmarks, its fascinating history and a charming green corner shaded from the brilliant blue sky by the foliage of majestic trees to relax at, the fine gardens have only a few cordoned-off aquariums, glass houses and rare plant collections to offer. Not a lot I admit, especially if one is not interested in the same, but an ideal spot to spend a lazy evening with friends or a loved one or kids. For me, the ancient rock face and Kempegowda's inimitable tower held the attraction.


Dominating - H.H. Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar X


January 26, 2015: We revisited the gardens for the Republic Day floral show where the highlight was a large flower-encased replica of Red Fort, Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - Red Fort, Delhi). Not unbelievably, the crowds were indescribably massive and there were scores of police men and women attempting to ensure order and coordination. Parts of the garden were cordoned off or converted into one-way walkways in order to control the crowds and direct them to and away from the Glass Palace where the spellbinding "Red Fort" had been constructed. Pathways within the Glass Palace were flanked with gleaming multi-colored flowers and foliage and interrupting the overall monotony of this kaleidoscopic colorful composition were smaller, glimmering white plasterwork statues conceived as replicas of the Statue of Liberty in United States and the blindfolded Lady with the scales representing justice. Not sure what these tried to portray, but also in attendance was a small, thin enough to be rendered nearly two-dimensional, flower-composed depiction of India Gate, Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - India Gate, Delhi). To the chagrin of the its architect were he alive and the principles of scale and historic veracity notwithstanding, the war memorial appeared like a minor doorway leading to the Red Fort! The unbearable crowds, the continuous pushing and shoving while in slithering serpentine queues for over an hour and the overall lack of any other point of interest apart from the scene within the Glass House forced us to leave quickly afterwards. I had actually hoped for more displays, especially of potted plants and floral specimens, like we have back in Delhi, sprinkled throughout the garden complex, but alas, there were none. As far as the eye could see, there were just hundreds of people. Thankfully, at least the Red Fort was spectacularly memorable.


Flowers and a monument


Open: All days, 6 am – 7 pm.
How to reach: Lal Bagh is connected to different parts of the city via an efficient bus network. One can also avail autos and taxis.
Entrance fees: Adults: Rs 10. Free entry from 6 – 9 am and 6 – 7 pm. Free entry for school children and differently-able throughout the day.
Entrance fees for flower shows (Jan 26 and Aug 15): Adults: Rs 40 on weekdays and Rs 50 on weekends and public holidays; Children below the age of 12 years: Rs 10
Photography/Video charges: Rs 50
Time required for sightseeing: 2 hours
Other places of interest in Bangalore - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort 
  2. Pixelated Memories -  Bangalore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Nandi Hills & Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple
  4. Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan's Palace and Kote Venkataramana Temple
Suggested reading - 
  1. Deccanherald.com - Article "A jewel in Lalbagh's crown" (dated May 21, 2015) by Meera Iyer 
  2. Deccanherald.com - Article "How flowers at Lalbagh exhibition retain bloom" (dated May 21, 2015) by Tenzin Phakdon and Channu Patagundi 
  3. Karnatakahistory.blogspot.in - Lalbagh during Historical Times 
 

03 February 2015

Tipu Sultan's Palace and Kote Venkataramana Temple, Bangalore


"How exhilarating is the atmosphere of India!
There cannot be a better teacher than the way of life of its people.
If any foreigner comes by, he will have to ask for nothing
Because they treat him as their own,
Play an excellent host and win his heart,
And show him how to smile like a flower."
– Amir Khusro, 14th-century poet-courtier-soldier-chronicler-linguist


Unbelievably modest


Bangalore knows how to play an excellent host – within no time following my arrival, the city presented to me its treasure trove of hidden medieval monuments, beautifully somber gardens, mouthwatering gastronomic haunts, choicest and classiest of watering holes and clusters of second-hand bookshops masquerading as decrepit buildings. And then there are some monuments and heritage sites in and around the city, camouflaged to merge with their highly modernistic, often heartless, emotionless surroundings, that prove to be hauntingly evocative. Forceful enough to make one wonder what could have been, seductive enough to make one imagine their original unparalleled splendor. Unquestionably, the foremost would be Tipu Sultan's relatively unknown beautiful little summer palace tucked in the heart of the city besides a perennially-choked arterial road where swirl unending streams of vehicles and pedestrians throughout day and night, and yet very few, if any, stop by to adoringly, or even curiously, gaze at the legendary King's alluring palace and wonder how might have such a powerful and affluent Emperor lived in a building as small as this. Here's how I described Tipu Sultan (reign AD 1782-99) in an earlier article –

"An innovative genius and unparalleled military tactician who also possessed intimate knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, shooting, horse-riding, Hindi-Urdu writing, poetry and economic systems, Badshah Fath Ali Khan Bahadur Tipu Sultan was instructed in military tactics by French officers in service of his father Nawab Hyder Ali Khan and is credited with creating the first prototype rockets which he used in wars against the annexing armies of British East India “trading” Company whom he continued to oppose and fiercely resist all his short life. Technologically advanced and financially capable, he employed several skilled European weapon makers and mercenaries, was aware of the potent warfare technologies of his time, possessed an extremely strong naval force consisting of numerous war ships and frigates and even went to the extent of suggesting an alliance based on mutual admiration with Napoleon Bonaparte who came as far as Egypt on a conquering spree to unite their forces.. Despite his superb administrative, organizational and warfare capabilities, Tipu is considered (based on unreliable, highly biased early British sources who participated in wars against him) a fanatic bigoted Muslim and an extremely harsh, iconoclast ruler who heinously ordered destruction of numerous temples and shrines and oversaw the forceful conversion or merciless execution of hundreds of non-Muslims, especially Christians, besides following a “scorched earth” policy and pitilessly ravaging and impoverishing captured territories and destroying their economies and agrarian capabilities. His admirers continue to debate that he looked after his subjects irrespective of their religion and personal beliefs, employed Hindus at almost each of the influential court post and provided religious grants and protection against brigands to several Hindu temples, some of which existed in the immediate vicinity of his palace. Yet he remains a much abhorred and very controversial personality in Indian history – a patriot who relentlessly strived against foreign colonial rule, yet himself a foreigner who ruthlessly oppressed his subjects and executed those he considered unbelievers or heretics."


Here held court "The Tiger of Mysore"


Now a mere skeleton of its erstwhile graceful magnificence and obduracy, Bangalore Fort (refer Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort) in those days was unbelievably expansive and accommodated within its colossal peripheries most of the city and its numerous bazaars ("pettahs") and townships. The grand wood palace's construction was initiated in AD 1781 within the fortress' circumference by the legendary Nawab Hyder Ali (reign AD 1761-82) who, as Chief Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Wadiyar King Krishnaraja Wadiyar II (reign AD 1735-66), had appropriated for himself the territorial and militarily resources of the state of Mysore/Karnataka; his son and successor, Badshah Tipu Sultan, commissioned its expansion and ornamentation in AD 1791 and established it as one of his numerous fortified residences scattered throughout the area. Entirely conceived out of finely polished and painted teak wood except for the massive stone base on which it rests and the sides and roof, the palace is an excellent epitome of Indo-Islamic architecture wherein it invokes an infusion of rows upon rows of giant ornamental twin fluted pillars supporting in their midst delicate arches minimally fringed with cream-yellow highlights against the overall brown hue, thereby presenting an overall extravagant portrayal that is strikingly symmetrical and eye-catching. No wonder Tipu christened the fine palace "The Abode of Happiness and the Envy of Heaven"! The vibrant red of the walls, punctuated again by adornment alcoves and brown windows and doors and contrasting against the overall monotony of the muted browns and their cream-yellow highlights, provides an interesting visual and pictorial composition. The palace, though externally appearing as a small, compact, single-storied building, actually consists of two floors of which the upper one is accessible through flights of stone stairs that flank each of the sides – interestingly, the floor plan is entirely identical along the backside of the building as well, thereby rendering it not only spatially symmetrical but also laterally.


Knowledge hoard - The ground-floor museum


Presently, the ground floor has been converted into a small dimly-lit museum where are housed numerous information panels and posters, including one that depicts a majestic Tipu seated upon his considerably exorbitant jewel-embedded gold throne each of whose legs culminated into a ruby, diamond and emerald-encrusted gold finial shaped like a tiger's head – legend is that the tenacious Tipu vowed that he would never hold audience ascending the renowned throne again until he vanquished the British out of the country – a wish that was tragically never fulfilled since he was killed during the Battle of Seringapatnam/Srirangapatna (1799) following which the fabled throne was fragmented into numerous parts and sold off as spoils of war individually since the whole was regarded outrageously expensive and beyond the financial capacity of any individual buyer. The highlights of the museum remain some of Tipu's dreaded rockets and a glass-encased replica of his ferocious wooden automaton tiger whose mechanical operations produced growling sounds in association with the painful wails of the Englishman who was portrayed being tortuously mauled to death by the fearsome tiger (the original, of course, like the remaining plundered treasure, is still displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Thoughts and history spontaneously return to haunt one – Tipu Sultan, who had earned the inspiring sobriquet "The Tiger of Mysore", his near invincibility and relentlessly fierce and fanatical mindset that was perfectly represented in the literally simple yet figuratively elaborate statement –

"I would rather live one day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep."


Harmony


Though the ground floor exists as a mere muddied reflection of its original ornamental glory, the polished wood on the first floor still retains most of its artistic appearance which includes highly detailed bands of minute floral motifs of several different designs running along its entire length and breadth that were crafted in such a way that they almost blend in with the color of the woodwork and would have been perceptible only on keen observance. Interesting is the absence of the stylized tiger stripe ("bubris") state motif with which Tipu adorned nearly everything under his sovereign control ranging from his soldiers' uniforms and weapons to even his father's (and later his) mausoleum!. One wonders how eminent these decorative designs would have appeared while they still retained the layers of golden-brown copper gilding. In those days, the floor underneath would have been covered with prohibitively expensive carpets and earthen lamps would have been lit in the numerous alcoves (especially given that the lack of windows and appropriate lightning does render the entire structure very dark). The regally magnificent pillared hallway on the first floor gives way to two projecting rectangular balconies on either side from where the King would have appeared to his subjects and taken up matters of day-to-day administration, jurisprudence, defense and governance. Two smaller chambers on either side of this huge hallway are believed to be the Zenana quarters where the royal ladies used to reside when the King stayed here – one again wonders if such miniscule quarters did appropriate justice to these noble ladies of such social and financial standing. The same is echoed by the Scotsman Dr. Francis Buchanan in his book "A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Cananara and Malabar" (published London, 1807) –

"The garrison (of Bangalore Fort) contained..no good building except the palace. Although this is composed of mud, it is not without some degree of magnificence. On the upper storey it contains four halls, each comprising two balconies of state for the prince, and each balcony faces a different Cutchery, or court for giving audience. No person, except a few trusty guards, were admitted into the hall with the Sultan: but at each end of the court was erected a balcony for the officers of the highest rank. The interior offices occupied a hall under the balcony of the prince. The populace were admitted into the open court, in which there were fountains for cooling the air. At each end of the halls are private apartments, small, mean and inconvenient. The public rooms are neatly painted and ornamented with false gilding."


Heritage on the verge of extinction


Following the conclusion of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the Battle of Seringapatnam, the British administration converted the palace building into a secretariat. In recent times, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Bangalore/Bengaluru Circle, has done an excellent job in conserving the palace building and restoring it as close to its original notability. The facade's impressive elegance has returned, the painstakingly intricate woodwork reflects royal opulence and the large, well-maintained and symmetrical lawns leading to the building have become an exemplar of horticulture.

Adjacent to the palace complex but presently separated from it by boundary walls stands a magnificent temple complex dedicated to the Venkateshwara form Lord Vishnu (the Hindu God of life and nourishment) and referred to as Kote Venkataramana Temple – notably, the word "Kote" translates to "fortress" in Kannada and the temple complex, constructed in the Dravidian style of sculptural architecture and commissioned by Maharaja Chikka Devaraja Wadiyar (reign AD 1673-1704) in the year 1689, had once existed within the peripheries of the gigantic Bangalore Fort and till date remains testimony to Tipu's tolerance to religions and belief systems different from his own since he allowed the temple to continue functioning within the premises of the fortress complex even after he had wrestled it from the Hindu Wadiyar Maharajas. The palace, though commissioned by orthodox Muslims, shared its courtyard with the temple since the same was in accordance with early Hindu customs where the King was considered representative of Gods on earth, a tradition that Hyder and Tipu did not mind emulating. The excellent temple's unequaled glory extends to the massive towering pyramidal gateway ("Gopuram") which itself is divided into multiple levels each of which elaborately displays a spectacular array of sculpted divine figurines and mythological personalities including Gandharvas (divine singer-dancers), Hanuman (the monkey-headed God who could fly past the sun and carry entire mountains), Narasimha (the four-armed, lion-headed incarnation of Lord Vishnu), Matasya (the fish-bodied incarnation of Lord Vishnu that played its part in saving mankind during the epic Hindu deluge) and lastly, different representations of Vishnu seated/reclining with his wives Bhudevi (the Earth Goddess) and Sri Lakshmi (the Goddess of auspiciousness, wealth and prosperity) upon the primordial seven-headed limitless serpent deity Sheshnaga.


A study in architecture - Kote Venkataramana temple gateway


Apart from the huge main shrine which too is surmounted by a similarly adorned pyramidal spire and is being painted in vibrant hues and rendered glossy finish, there are several smaller shrines too within the spell-binding complex, each painted sunlight yellow like the rest of the complex and dedicated to an individual deity as is the custom in the larger south Indian temple complexes. A huge hall, supported by pillars shaped like "Yali" (mythological half-lion, half-elephant beings possessing the body and head of a lion and the tusks and trunk of an elephant) and crowned by numerous smaller semi-circular decorative projections which are embedded with sculpted stucco depictions of several mythological deities and mythical beasts, extends adjacent the central shrine and has been fitted with chandeliers and colorful tile work floor. In a corner rests a small shrine dedicated to serpent deities, regarded as capable of granting sexual fertility and parenthood. Nearly every time I visit south Indian temples, notwithstanding how miniscule, I tend to fall in love with their quintessential sculptural art and religious patterns – they symbolize a preservation of local traditions and architectural and artistic sensibilities and are literally an antithesis to burgeoning globalization and assimilation of Victorian moral attitudes which are upon careful understanding and observation so much inferior to Indian scriptural and sculptural knowledge where mythological beasts and mythical anthropomorphic deities come to life, sexuality is explored and celebrated instead of being shied away and architecture unapologetically invokes a rococo of kaleidoscopic, multi-hued and often mind-boggling surface ornamentation. "How exhilarating is the atmosphere of India!", as Amir Khusro had said!


Dazzling - The plethora of sculptural art adorning the numerous towers and spires


Location: Near K.R. (City) Market, Kalasipalyam/Chamrajpet (Coordinates: 12°57'33.5"N 77°34'25.0"E)
How to reach: Buses are available from different parts of the city for K.R. Market, including from Majestic. Walk or take an auto/connecting bus from thereon.
Timings: Both the palace and the temple are open on all days. Palace timings: 9 am – 5 pm; Temple timings: 8 am – 12 noon and 6 pm – 8:30 pm.
Entrance fees: Indians: Rs 10; Foreigners: Rs 100
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Also located nearby – Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort
Other palaces in Bangalore/Mysore –
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Palace
  2. Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace 
  3. Pixelated Memories - Nandi Hills (Nandidurga fortress and Tipu Sultan's palace), Chikkaballapur
Suggested reading –
  1. Bangaloremirror.com - Article "Rolling them out" (dated Nov 8, 2014) by Shivani Kagti 
  2. Metmuseum.org - Article "Former Incarnations: The Secret Lives of Objects in Treasures from India" (dated Nov 19, 2014) by Courtney A. Stewart 
  3. Theguardian.com - Article "Tipu Sultan papers reveal wealth of spoils after India siege " (dated July 9, 2012) by Mark Brown 
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "Archaeological Survey of India to touch up Tipu’s summer palace" (dated Nov 19, 2013) by Sharath S. Srivatsa
  5. Tigerandthistle.net - Tipu's Summer Palace, Bangalore 
  6. Toshkhana.wordpress.com - Tipu Sultan and the Ring of Rama 
  7. Wikipedia.org - Tipu Sultan
  8. Wikipedia.org - Tipu Sultan seated on his throne (image) 
  9. Wikipedia.org - Tipu's Tiger