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

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