On 7 April, Bangalore got a museum dedicated to its founder, Kempe Gowda I, who established the city as we know it today. Situated inside Mayo Hall, a British-era heritage building complex on MG Road, the Kempe Gowda Memorial Museum was created in less than two months—two of the halls taken from the city corporation were cleared, painted and refurbished with wooden panels. Material specific to Kempe Gowda and his clan was put together by the design team, and folklorist and historian H.K. Rajegowda wrote the text that accompanies the pictures of temples, ruins, lakes, waterfronts and bunds. Although the museum is not complete yet, it is open to visitors.
Chiranjeev Singh, a Kannada scholar and former bureaucrat, is one of the people behind the idea of the museum. “We want to give viewers a sense of Gowda’s life,” he says, “and to chronicle the life and history of Bangalore from its origins to the present day.”
Visitors at the museum’s main hall
Most of the material was sourced from the Karnataka State Archives. “We made good copies of those. We also sought out photographers and researchers for whatever materials and documents and pictures they may have had relating to the man and his period,” adds Singh.
The museum displays images and texts in black and white. At the centre of the main hall is a yellow-brown fibreglass statue of Kempe Gowda.
Fibreglass statue of Kempe Gowda
“The way we structured the museum was flexible so that we had space for newer matter to come in,” says K.N. Suryaprakash, chief managing director of DesignCore, the Bangalore-based firm that designed the museum. Suryaprakash compares the configuration of the museum with the Bangalore Fort that Kempe Gowda built. “We placed Kempe Gowda’s statue at the centre and made the four corners of the hall resemble the four towers at the corners of the Bangalore Fort. Below the statue, surrounding the whole spectrum of the area where it stands will be an enlargement of the oldest known map of Bangalore (made by a British surveyor in the 1890s) covered in glass.”
Kempe Gowda I (1513-70) was from Yelahanka, now a suburb that forms the northern fringe of Bangalore. He was a chieftain of the Yelahanka clan, descendants of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled the region between the 1100s and 1400s. His ancestors had built forts, temples and tanks in the surrounding areas. “What we see is that even before Kempe Gowda I came to build Bangalore, he was already the legatee of a sense of enterprise from his forebears,” says Suryaprakash. “We were clear that the story of the origins of Bangalore is not just about Kempe Gowda I. His ancestors are equally important.”
It was at the insistence of the authorities of the Vijayanagara Empire (especially Krishnadevaraya, who he was known to be close to) that Kempe Gowda I was instructed to build a new city. “The aim to build a new city was trade,” explains Devi Kona Reddy, a museum functionary. “It was to establish a new trade route from Madras in the east and to bypass Mysore—whose kings were rivals of the Vijayanagara Empire.”
Kempe Gowda I built the Bangalore Fort, the Nandi Temple and cultivated a few water bodies. These are depicted in the museum with images and text embossed on special canvases.
A tower of the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple
Singh says the museum’s ground floor will soon have an interactive section that will educate visitors through multimedia and graphic form. What the museum-goers see right now is a big fraction of what is still being implemented. “A few months later you will find a lot more additions and some minor changes to what we have,” says Singh. Bangalore’s rebuilding has just begun.
The Kempe Gowda Memorial Museum is open from Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm.