A majestic, Tudor-style structure stands tall at the heart of Bangalore, amid the chaos and traffic snarls that the city has become infamous for these days. The architectural splendour hits you each time you visit the magnificent Bangalore Palace. Built by the then Maharaja of Mysore, Chamarajendra Wodeyar, in 1887, on the model of the Windsor Castle in the UK, it is spread over an area of about 430 acres. The palace, largely constructed of wood, has fortified towers, complete with Gothic windows, parapets, battlements, arches and turrets. An exquisite door panel opens on to equally grand interiors, with breathtaking floral motifs, cornices, mouldings and relief paintings on the ceiling. The sprawling grounds surrounding the palace have become a venue for many of the city’s cultural programmes, concerts and exhibitions. The palace is owned and maintained by the scions of the Mysore royal family, the Wodeyars.
Royal tag: (clockwise from top left) The Indian Institute of Science; Queen Vani Vilasa with her two sons; C. Rajagopalachari with the last ruler, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar.
Today, when we look around Bangalore for visible manifestations of the Wodeyar era, it appears all-pervasive to a perceptive and historically-sensitive eye. The other obvious sights would, surely, be the remnants of Tipu Sultan’s crumbling fort and summer palace in the crowded old market areas of the city; the Kote Venkataramanaswamy temple beside the fort; the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall; the Attara Kacheri building, housing the high court, and so on.
But this is not where the legacy of the Wodeyars begins and ends. Unlike many other royal dynasties whose legacies live on in decrepit monuments, most often crying for help from an insensitive public or government, Bangalore and Karnataka are still reaping the benefits of the gifts of the Wodeyars. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the foundations of the phenomenal success that is today’s Bangalore were laid during the Wodeyar period.
In retrospect, 1901 proved to be a decisive year in the history of Bangalore. Sir William Ramsay, Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1904, was requested by the Royal Society of London to choose an appropriate site for the establishment of an institute of excellence in higher education in India. Ramsay toured the entire country, and recommended Bangalore. Around the same time, a fact-finding committee of Roorkee College also made a competitive bid for their town as a possible location.
But what clinched the deal in favour of Bangalore was the vision of a lady who herself was not too highly educated. The city would have lost the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which was established there in 1909, but for the timely initiative of the Regent Queen of Mysore, Vani Vilasa Sannidhana.
On behalf of her minor son, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the queen quickly signed a contract, offering 371 acres of prime land and a generous grant of Rs50,000 a year. Overjoyed, the Roorkee committee that was scouring for a venue looked no further, and Bangalore became the chosen city. It catapulted the city into prominence as the knowledge capital of India — and prepared the ground for industries such as space research, aeronautics and information technology (IT) to find roots here many decades later.
It has been over six decades since the Mysore royalty ceased to wield power in Karnataka. Despite the changes that have swept India’s IT capital, the Wodeyars live on in people’s reminiscences, musings and memories.
The Wodeyars were among India’s longest reigning royal houses — a dynasty founded in 1399, and one that sprung to a position of eminence after the demise of the mighty Vijayanagara empire. It went through a series of ups and downs that included a 40-year interregnum under Haidar Ali and his chivalrous son Tipu Sultan. With Tipu’s death in 1799, power was restored to the Wodeyars at the behest of the British.
But unlike other princely states of India, which chose to remain mere vassals of the British Raj, the rulers of Mysore — aided by some of the best brains of the country, their able diwans — ensured that the state had attained a high degree of industrial, socio-economic and cultural growth by the time of Independence. Mysore was rightly hailed as a “model state” by the founding fathers of modern India.
Few in Bangalore would know that the water reaching their homes is thanks to the pioneering efforts undertaken during the brief regency of Queen Vani Vilasa and her able diwan Sir Seshadri Iyer. The Marikanave Dam across the Vedavathi River, completed towards the end of the 19th century, was the first major project initiated to supply water to the city. The Hessarghatta project, initiated shortly after that, continues to be the one that provides water to Bangalore. Incidentally, it has been among India’s few sources of filtered water for over a century now.
But what really tilted the scales in favour of Bangalore was the hydro-electric project implemented at Shivanasamudra in 1899-1900. The prime reason for the project might have been supply of continuous power to the Kolar Gold Fields, but Bangalore became an indirect beneficiary as India’s first electrified city in 1905, and the transmission line happened to be the longest in the world then.
What followed was a spurt in rural and urban electrification, and a plethora of industries were set up in Bangalore. The Bangalore Printing and Publishing Co., the Hindustan Aircraft Ltd (that later merged with Aeronautics India Ltd to form Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), porcelain and glass factories and agricultural implements factories spurred industrial growth in the city. True to its nature of being a knowledge centre, numerous occupational and technical institutes, engineering colleges, libraries and bodies like the Karnataka Sahitya Parishad were also established.
Today, each time a Bangalorean switches on a light or turns on the tap, he connects in some way to the Mysore maharajas. Perhaps, the best eulogy for the visionary rule of the Wodeyars came from C. Rajagopalachari, the first Indian and last governor-general of independent India. In an address to the newly formed government of the independent Mysore state, he said: “Successive and able administrators under His Highness’ predecessors have built this province to an enviable degree of progress and glory. My colleagues in national agitation have taken over, I feel, a very high responsibility. It is not easy to maintain the State and keep it up to the level it had reached through the talent, industry, devotion and patriotism of previous administrators… If I were here, I would not sleep happily.”
Vikram Sampath is the author ofSplendours of Royal Mysore: The Untold Story of the Wodeyars. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org