- The Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall or the State Public library in Cubbon Park
- The High Court or the Attara Kacheri, Bangalore
Sunday Morning 8:30 am. Cubbon park is bustling with people of all age groups. Two events, a walkathon and a Marathon is going on. On another side, a group is performing a street play to draw attention of general public towards the harassment women have to face on the streets, urging the proud Bangaloreans to rise against it and to make the city safe for women again. Nearby on a display board, paintings done by school children speaks about the urgency to stand against these harassment.
We are in the park to participate in the walk organized by INTACH to understand and appreciate the buildings in and around the park. We are waiting in front of the State Public Library, for Pankaj, the INTACH leader who would be conducting the walk. The beautiful library boasts of a rose garden as its frontage. In a nearby patch (Subsection of the Cubbon Park), canine’s and canine lovers/owners are having a great time. This small area of the park is dedicated to them. Here the owners are free to allow their pets to freely mingle with many others of their own species. These dogs are having so much fun, that I am sure that if their owners are able to bring them only on Sundays, then they(dogs) might be looking forward to the ‘Funday’ for the whole week; so much so that by now these owners would have figured out that dog’s can count or not.
Soon, we become a group of about seven people, Pankaj also joins in. Pankaj starts the walk with a brief introduction of the history of Bengaluru.
Bengaluru was founded by Kempegowda in 1537. The area of Chikkapette (popularly known as Chickpet) was the first area to get inhabited. Bengaluru is also associated with Great Maratha ruler, Shivaji. In 1638, Shahji Bhosale, father of Shivaji, received Bengaluru as Jagir, from Adil Shahi Sultans of Bijapur. Some historians believe that Shivaji’s second marriage also took place here in Bengaluru, a claim that is strongly refuted as well. Bengaluru came under the rule of Wodeyars in 1689 when Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar bought it from the Mughals.
However, the city got prominence when, after defeating Tipu Sultan in 1798 and making Srirangpatnam as their headquarter, British realized that Srirangaptanam does not suit them. The place was infested with mosquitoes and British lost several British soldiers to Malaria; something they could ill afford. They explored other options and felt that Bengaluru, nestled on higher ground, well protected for being a walled city and possessing a wonderful weather, suits them more.
The mutiny of 1857, scared the British and they felt a need to create a buffer zone between the area administered by them and the local kings, the Wodeyars in this case. The Cubbon Park was envisioned to create the boundary between the Peta area ruled by the Wodeyars and the Cantonment area ruled by the British. It initially covered only hundred Acres but now occupies around Two-hundred and ninety-six acres.
Bengaluru has a wilder Cubbon park and a much planned Lalbaagh. I have always liked Cubbon for its stubborn wilderness. The park’s sculptures and the monuments blend well with its green cover. The locals and the traffic free weekends make it a leisure retreat of Bengaluru. The entrance of this park was not planned. It evolved over time. Its Avenues have different species of trees.
Cubbon Park was commissioned by John Meade, the Chief Commissioner of Mysore State. Initially it was known as the Meade’s Park. In 1876, in order to acknowledge the great work done by Mark Cubbon, the longest-serving commissioner of Bengaluru, his statue was installed in the Park and the Park started to be known as the Cubbon Park.
Pankaj elaborates on name of the park-“The official name of the park is Chamrajendra Park, written on a board in the park in big letters and the popular name Cubbon park is mentioned in small letters in brackets. Surprise that it is not a recent change. The Park was renamed Chamrajendra Park way back in 1920, in memory of the nineteenth century Wodeyar ruler of the state, during whose rule the park came into existence probably on the land donated by him. The old name Cubbon somehow remained in usage probably in reverence to the British Administrator.”
After setting a precedent for today’s walk, Pankaj draws our attention towards state’s central library.
He tells, “This building is a memorial to Devan Sheshadri Iyer, the maker of modern Bangalore. He was also the longest-serving Devan of Mysore State, working in this capacity from 1883 till his death in 1901. This memorial ceremonial hall was built-in 1908 to remember and recognize his immense contributions towards making Bangalore a remarkable place to live. His contributions include developing Malleshwaram waterworks, Kolar gold field; he brought electricity to Bangalore from Sivanasamudra; he is also credited for rebuilding the Bangalore after devastating plague of 1898, decogesting the roads. He played a crucial role in allocating land to TIFR (Tata Institute for Research), current IISC.”
The architect of this building was Richard Sankey, the chief Engineer of Mysore State. You will notice that the central portion of this building is constructed higher than its side structures to give it an elevated look. The carved pediment under the roof is inspired by classical Greek Architecture. The Tuscan and Corinthian columns adore its entrance.
At the time of the construction of this building, two roof-types were popular in Bengaluru – the Jack Arch and the Madras terrace. In the Jack-arch style the arches are formed in the roof itself, supported by strong centering. Madras Terrace had wooden rafters as opposed to Jack-Arch which relied more on metal section with bricks, reducing the use of wood. This building has Jack arch roof architecture that uses imported metal rods and angles.
The Sheshadri Iyer memorial hall was constructed in 1908 as a ceremonial hall, but it was converted to Public Library in 1914. In the beginning, the verandahs of the hall were open and so one can enter from any side. Popular belief is that monkey menace forced people to rethink about the concept of open verandahs. It was the time monkey swarmed in hundreds – on roads, hedges, trees, buildings; chased and chatted with each other, grinned hungrily on anyone passing with eatables, entered houses and were constant annoyance to house-wives. Later the open verandahs were closed and the building started to be used as a library.
Pankaj invites us to enter inside the library. My eyes are wide open as I enter in. So many books, well-kept in properly classified book-shelf. The library is well-lit. As the central part is elevated, it has two stories, the upper story has only windows bringing in the natural light that enhances the reading experience. The wooden ceiling visible from inside is a false ceiling. Pankaj tells us that the building is aesthetically designed with the openings in east/west and north directions bringing in the natural light without glare. Overall atmosphere is quite conducive for any reader. There are no columns inside the library though it has huge span. The hall has pilaster pillars between arches, but they only fake the load, they are for decorative purpose only. Two porches connect the corridor.
We move to the first floor of the library. It has a newspaper section. The view from above reveals the hall in all its magnificence. Even the bookshelves have been made blending completely with the rounded walls. As we are coming out of the ground floor, Pankaj draws our attention towards a huge collection of books in Braille. Kudos! I wish someone is taking advantage of this treasure.
After coming out of the library as we walk around it, the perspective changes from the other side. The Greco-Roman front appearance changes to apsidal at the back; apsidal like the Durga Temple of Aihole. The building has typical red color liked by British at that time.
I end my post here, in the next article, I would take you to the other prominent structure around Cubbon Park, the Attara Kacheri or the high court of Karnataka.