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Back in old Bangalore

KAVITHA SRINIVASA | Updated on June 23, 2011

Kempegowda Memorial Museum in Bangalore. - Photo: K. Gopinathan   -  Business Line

A visual chronicle of the city's origin and growth, at the newly opened Kempegowda Museum.



Ever discovered a city by walking on a glass map? You could do just that at Bangalore's newly opened Kempegowda Memorial Museum, where an enlarged 19th Century map of the city covers the floor, topped by a glass slab.

The museum is aptly named after the city's founder, a 16th Century chieftain of Yelahanka province during the reign of the Vijayanagar dynasty. Kempegowda established the city of Bangalore, as it is known today, in the form of a mud fort in 1537. The city was bounded by four watchtowers, which exist even today at Ulsoor, Gavi Gangadhareshwara, Lalbagh and Mekhri Circle.

The gigantic floor map at the museum is said to be the oldest available map of the city and was prepared by the erstwhile British rulers after a survey in 1886.

The directional map provides a visual tour of the temples, lakes and tanks associated with Kempegowda. Sourced from the Mythic Society Library, the map was magnified and displayed at the museum by the Bangalore-based company Design Core India.

Strategically placed digital posters, charts, photographs and illustrations chronicle the achievements of the Kempegowda dynasty. The footnotes are in Kannada and English.

The museum is housed in Mayo Hall, a brick and mortar structure built in 1883 in memory of Lord Mayo, the fourth Viceroy of India. “This high-ceiling heritage structure with a majestic wooden floor, and flanked by stairways, seemed an ideal backdrop to chronicle Kempegowda's achievements,” says Devarakonda Reddy, special officer of the museum. Two halls on the first floor were painted and spruced up in two months. The building's exterior sports the traditional Cantonment colours of red and white.

The museum is a cultural construct of the Kempegowda clan's achievements, as it takes visitors on a tour of the various landmarks left behind by Kempegowda, his son Kempegowda I and grandson Kempegowda II. Succeeding generations of the family focused on Bijapur (in north Karnataka), which was under Muslim invasion, and Bangalore gradually took a backseat. However, it's an established fact that the chieftain had created a strong military base in places such as Savanadurga, a fortification. A statue at the museum's entrance is believed to be a representation of Kempegowda in Savanadurga.

British-era photographs and paintings, made by surveyors, of Bangalore pete areas and the nearby hill-forts beautifully depict a glorious chapter in the city's past. Kempegowda I and II can be credited with making Bangalore an important trade centre. The town had two main streets — Chikkapet (small), running east-west; and Doddapete (big), running north-south. The streets and connecting lanes bustled with activity, as merchants traded in silk, pottery and fisheries. The merchants and their settlements were organised along the lines of caste and trading activity. The two main streets intersected at Doddapete Square, which was then the nerve centre of Bangalore. The city had trading links to Chennai, Western Ghats and Bijapur.

“A Kannada inscription at Begur (near the Bangalore-Hosur highway) indicates that Bangalore existed 1,100 years ago as an obscure fort-agrarian village during the time of the Ganga rulers. Nevertheless, there was no significant development until Kempegowda's reign,” says Reddy. Many of the museum's pictorial displays have been sourced from the Lalbagh Library and the British Library, UK.

The idea for the museum was conceived way back in 2005, but work on it began only this year. Now a marketing plan is on the cards. “The Tourism Department and the Tourism Corporation would list it in their literature. Information about the museum will also be available on its Web site,” says Chiranjiv Singh, former Ambassador to UNESCO, who is associated with the museum. He adds that various events will be held on the premises, which will, in turn, create awareness about the museum.

In the next phase of the museum's development, the ground floor will house an interactive multimedia presentation on Kempegowda's life, complete with a plasma display and the use of archival photographs. The museum is funded by the Karnataka Government and the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) is responsible for its upkeep.

Explaining the importance of such a city-centric museum, Singh says, “Paris and many other cities have city museums showcasing their history and development. Bangalore is short of museums. It was felt that a city museum showing the history of the city and its development over the centuries would be of interest to the people.”

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Published on June 23, 2011
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