Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Bandstand in Cubbon Park

The bandstand in Cubbon Park is undergoing 'restoration', PWD style. Right now, the roof has been stripped off and only the iron pillars remain standing. It's a little upsetting, especially because INTACH spoke, nay begged, the Horticulture Department to restore the bandstand more than a year ago. They were very interested in it, and asked us to submit a proposal for its restoration, which we did. Some phone calls, some phone-tagging, some emails, some re-sending, more phone calls, and the next thing we know, it's been given to the PWD for restoration. Not that that is a bad thing necessarily, but the PWD's record in restoration does not exactly inspire confidence.

The bandstand is - was - a pretty interesting structure. There has been a bandstand in Cubbon Park since at least the 1870s, but not where it currently stands. In fact, the earlier bandstand was probably where the petrol bunk near Koshy's is today. It was demolished and a new one built at the current location sometime in the early 1900s. The one in Lalbagh was built in 1863. This is just two years after the world's first ever bandstand was built in Kensington in England. Like others built elsewhere in England's then colonies, Bangalore's two bandstands also probably use steel imported from Scotland's foundries.

Of course, the bandstands were built for bands to play music in, and indeed, the Cubbon Park bandstand has been the venue of hundreds of concerts. In the early days, it was military bands that played here. By the 1960s, people came here in their hundreds to listen to musicians and bands playing Kannada hit songs. But in the late 1970s, the crowds thinned and gradually, the music wound down. Some years ago, an NGO called Prakruthi managed to revive the musical tradition. For four years, the grounds around the bandstand once again echoed with music and laughter. But funds weren't forthcoming and the show couldn't go on. But they haven't given up hope. MS Prasad from Prakruthi told me, "We are waiting for the Bandstand's resurrection and will always strive to showcase talent and make it a heritage site." I hope his wish comes true.

You can read more about Cubbon Park's bandstand here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A star fort

I had been to Puttur in Dakshina Kannada a few weeks ago. A lovely place, with farms, groves, forests and lovely traditional houses, all set amidst undulating hills. The drive down to Puttur took us via Sakleshpur and just about 10km from Sakleshpur was a little gem of a fort in a place called Manjarabad.
Here's what the fort looks like in Google Maps:

To my knowledge, this is one of the most complete star-shaped fort you can see in India today, and certainly the most accessible. Back in the 1600s, star-shaped forts were all the rage in Europe, especially France and Italy. In that period, the French were universally acknowledged as being authorities on military architecture. The General Commissioner for Fortifications (yes, there was such a post!) under Louis XIV, Sebastien Vauban, had written treatises on the subject and was considered the foremost expert on the subject. His designs were used by military engineers everywhere. Fort McHenry in Baltimore, in the US, built around 1799, is a great example. The British built star-shaped fort in a town called Ninety-six in South Carolina dates from the mid-1700s. There are plenty of other examples from Europe, too.

Photo credit: miuina / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: miuina / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
In India, both Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali before him had alliances with the French. Both had regiments of French soldiers in their armies and both used their services in the renovation and building of their forts. Most of the forts in their kingdom, such as the forts in Bangalore and Nandi hills, for example, were those that had been built earlier and which they renovated during their reign. Manjarabad was one of the few forts that was built from scratch in 1792. And it appears that when not constrained by a previously existing structure, Tipu and/or his French engineers decided to follow a European pattern much more closely.  Everything from the plan to the design of some of the elements within the fort, such as the turrets at the corner of each bastion, seems to betray a French influence. Compare the turrets or sentry-boxes at Manjarabad (left) with those in a Vauban-designed fort in France (above).

In India, Fort William in Calcutta, built in the 1700s, was also star-shaped. Here's a picture of it taken from Wikipedia. A lot of the original walls still stand, but as it is the headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, most of us cannot get to it. There is also a star-shaped fort in Jhansi, again inaccessible to non-military folks, and another in Potagada in Orissa, which as far as I can tell, is mostly in ruins. In other words, Manjarabad's star-shaped fort is one of the best-preserved and perhaps the only example of 17-18th century French military architecture that you can see in India.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

An unusual motif

Dambal is one of those places India abounds in, a generic village, so to speak: hot, dusty, with a row of tiny tea shops where men in turbans sit around a table drinking chai. It also happens to have a 1000-year-old temple, a 900-year-old temple, a beautiful kalyani, remains of temples and basadis, and a ruined fort. Like I said, a typical Indian village!

Most people who find their way to Dambal, about 15 km southeast of Lakkundi, come for the Doddabasappa temple - a magnificent temple, truly one-of-its-kind, built about 1124 AD. Constructed when the Chalukyas were reigning, some people think it is a precursor of sorts to the flamboyance of the Hoysalas who started building their dazzling temples in Belur and Halebid at about the same time, but completed them much later. Like the Hoysala temples, the Doddabasappa temple is also constructed with grey-green chloritic schist. This is a slightly softer stone than granite which  most other Chalukyan temples use. Historians wax eloquent about its unique stellate plan. And yet, when you see the temple, it looks circular, not star-shaped. That is because the architects dreamed up the temple plan by taking a  square and rotating it eight times to get a 32-pointed star, which at first glance, looks circular. Ingenious!

Like the Hoysala temples, this one too is decorated on its outer walls, but not quite as profusely. And whereas the Belur & Halebid temples abound in images of sinuous gods and goddesses, here the recurring motifs are architectural elements from the temples in miniature! One very common motif is a single pillar topped with a little gopura-like structure. Very cute, methinks!

There is another temple across the street, also a Chalukyan-period construction. It is quite plain, especially when compared to the Doddabasappa temple, but still worth a look. There is also quite a pretty kalyani (stepped well) not far from the two temples. When we went, it was still being renovated. We walked through some fields to get to it and came upon it quite suddenly, without much warning. Stones were falling off its sides and the water was green with algae, but the setting sun turned the stone a beautiful golden brown. I loved the isolation and the pastoral setting.

But what about the fort and the remains of numerous basadis that Dambal is supposed to have had? I shall just have to go back and look for them.