Sunday 3 March 2013

The monument that prisoners built

We shape our buildings and afterwards the building shape us, so said Winston Churchill. This could be true of Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore and Kengal Hanumanthaiah, the man who is credited with having planned its construction.
Today, every visitor to Bangalore makes it a point to see Vidhana Soudha and High Court buildings before he heads back from the city. If the High Court building is a marvel of British architecture, the Vidhana Soudha is more imposing and an equally marvel.
If the High court building is more than a hundred years old, the Vidhana Soudha is recent by comparison.
The credit for the construction of Vidhana Soudha, the seat of the Government since the 1950s, entirely goes to Kengal Hanumanthaiah. But what many people do not know is that this magnificent building was a labour of love of many thousand people, including convicts.
Yes, it may be strange but true that hundreds of convicts who were spending time at the Central Prison on Seshadri Road were asked to break the huge stones or granite that were transported to Bangalore from nearby villages for the construction of the Vidhana Soudha.
The area near the Town Hall was the place where these convicts were brought in police vans under escort and made to work. The place resembled a huge open air workshop and the police and civil contractors supervised the cutting of  the stone.
While some convicts took to the task with enthusiasm, there were a few who resented this heavy work. They blamed Kengal for making them do “donkey’s work”, as they called it. Once day, when Kengal came to the workshop in the evening, and went around one of the convicts is supposed to have slapped him.
About 5000 labourers and 1500 chisellers, masons and wood-carvers worked on the project continuously for four years. Almost all the unskilled workers deployed in its construction were convicts, who were given their freedom on its completion.
The foundation for the Vidhana Soudha was laid by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru on July 13, 1951. It was completed in1956 and the entire expenditure on the building was Rs 1.84 crores. Today, we have houses costing much more and imagine what a structure on the lines of  Vidhana Soudha would cost.
The building is rectangular in shape measuring 700 feet north-south and 350 feet east-west, with two inner open quadrangles on either side of the central wing measuring about 230 feet by 230 feet each. The northern wings with a ground and three upper floors is 63 feet 6 inches high, while the southern wing with a cellar floor, a ground floor, and three upper floors is 73 feet 6 inches high from the ground level.
The  central wing with a Banquet hall on the ground floor and the Legislative Assembly chamber above is 112 feet high. The beautifully laid out stairs in the front (High Court side) has a flight of forty-five steps 204 feet wide 70 feet deep giving a direct access to the foyer of first floor leading to an Assembly chamber.
The architecture of the Soudha is Dravidian style, comprising richly carved bases and capitals for pillars, deep friezes, kapotha cornices, Chaithya arches, heavy pediments domical finials. This is synthesized with modern designs and new construction methods such as steel, reinforced cement concrete glass and even plastic.
The building's central dome is sixty feet in diameter and is supported by eight pillars. It also has six smaller domes, four in front and two behind.
The Vidhana Soudha has three main floors (each of which measures over 1,32,400 sq ft) and a top floor (1,01,165 sq ft). The total floor area adds up to 5,05,505 sq ft.   
Kengal Hanumanthaiah was the Chief Minister of the then Mysore State from 1951 and 1956. He chose the setting opposite the High Court as the appropriate place for the massive Gothic building.
The sprawling building and its surroundings occupy 60 acres adjacent to the Raj Bhavan.
Built largely with Bangalore granite, the huge stones were excavated from the areas around Mallasandra and Hessaraghatta. For visual effect and relief, Magadi pink and Turuvekere black stones were used.
Today, all of us remember Kegnal and the chief architect of the project, Manickyam, but none of give a thought to the prisoners who braved rains (Bangalore then was very rainy and so I would be way off the mark if I said they braved the Sun too) and the chill break stones for Bangalore’s most magnificent monument.  

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