Saturday 30 March 2013

When a lake welcomed a Prince

Today, it is virtually impossible to step easily on drive in Majestic without getting into a scrap with some one or other. The construction of the Namma Metro and the shifting of the bus stand has thrown traffic out of gear and driving in the vicinity of the erstwhile bus stand is a nightmare.
However, the construction activity reminds us of the period when the then Chief Minister R Gundu Rao cleared the plan for the bus stand at Majestic which became the best terminus in India.
The bus stand had come up exactly where the once beautiful Dharmambudi tank or lake stood. This lake was one of the many water bodies designed by Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bangalore.
The waters of the Dharmambudi lake overflowed during rainy season to and through its many channels and kalyanis and it was connected to other lakes.
The lake was already in existence when the Mysore Government and the British planned the Railway Station. Bangalore was perhaps one of the very few cities in India which had the luxury of a park-Chikalalbagh and lake-Dharmambudi-adjacent to the newly built railway station.
Passengers who disembarked, could easily relax after spending what then was a frightening speed of 16 miles per hour from Mysore and Madras to Bangalore. There were many Indians who bravely sat in the locomotive and then wiped their sweat either in the park or the cool breeze of the lake.
Buses to different localities started near the railway station and there was no Majestic bus stand then.
The first evocative description of the lake and its shining waters came from none else but our own DVG or DV Gundappa, the redoubtable Kannada writer and the man who created the legendary character of Manku Thimma in Manku Thimmana Kagga.
Writing in one of his letters, DVG recalls the warm welcome Bangaloreans gave to Prince Albert Victor, son of Queen Victoria, when he came to Bangalore in 1889.
The Prince later ascended the English throne as King George. The Prince came by the Royal train and he was given a tumultuous welcome when he alighted at the Bangalore railway station.      
Albert Victor was struck by the beauty of the vast water body in front of the railway station. DVG says the Prince looked on in awe as a group of young Bharatanatyam dancers gave a lyrical welcome from a Theppa or float on the lake.
Barely had the Prince finished appreciating the dance, he was given another sonorous welcome and this time by the sweet melody of the Nadaswaram that wafted from the Chiklalbagh park.
The commissioning of the Dharmambudhi tank goes back to the founding of Bangalore by Kempe Gowda in 1537. For several decades after Bangalore was founded, the tank was the principal source from which the inhabitants of old petes derived their supply of drinking water.
According to historical records, water from the lake was led to the streets through channels and taken out by the people from square troughs of basins called karanjis whioch were located at junction points.  
Why the lake came to be called Dharmambudi is still a mystery. Was it called after the Dharmarayana temple which was just across the lake or was it named after Kempe Gowda. Since the ruler had donated the lake to his people, it was perhaps called Dharma and Budi means big people. Budi comes from the Kannada word Ambudi which means a place where water collects.
The Dharmambudi tank or lake continued to exists for centuries and it was a prominent place of Bangalore. In 1877 when famine struck Mysore Kingdom, the then Government initiated desilting of the lake as part of the employment programme.
Apart from desilting the lake, the many channels were repaired and water sources cleared of debris and encroachment. Within a few years, the lake regained its lost glory and it began supplying water to the petes.
By then, the Municipality of Bangalore had decided to convert a open ground adjacent to the lake as a park. The municipality named it as Chikalalbagh. When people and visitors once again began flocking to the lake, the municipality in 1878 decided to entertain the people by organizing nadaswaram music every Sunday evening between six to eight p.m., and English band music every Wednesday.
Every evening, residents of Balepet, which was the nearest to the tank, gathered on the footsteps leading to the tank, especially on the northern side, where there was not much water.
The residents sat and chatted away, eating hot pakodas, samosas, bondas and chakulis. Soon, the steps became the “Somari” Katte of Bangalore .
On the south-eastern side of the lake were several mathas, including the Poornaiah choultry, built by the legendary Dewan of both Tipu Sultan and the Mysore kings who succeeded him. The Poornaiah Choultry today is a school and of the other buildings there is little trace.
By the early 1930s, there was only a little water towards Chikalalbagh.  
Though the lake waster was being used for drinking purpose, increasing migration of people and  commercialization of Majestic area led to the tank or lake losing its hygiene. The lack of civic sense among the people also led to the water body becoming unfit for human consumption.
During the dry season, the channels by which water came into the tank, came to be used by people as open air toilets. As a result when rain came, filth deposited in the tank and soon the water became putrid and it emitted pungent smell.
Lack of maintenance in the subsequent years led to shrinking of water in the Dharmambudhi tank and during 1892-93 when monsoons failed Bangalore witnessed for the first time water shortage.
The Government then decided to go in for piped water supply and it took up a project for pumping water from the springs in the Jakkarayana tank valley the Dharmambudi tank. Besides,  23,20,000 gallons of water was pumped into the Dharmambudi tank from the Hebbal tank.
In 1896, Bangalore was supplied with piped water from the Hesaraghatta reservoir. The then municipality found it easy to pump water from pipes and it decided to slowly do away with the system of supplying water from lakes and tanks. By then, the  Dharmambudi tank became completely dry.
In 1905, the Mysore Government asked the Bangalore Municipality to convert the Dharmambudi tank into a children’s park. But the municipality felt that the tank should be maintained in the present condition and when funds are available, water from Sankey tank could be diverted to the Dharmambudi tank to fulfill the needs of the water of the people of pete or old locality. Unfortunately, this remained a pipe dream.
In 1925, the municipality decided to sink wells in the dry bed of Dharmambudi to supply water to Balepet and Manavarthpet areas.
By 1931, the municipality began letting out the dry bed for holding public meetings. In 1931 Jawaharlal Nehru addressed a meeting here and hoisted the tricolour flag.
The dry tank bed then came to be called Gandhi Sagar. This perhaps led to the beginning of Gandhinagar.  
In July 1931, the Bangalore City Congress Committee requested the municipality to lease the north western corner of Dharmambudi tank for five years at an annual rent of Rs six for holding public meetings and other related activities. However, the Government turned down the request.
Master Hiraniah commenced staging of his skits and plays here and they enjoyed wide patronage.
Later, the ground or dry bed of the lake came to be named as Subash Nagar and this was to honour  Subash Chandra Bose.
In 1963, the Government handed over 1,36,294 square yards of land of the Dharmambudi tank bed to KSRTC to construct a bus stand.
The busstand stood for nearly 50 years and it was demolished only recently for the Namma Metro project. The busstand will come back once the metro work is completed. But what about the lake. Except for a road named after it, the lake has vanished.

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