Sunday 11 August 2013

The living park of Bangalore

This is not only one of the best lung spaces of Urban India but it is also the place where all the wings of the Constitution-Legislature, Executive and Judiciary functioned for several decades from a single building on its premises.
It is also the place which today is the centre of the State administration, the police force, judiciary. It is surrounded by buildings which house the many departments and offices of the State.
The Vidhana Soudha, the seat of power of Karnataka: the High Court which is the apex court of the State and the Raj Bhavan which houses the first citizen of the State and is the official residence of the Governor of Karnataka surrounds this patch of green.
The Vidhana Soudha, Karnataka High Court, Raj Bhavan and many other buildings were once part of this famed park. Today, the park remains, a grim reminder of the battle against growing urbanization and the increasing greed for space and land. Though the park has shrunk to a large extent, it has managed to retain its basic character as a well-known repository of trees and a buffer zone that once divided the old city or Pete from the Civil and Military Station or Cantonment.
This is the second oldest park in Bangalore and its is better known as Cubbon Park. When this park was conceived in the middle of the 19th Century and subsequently extended, it covered more than 300 acres. The only building that the park had on its premises was the Raj Bhavan today which then was known as the Residency.
A little down the Residency and on what is today Infantry Road was the office of the Commissioner of Police which was a hotel and it also housed stables.
Behind the Cubbon Park was the vast and sprawling Sampangi Lake which was separated from Cubbon Park by the breathtaking Sydney Road.
Cubbon Park, till a few decades ago, occupied 325 acres but the powers that be have over the years permitted buildings and commercial complexes and of course offices to come up all around the park and today, the park areas is just 190 acres.
Named after Mark Cubbon who is one of the longest serving Chief Commissioners of Mysore, the park has already been renamed as Chamarajendra (It was renamed in 1927). However, very few are aware of the renaming and people still continue to call it Cubbon Park.
Interestingly, Cubbon who was the chief commissioner of Mysore from 1834 to 1861, never set his eyes on the park. Nor did he commission it. He was in Egypt when the idea of such a park took shape and he died there en route to England.  
The park owes its origin to Colonel Meade who was the Commissioner of Mysore from 1870 to 1875. Actual work on the park commenced in 1864 when the British wanted an ornamental garden around the Attara Kutcheri (the present High Court which housed the administrative offices from 1868. Before being shifted to the Kutcheri which was built in 1864, the offices were in the palace of Tipu near the Bangalore fort). The then Chief Engineer of Mysore, Richard Sankey, commenced work on the park in 1864. It was formally inaugurated in 1870.
The park was initially Meade’s Garden before it took on the name of  Cubbon. The first patch of green was on a 100-acre plot around Attara Kacheri. Over the years, the Government acquired orchards and paddy fields from Thigalas or Vanniyars who had settled centuries ago to expand the park.
The park had toll booths and the police and military patrolled the park on horses to limit the interaction between the residents of the Pete or Pettah and Cantonment.
The first fountain in the park came up in 1935-36 and the cost was  Rs 5,000. It was a present by the then Queen of Nepal.
The park, till a few years ago, was the place where several protests, dharnas, demonstrations, satyagraha and other forms of agitation was held. The Gopala Gowda Circle was the place where the maximum number of protests took place till they were banned.
The protests are no longer held here and protesters can only come up to KR Circle Basaveshwara Circle and Minsk Square.
The park also was home to a club which was patronised by the   Maharaja of Mysore, Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar. This is the Century Club. The other clubs in the vicinity are the Secretariat Club, KSLTA Club  and the Press Club. Towards one end of the park is the KSCA Club and the Cricket stadium (Chinnaswamy Stadium).
Even today, the park continues to be the centre of attraction, It houses the High Court which is the supreme judicial body of the State. It is also the headquarters of the Karnataka State Bar Council (KSBC) which is the apex body of advocates of Karnataka. The High Court also houses the office or High Court unit of the Advocates Association of Bangalore (AAB) which is one of the largest such organisations in India with several thousand members.
The High Court also houses the office of the Advocate-General who is the legal advisor of the Chief Minister and the head of Government pleaders, advocates of Karnataka. It also has the office of the State Public Prosecutor who is head of the criminal division of  the Government advocate machinery.  
The General Post Office (GPO) is also situated on the periphery of the park as is the Central Telegraph Office. The Press Club of Bangalore too is located in the park.
The headquarters of the State Police the YMCA, Yavanika which is the headquarters of the Department of Youth and Sports Service and also has an auditorium, the Metropolitan courts, RBI, PWD all share their compounds with the park. Several museums such as the Government Museum (built in 1876 and is credited with being one of the oldest), Visvesvaraiah Technical and Industrial Museum, Venkatappa Art Gallery, Aquarium are also located on the premises. The Jawahar Bal Bhavan, the premier body of children and the Karnataka Lawn Tennis Association courts which have hosted many international tennis matches are also on the premises.
The headquarters of the State Central Library too is on the premises and it is in the eye catching Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall. This iconic building was constructed in 1915. The Visvesvaraiah Towers, Coffee Board, BESCOM, MS Building, Vikasa Soudha, UVCE and a host of other offices and establishments are situated in the periphery of the park.    
Cubbon Park is perhaps the only one of its kind which is a real living park. It gives people the pleasure of its greenery apart from making available several roads for vehicular traffic-from Tiffanys Circle or Siddalingaiah Circle at the junction of Kasturba Road and Mallya Road, the road from Mahatma Gandhi statue into Cubbon Park, the traffic island from Minsk Square at the junction of GPO and CTO, the road from Hudson Circle and also the road leading from KR Circle into the park.
This park also houses the highest decision making, policy making and legal interpretation in the State apart from being a centre of science education (VITM), child entertainment (Bal Bhavan and children’s park ), journalism (Press Club where a host of press conferences and meet the press programmes are held), advocates’ association and postal and telegraph-telephony services.
There are several small temples and deities on the premises. The Band Stand once played music but today it is a sad reflection of what it was once.   
What sets this park aside from others of its ilk is that it has been a witness to many epoch making events and incidents. Who can forget the many swearing in ceremonies that were organised on the steps of the Vidhana Soudha and the crowds spilled onto the lawns of the High Court.
The park has also seen some of the most eminent personalities of the world traversing its green and appreciating its greenery. The who is who of Bangalore, including Chief Justices, judges, Chief Ministers, Ministers, bureaucrats, technocrats, scientists, academicians and others have taken their morning walk on the lawns of the park.
Several NGOs such as ESG, Hasiru Usuru and others and personalities like Justice M.F. Saldhana, Bimal Desai, Suresh Heblikar and scores of others have fought to protect, preserve and nurture Cubbon Park.
The park today is under increasing threat from growing urbanisation. As recently as two years ago, a parcel of land at Gopala Gowda Circle and near the Minsk Square had to be sacrificed for the Namma Metro. The beautiful lawns of Cubbon Park in front of the High Court were dug up to accommodate the construction of the underground section on Ambedkar Veedhi. The onslaught has to be stopped and the boundaries of the park have to be preserved for posterity.
The park even today is a rich treasure trove of exotic species of  trees, plants and shrubs. Some of the oldest trees in parks and gardens can be found here. The park also has a number of  avenue laden paths decorated with flowering plants and shrubs.
The park, according to the Department of Horticulture, has 68 exotic species of plants including Swietenina mahogany, Araucaria, Grevillea robusta, Bamboo, Grevillea robusta, Castanospermum australe, Milletia, Peltophorum Schinus molle, and Tabebuia sp. Besides, the park has 6,500 varieties of native species including Ficus, Artocarpus, Cassia fistula and Polyalthias.
The silver Oaks were first introduced from Australia and today they are a major attraction as are the gulmohar and delonix trees.           

Thankfully, the original alignment of the Namma Metro was to take an underground line under the Cubbon Park. This alignment was given up and the metro line was routed through Minsk Square and GPO Circle (Thimmaiah Circle) to Ambedkar Veedhi. Imagine the destruction the original line would have caused to the fragile flora and fauna of the park.  

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