Sunday 5 January 2014

When Buchanan saw Bangalore

One of the most fascinating and early accounts of Bangalore after the death of Tipu Sultan in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore war on May 4, 1799, is by Francis Buchanan.
Francis Buchanan, later known as Francis Hamilton but often referred to as Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1829) was a Scottish physician. He is best remembered in India for his contribution as a geographer, zoologist and botanist.
He is credited with organizing a zoo in Calcutta and this later went on to become the Alipore Zoological Gardens.
He was asked to survey Mysore and other parts of south India after 1799 and this resulted in his writing “A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar  which was published in 1807. He also wrote An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal (1819).
Buchanan was in Bangalore between June 22 and July 2, 1800 and therefore, his account can be taken to be fairly accurate. However, he makes several mistakes and the first of this starts in the very second line of his description of Bangalore which he says the city was founded by Hyder Ali (It was founded by Kempe Gowda).
He acknowledges Bangalore’s position in the political history of those times by saying that during the time of Hyder it had become a place of importance.  “Its trade was great and its manufacturing numerous. Tipoo began its misfortunes by prohibiting the trade with the dominions of Arcot and Hyderabad, because he detested the powers governing both these countries”.
He then goes on to give an unflattering description of Tipoo saying that “he had fleeced the inhabitants of Bangalore and even taken the ornaments of women. He had then shut the people within a hedge” and he then goes on to talk of the relief of the people of Bangalore when Cornwallis conquered the city in 1791.
He then tries to paint a rosy picture of life in Bangalore after the British victory in 1799. He says people of Bangalore have begun coming back and the town which “previously looked deserted, is once again showing signs of people flocking back”. He calls manufacturers and traders of Bangalore distrustful. He, however, praises the merchants, many of whom, he says, “have been to Madras and are acquainted with the British policy and they seem to have utmost confidence in the protection of our Government”.
He says in Bangalore, almost every coin of India is current but all accounts are kept in Canter'raia pagodas (Kanteerava coins first introduced by Ranadheera Kanteerava of the Wodeyar dynasty), fanams and Dubs.
He says Bangaloreans carried on trade with Mangalore sending cotton clothes, both white and coloured, and the returns are raw silk, and silk clothes. Trade to Calicut was considerable “but it is at a stand owing to the unsettled climate”.
Srirangapatna exports black pepper and sandalwood to Bangalore along with cardemoms. He found betel nut to be the principal article of trade in Bangalore. Here, the best betel nut is called Dashavara and it comes from Nagara province while the inferior Wallagram comes from Gubi and surrounding areas. There is also substantial trade in black pepper. Then comes sandal wood, black blankets or kamblies which are brought to Bangalore from Gauribidanur.
He also noted that there are a kind of “drug” merchants called Gandhaki who procure medicinal plants and sell them to the people. Bangalore also traded in salt and this was mainly by members of two communities-the Woddaru and Coramaru.
Buchanan could not estimate correctly the economy of Bangalore as, according to him, not even an year had passed after the inhabitants of Bangalore had deserted the City and come back. All good were transported on the back of cattle. He found people speaking in Kannada.
He says he spoke to the Custom House officer and comes up with the estimate that Bangalore had imported 1500 bullock loads of  cotton wool, 50 bullock loads of cotton thread and 350 bullock loads of silk. He found that the Hindus seldom used tailors but wrapped the cloth around their body.
He then describes Bangalore as a weaving centre and he gives a fairly comprehensive and accurate process of weaving. We then come to know that Bangalore had been a major weaving and trading centre and its location helped cement its place in the economy of the Deccan.

Buchanan also describes the many classes and communities who make up the populace of Bangalore and their activities.          

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