Saturday, December 31, 2005

No history please! We are Mysoreans

My previous post (No history please! We are Indians) set me thinking in the same vein.

I have come across many instances of such callousness in Mysore.

Here is a brief introduction to Mysore for those who are not familiar with it.

Like we Indians boast of a history of 5000+ years, we Mysoreans claim that we are the cultural capital of the state. That was (please note the past tense) because cultured kings ruled Mysore. They encouraged the arts and so the city became home for many great musicians, music composers, dancers and Sanskrit scholars. It is the home for the Mysore University and many other academic and scientific institutions. This obviously led to the city boasting of great scholars, writers and in general intellectuals. Post independence and the ascendance of Bangalore as the state capital Mysore is just a shadow of its former self.

The reasons cited above also gave the city a plethora of buildings, which are unique and beautiful. But all of them are in danger of some sort or the other.

Here is a list of such buildings and the fate they have suffered.

There is a building called the DC’s office, which houses some government offices. It is situated at the apex of a rise and is , approached by an avenue. The building had a unique architectural feature. Unbelievable as it may sound, it had no windows! Now, do not wonder how the people manning the offices inside breathed. It had fullfledged doors, instead windows. So the offices had many entrances. That must be pretty unusual for a building and is worth preserving, you agree?

Not so, for the powers that be. Years ago, the closed the doors with brick and mortar and converted many of the doors into windows in the style of ticket counters in old railway stations. Ruined for ever, the unique architectural feature of a lovely building.

The next one is the Devaraja Market. This market is a century old. It is an extremely colourful place of unofficial international fame. Let me explain that one. I have come across many foreign tourists who were told by their friends not to miss the market when in Mysore. These tourists were as impressed by the market as the friends who told them about it. There are vegetable shops in central courtyard of a rectangular building of nearly a kilometre long, and about hundred metres wide. The building itself has shops that face the outside of the building and other shops that face inside. Apart from the vegetable sellers it has various other shops selling betel leaves (for which Mysore was very famous) flowers and coloured powders that are used for religious purposes and various incenses. The net effect was that it has an aroma that, if bottled, could be an instant hit anywhere! It is exhilaratingly colourful. It could send an impressionist into a frenzy of colour.

The first sacrilege perpetrated on this beautiful building was allowing the Bata shoe shop to come up in its North Eastern corner. This glass and concrete abomination was rammed into the old palatial architecture. The mortar decorations have vanished and at least on that corner of the building, the old building is dead. Sticking out like a sore thumb is not an apt expression. I sore thumb looks definitely better since you can at least still see that it is thumb.

Now that beautiful old building faces a worse threat. Plans are afoot to demolish it. It sounds worse than my worst nightmare. The reason? This year Mysore received unprecedented rains and the roofs of a couple of shops leaked. Out of some 57 or so shops two leaked and the decision has been taken to demolish the building and build a new one in its place.

Good that the people who have come up with this plan are not in the medical profession. The best treatment for a brain tumour is beheading. You know!?

I earnestly hope that better sense will prevail.

Then there is the case of the Mharaja’s college hostel buildings. It is an old tile roofed building. The outer corridors have cast iron railings. It really looked ‘old world’. Then there arose a need to build more hostel rooms. Build they did, modern steel and concrete structure that have not a single curved line anywhere on them in total contrast to the old buildings. It does clash badly. I am sure with a little bit of imagination it was possible to build a modern building that did not clash with the old so badly.

Now to make matters worse, the old building itself has been mutilated. The railings had one disadvantage. If you kept the room doors open, passers by could see into the room. No privacy and I am sure it is necessary to keep the doors open in summer to get some fresh cool air in. The solution? A brick was has been built behind the railing and that does look ugly. I am sure a better solution was available.

There is huge complex of hospitals attached to the Mysore Medical College (The oldest medical college in the state). It has many blocks, all built in the old ‘royal’ architectural style. Then there was a need for a more modern facility with greater bed capacity. So a building did come up. A grey edifice built fully of granite blocks. Again a sore thumb was thrust in among the old imperious buildings.

Many other stately buildings are mutilated by modern annexes. The Maharani’s College, Yuvaraja’s College, Hardwicke High School to name a few.

I am sure that it is still possible to save many other stately buildings if we care.

Do we care?


  1. Excellent post. And very thought-provoking too. Not only Mysore, I think most of the cities neglect their history in the same way.

  2. Yes, we do care. Absolutely. But I, for one, am largely clueless about what I can do to save our precious heritage. As a single individual, I doubt there is much that one can do. Hope you have some suggestions.

  3. Anil,

    Found this post via DesiPundit.

    It's indeed a shame what's happening to some of the buildings in Mysore. (disclaimer: mysore is my hometown...though I don't live there.)

    But not all's totally lost. There are a couple of organizations that are working at preservation of these heritage structures. If you are familiar with the Gangotri campus area, you might have seen the beautifully restored princess's palace (funded partly by Infosys..someone I knew personally worked as the lead architect on that project.)

    I think if people *really* care, the local government does listen.


  4. The answer is, quite sadly, no. India has more architectural treasure, than possibly any other country, and all we show is apathy.

    Your description of Devaraja market brought me fond memories. I used to be a frequent visitor to Mysore to escape the busy life in Bangalore and just spend hours walking in the market - taking in the colors and the aroma - amazing! A quentissential Indian market! And Mysore is such a great town to just walk around among the shaded (still) roads and admire the beautiful buildings. It is a shame that such buildings are being mutiliated. But this is no surprise, this happens on a daily basis. You should see the beautiful bungalows being torn down in Bangalore and replaced with concrete monstrocities.

  5. The scent of death of Bangalore is hitting Mysore. The City of Palaces is showing that it is no immortal.
    Some are trying to collectivize into a pressure lobby to prevent its death (in the alternative at least prolong its life).
    If any of you is from Mysore or live here, please join hands.
    We can create a revolution.

  6. Prabhu1:39 pm

    "Mysore" and "History" set off a different train of thoughts in me. I had a quick slide show of all the fond memories of my (12 years)life in Mysore.

    History! Yes. In the post independent India anybody who fought British was and is considered a patriot. Tippu Sultan fought the British bravely. The Wodeyars of Mysore accepted British supremacy and had a British Resident in their court overseeing them. But the Wodeyars were worshipped as demigods in the old Mysore area and Tippu not. Could someone explain this prejudice against Tippu?