Shivajinagar, unity in diversity

“It’s the only place in the city where you are served excellent chai at 2 AM”, swears Pradeep Andrews, Director of a bar entertainment consultancy firm, ‘Shaken N Stirred’. He is a long time resident of Infantry Road and knows Shivajinagar like the back of his palm. He further states that it is the safest place for a lady at any time of the day or night. There are die-hard fans of this area and there are others who know just the bus stand.

Located between MG Road area and the Cantonment, Shivajinagar is a major commercial area and an important transport hub. Its population is mostly Muslim, some Tamils and a few Christians. It is not an upmarket area, but you can see a crowd at any time of the day or night.

St Mary’s Church

Russell market

Russell market. Pic: Poornima Dasharathi.

For all Bangaloreans who have never been here, I would advise you to start at St Mary’s Church. It is situated diagonally opposite to the bus stand, facing the Russell Market. The church is one of the few in India that has a status of Basilica (a Basilica is a church that is more than 100 years old).

You cannot miss this church; it stands tall among the busy commercial complexes. But don’t expect one of the grave silent churches you see in the movies. This has a temple-like buzz to it, one of the probable reasons for its popularity with people of all religions.

There are flower and candle sellers at the door of the church who sell their wares to the many devotees who throng the place. As you enter the passage to the main hall, many people can be seen praying with a lit candle, in front of a small figurine of St Mary with Infant Jesus.

Inside the main hall, the church choir can be found singing hymns even as people walk in and out of the hall freely. During its annual feast that ends on September 8th, a chariot procession of St Mary’s statue is held in the area. Thousands of devotees visit the church during this week attired in saffron robes.

Russell Market

Mutton Stall at Russell Market

Mutton Stall at Russell Market. Pic: Gopal.

The Russell Market, built in Indo-Sarcenic style in 1927, supplied food and meat to the thriving Anglo-Indian community of the Cantonment then. The market and the church face each other. The market area is crowded and chaotic. The building is a pleasant change among the faceless modern construction around it. Mercilessly covered by bill-boards that proclaim ‘Happy Dussehra’ (when I visited) with the smiling faces of local politicians, it still is worth a visit.

Step inside and the atmosphere is much like the Jayanagar IV Block vegetable market. Scores of shops selling colourful produce and fragrant flowers adorn the centre. Further left takes us to the meat market, which the faint-hearted and hard-core vegetarians may please avoid. You get the best mutton here, says Abbu, Pradeep’s friend. His father, Abdul Khader, owns of the oldest mutton stalls in the market.

Diagonally opposite to Russell Market is the Beef Market. One can spot shops selling camel meat too here. The meat here comes from the slaughterhouses in Tannery road. Apparently beef and mutton are the traditional meat sold here and the other meats like chicken were later entrants. Though they sell excellent meat, the markets are not doing well in recent times due to lack of public parking space, he added.

Next to the market, at Richard’s Square are shops that sell most economically priced cutlery and kitchen utensils in the city. Many hotels make bulk purchases for their kitchen here.

Gujli street and Broadway road

A shop on Gujli Street

A shop on Gujli Street (Pic: Gopal)

Across Russell market is Chandni Chowk. If you stand at the chowk with your back to the Russell Market you will see the Broadway Road and Gujli Street in front of you. Shivajinagar is famous for its Gujli Street; you never know what you might find here. You will get the much-hunted-and-did-not-get spare part for your antique car here. The place has every imaginable auto part for two and four wheelers and is a place to visit atleast for its antiquity.

Shivajinagar is known for its non-vegetarian delights. Paya and semia are served at the chowk in the early mornings and its clientele swear the dish is very healthy and served clean. The adjoining Broadway road comes alive in the evenings. It is also known as non-vegetarian’s khao galli, with gaadis and shops serving many dishes like mutton biryani, kababs and theetar. Hilal and Hamza are two famous restaurants here.

Further up the street towards the Bamboo Bazaar is Dewar’s Bar. Though old, it is the favourite haunt of many corporates, CEOs and journalists. The patrons have been coming here for so long that the customer does not need to place his order; his favourite drink and dish comes to his seat.

OPH road, Kamaraj Road and Seppings Road

On the other side of Chandni Chowk, is the Old Poor House Road or OPH road (it once had a poor house on this street) lined by jewellery stores. The same road is more famously called Jumma Masjid road since the famous Masjid stands on the far end near Commercial street. This part of OPH road enticing its customers with the gleaming gold, resembles Hyderabad’s Charminar area. But the gold sold here is 14-15 karat gold and bought mainly by locals who can afford only this variety. There are a few old magnificent buildings here built in the traditional Muslim architecture with elaborate wooden carvings.

OPH road

OPH road. Pic: Poornima Dasharathi.

Between the OPH road and the Mosque Road there is a maze of small lanes (galli) and the shops here sell a variety of stuff for the locals, everything from clothes, jewellery to footwear. Shivajinagar experts say that though no one cheats you outright, it helps if you know how to bargain. There’s also another jewellery street (Kamaraj street), near the Dharamaraj Kovil. This area specialises in pure gold and jewellery is set in traditional Tamil style. This part of the area resembles any busy commercial centre in Tamilnadu. The street comes alive in the evenings and is the vegetarian cousin of Broadway road. You get very good idlis and dosas here.

As you come up this street you will hit the more famous Commercial Street. Another prominent road in Shivajinagar is the Seppings Road that leads you to St John’s Church road. The Seppings Road is home to some of the oldest bakeries (like BP Bakery), drug stores and tailor shops. The famous Muthyalamman temple is on this road.

An board with Shivajinagar's old name

An board with Shivajinagar’s old name (Pic: Gopal)

Between Hospital road and Meenakshi Koil Street, lies the huge area of Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital. There’s a small Muneeshwara shrine at its entrance which is practically locked by not one but numerous locks. There is an extended door and a small pillar also full of locks! Local custom has it that it acts as
a good luck charm for the patients of the hospital and helps them recuperate faster.

With its numerous temples, mosques, churches and the many busy thriving shops, Shivajinagar is always populated. Abbu explained, “In the mornings, it’s the market crowd who come to shop for fresh food; from 11AM until evening, it’s the gujli crowd and late evening and night, it is the food crowd – Shivajinagar never sleeps”.

Very true, and more enchanting is Shivajinagar’s multi-cultural population – Muslims, Hindus, Christians – living and running their own businesses in the same area and lending an ethnic charm to it.

About Poornima Dasharathi 46 Articles
Poornima is our correspondent for Heritage & Features. She also runs a heritage and culture themed travel outfit called Unhurried.

4 Comments

  1. The point to note is that pally in the native language of Bangalore (a mix of kannada-telugu) is also the same as in pally Tamil. In those days, though kannada-telugu was the main language spoken in Bangalore, some seventy kms south was kongunadu where people spoke a mix of kannada-telugu-tamil. But the tamils of shivajinagar were primiraly recurited and transferred from Madras by the british and never integrated with the local population. So wonder if the pally is that of native telugu or migrant Tamil origin.

  2. Thanks Deepa.The bylanes are colourful and provide a great walking experience.
    Meera, Shivajinagar was known as ‘Blackpally’ in the olden days. This was the worst hit area during the Black Plague.
    The board in the photo states ‘Govt Model Tamil Primary Girls School, Blackpally, Bangalore’.

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