Vidhana Soudha – Karnataka’s pride

Any Bangalore sightseeing tour will be incomplete without a visit to the Vidhana Soudha. Sitting high in Barton Centre on MG Road or a similar vantage point, one can enjoy its illuminated palace-like look in the evenings. The making of this magnificent stone structure has an interesting story to it. However, unlike many parliaments abroad, there are no guided tours or pamphlets to help us know more about its history. Vidhana Soudha, which is also called as ‘people’s palace’, is off-limits for the visitors.

Establishing identity

During the time of KC Reddy, who preceded Kengal Hanumanthiah as the Chief Minister of Mysore State, there was a growing need for a new building for the legislature. Reddy had consulted engineers who had completed blueprints for a one-storied building. The foundation was laid by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, on 13th July 1951. However work could not start due to various reasons.

Statue of K Hanumanthiah at the rear

Statue of K Hanumanthiah at the rear (Pic: Poornima Dasharathi)

His successor, Kengal Hanumanthiah had the immediate responsibility of creating a legislature building. Hanumanthiah was a lawyer by profession, an architect by heart and also the Chief Minister of Mysore. He was a nationalist above all. Piqued by a remark made by a Russian delegation that visited the city, “These are all European buildings. Have you no architecture of your own?”, Hanumanthiah decided to construct a structure that would showcase Indian architecture at its best. He made several suggestions to modify the existing blueprint. Instead of a one-storey building, he suggested three floors, and recommended that the building should be large enough to house both, the Legislature and the Secretariat.

On subsequent plans, he suggested many changes; like the cabinet hall should be at the centre of the building and the third floor would house the ministers and the chief minister. Inspired by south Indian temple architecture and particularly by Tanjore’s Brihadeshwara and Karnataka’s Somnathpur temples, he gave architectural suggestions to the then Public Works engineer in charge of the project, B R Manickam. Since the building was huge, Manickam and his team divided it into three equal parts and the construction of each was completed independent of the other.

The Vidhana Soudha took fours years (1952-1956) to complete. Some 5000 labourers, besides 1500 chisellers, masons and wood-carvers, were employed for the project. The outcome of this venture was the largest legislature-cum-secretariat structure with intricate stone-craftsmanship and wood-carvings that no other state in the country could match.

A work of art

Central gopuram

Central gopuram (Pic: Poornima Dasharathi)

The Vidhana Soudha is a stone structure with three main floors with total floor area spanning over 5,50,505 square feet. The broad and impressive steps at the entrance of the building lead to the first floor entrance of the Legislature Assembly. ‘Government’s work is God’s work’, the motto of the freshly formed government then, is etched at the top of the pillars. The Kalasha above the central dome is capped by King Ashoka’s four-headed golden lion symbol that gleams in the sunlight. Statues of Ambedkar and Nehru stand in the front of the Soudha, while Kengal Hanumanthiah’s statue is surprisingly at the rear end.

Architecture

  • The central façade on the western side is on the lines of Rajasthan Palaces. The façade on the northern side is modeled on the main entrance of Krishna Raja Sagara (KRS) Dam in Mysore
  • The lotus and floral designs were created by highly skilled chisellers from Sorabha and Sagara districts. Working independently, they ensured none of the floral designs were alike. While the ‘gopurams’ or domes were temple-inspired, the ‘jharokas’ or balconies are strikingly Rajasthani.
  • The cabinet meeting hall (sachiva samputa) on the western side in the third floor is decorated with intricately carved sandalwood doors.
  • The floral designs in the inner passages, the intricately carved wooden doors and the colourful pillars all give the structure a royal look.

Vital statistics

  • The building is 720 feet in length and 360 feet in width
  • The inner quadrangle is 260 ft x 250 ft
  • The hall on the eastern side with eight main columns carrying 6000 tons of weight of the main tower is 100 ft x 100 ft in size.

Raw-material

Vidhana Soudha was built using granite sourced from quarries in and around Bangalore. While stones from Arahally and Hesaraghatta quarries were selected for the exterior, green bluish granite from Mallasandra was used for the interior quadrangle. Magadi Porphyry stones were used for decorative stone work.

Reflecting power and dignity

On Gandhi’s visit to England on an invitation from Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, Churchill is said to have commented sarcastically, "It’s alarming and nauseating to see a half naked fakir striding the steps to the Viceregal Palace". This angered many Indians then and among them, Hanumanthiah, who had high regard for Gandhi. When he visited England in 1948, he used the opportunity to visit the place. Though he admired the building, he resolved to build a more impressive flight of stairs. And that resulted in the Grand Staircase entrance to the Vidhana Soudha.

One of the four Gopuras

One of the four Gopuras (Pic: Poornima Dasharathi)

The Vidhana Soudha was built west of Attara Kacheri. Since the land belonged to the Mysore government, it was easier to acquire. The expenditure on the project was met with severe criticism by the opposition led by J M Imam. To settle the issue, an inquiry committee was set up. The inquiry report said, “Hanumanthiah wanted to show the power and dignity of Mysore people. The abode of the Legislature through which the legislative will of the people is expressed, should be superior to the Secretariat housed in Old Public offices (present High Court). The length of the Soudha was not to be less than that of Old Public offices. In his view, nothing was to too costly, no scale was too great, in the construction of Vidhana Soudha.” – (T.P.Issar, City Beautiful)

The total cost of the project was Rs.175 lakhs, quite economical even in those times, opposition notwithstanding. Since the Vidhana Soudha was built by the Public Works Department, an arm of the government, the costs were calculated to be 30 percent lesser than it would have incurred if an outside agency had been contracted.

A new legislature building was the need of the day. But in Hanumanthiah, the project found a way to epitomise Indian and, especially, Dravidian architecture. If the Mysore Palace defined the royal grandeur of the state, Hanumanthiah succeeded in his intention to showcase Vidhana Soudha as the power and prestige of the common man.

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

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