Bastion of Kannada and culture

“Bangalore’s culture resides in the two great extensions of Malleshwaram and Basavanagudi” was the encomium heaped on Basavanagudi by no less a person than Dr. Vikram Sarabhai himself, the father of India’s space programme, with whom I had the fortune of sharing a car ride in the mid 1960s, when I was a graduate student.

Basavana-gudi means Bull Temple. Actually, the whole extension takes on the name of the temple which used to be very simple then. There was a water tank behind the temple where we used to go for immersion of Ganesha idol once a year. Today, the temple has an ornate and gaudy gopura. The idol of the bull is also decorated with sundry ornaments. The tank must have dried up a long time ago. Now, there’s an IT office at that place.

Bull Temple

Bull Temple at Basavanagudi (pic: MS Gopal)

Another temple which is in the same area and equally well known is the DODDA (big) GANESHA temple. During our school days, it was a rather forsaken place, frequented mostly by students at the time of exams. The temple did not even have a proper ceiling, and the priests did not have proper clothing. We used to think of God Ganesha as ‘poor’. But, again this has all changed. It is a big tourist attraction now. Many tourist buses come to the area and people visit both temples. The priests also look prosperous now.

Bugle Rock was a favourite haunt for us in our school days. As kids, we used to play cricket all over the place. There were many many rocks but we somehow used to manage to find a stretch of 10-20 yards for a pitch and fairly flat surroundings. After the game, we would all sit around the rocks and discuss everything under the sun. Those were our growing days and there was much that was of curiosity to us. As kids, we were quite adventurous and our search for cricket pitches would take us all round Basavangudi and beyond. Today’s Bugle Rock is a very changed place. There are well marked roads. There is a music fountain. But there are no children playing cricket anymore.

Bugle Rock was also a favourite meeting place for some of the important figures of the locality. DV Gundappa was the most famous of them all. DVG (as he was called), was a great Kannada writer and a journalist, his books being chronicles of those times. At times, he was accompanied by another great writer, Masti Venkatesha Ayyangar, journalist PR Ramaiya (of Tainadu newspaper fame, one of the founders of Kannada journalism and the first MLA from the area after independence), artist AN Subbarao (founder of Kalamandira which used to be in Gandhi Bazar), lawyers MP Somashekhara Rao and Nittoor Srinivasa Rao (who later became the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court) and others. I remember them sitting on the rocks and arguing heatedly, making points with their walking sticks. At times, some of us would try to sneak around and listen to them, but, it was all grown up talk and did not make sense to us.

One should note, that by night, these places would be very dark and desolate. There was no illumination. People at home would worry if we returned home late in the evenings, because Bugle Rock was notorious for its snakes. BMS College had just then opened, I think. Bull Temple road itself was deserted in the evenings and at nights. On the other side of the Bull Temple road, there was Gavipuram extension (where Masti and YN Krishnamurthy lived) and then, the great beyond!

 

As we go slightly north from the Bugle Rock, we hit Gandhi Bazar, the hub of commercial activity in the Basavangudi area. Gandhi Bazar was a very sought after shopping area in the southern part of the city before Jayanagar. It was famous for its restaurants like Vidyarthi Bhavan, Circle Lunch home, Gita restaurant, Bhattara hotalu, et cetera. Some of these restaurants played hosts to great Kannada litterateurs like Gopalakrishna Adiga, Lankesh, Sumatindra Nadig, Ramachandra Sharma, et cetera. Lankesh and journalist, YNK (YN Krishnamurthy), could always be recognised by the circle of young students around them. Since cigarettes were also perceived as one of the first necessities for an intellectual life, some of these restaurants would also witness the initiation of many a youth into this sacred rite. However, those were the days when smoking was more a moral issue rather than one of health and the polluted youth would probably rinse his mouth by drinking large amount of badam milk in the nearby Harsha Stores before going home!

Basavanagudi was well known for its educational institutions like the National College (with the famous H. Narasimhaiya as its leading light), Vijaya College, BMS College, APS college, et cetra. It also had schools like the National High School, Bangalore High School, APS, Girijamma Mukunda, Vani Vilas, Rashtreeya Vidyalaya, et cetra. Apart from preparing future leaders for the community, some of these institutions played a great part in the beginning of a theatre movement in the state. Theatre people like Narayan (more well known as NANI), Padmanabh, GK Govinda Rao, CR Simha, et al had their initiation on the drama stages of these institutions. Basavangudi also encouraged cricket and great names like Prasanna and Chandrashekhar had their beginnings in this locality.

1955 SSLC class

Picture of 1955 SSLC class with their teachers in front of the National High School . The second row from bottom shows many of the teachers who taught generations of students

Harsha Stores, in Gandhi Bazar, was the first of its kind in the whole city. It used to provide eatables like chakli, buns, et cetra and also drinks like badam milk and various juices. It was a cross between a restaurant and a store and, as students, we used to spend lot of time in front of that shop. One heard, later, that similar shops had sprung up in other extensions. Gandhi Bazar continues to be a trend setter in the restaurant field. The first ever Darshini – Upahara Darshini – came up on the DVG road. Vidyarthi Bhavan has become a major landmark of the locality. The area also has many eating places catering to various taste buds.

At this stage, one has to remark on the extraordinary eating habits of the people in Basavanagudi (probably all of Bangalore?) area. In Mumbai and other places, one would see people going to restaurants with the sole purpose of filling their stomach. But not so in Bangalore! I remember, one of my uncles used to go every day to Vidyarthi Bhavan or MTR (not too far off from Basavanagudi) AFTER having breakfast at home. While this could also reflect on the food he was getting at home, this was the case with everybody’s uncle! The locality, thus, certainly marks itself as an epicurean haven and a place where people eat for the sheer pleasure of eating. It is another matter that Bangalore is supposed to have an unusually high rate of heart attacks. As the tongue relishes the oil in the dosa, the heart gives out a silent prayer!

 

One should also remember the other good men and women of the locality. If not for doctors of the area who treated diseases of our childhood ( Drs. BV Ramaswamy, AS Ramaswamy Dhruvnarain, Susai Royan, Acharya et cetra ), one wonders whether one would have been alive to write an account of those days! Social workers like MR Lakshamma, PR Jayalakshamma, TR Shamanna, VS Krishna Iyer, Annayya, Dayananda Sagar et cetra contributed to the betterment of the people in the area.

As somebody who lived here in the early days, and returned after more than four decades (after living in various parts of India and the US), it has to be said that it has kept the Kannada culture safe and alive- a matter of great pride. This is probably the only place in the city where one could speak only in Kannada and get away with it. It is also a highly literate constituency, which celebrates our cultural heritage lavishly but unfortunately quite indifferent to the infrastructural inadequacies in the area.

It was actually the annual groundnut festival (Kadlekai parishe) in Basavanagudi which sent me into these reveries. When we went there in the evening a week ago, we were put off by the huge rush of people. In the earlier days, there were only groundnut sellers during the festival. But now, there are various other shops, not to mention a small merry go round. The fair has also been hijacked by politicians of all hues. Maybe, I was hallucinating when I saw an elephant and a bull talking to each other on one of those high rocks in the Bugle Rock park in the dusk. The two major deities presiding over this locality must have felt suffocated in their respective sanctum sanctorums (garbhagriha), having had enough of the people and ‘progress’ around them and come out for fresh air!

The author welcomes pointers to incorrect information if any or any other lapses.

13 Comments

  1. Dr Ajith B Rayan has written : Well written article on my Basavangudi. Thanks for remembering Dr Susai Royan.. Dr Rayan, thanks for the comments. Many people of those days remember r Susai Rayana Dn Anbu Pillai.

  2. i studied in GURUKULAM,which was located near Abalasram,in DVG Road. It was later renamed as New Model Middle School.The discipline was very high

  3. Great article. All of it is only memories now. I still continue to live in Basavangudi, but it is not the same anymore. All you get to see now are rows and rows of cars parked in front of residences, constant honking, irrated commuters, huge commercial complexes instead of those small stores….it has now become a sorry shadow of its former self and nobody is intersted in preserving Basavgudi’s rich culture.

  4. Sri Masti used to go to Service club opposite the post office (I think it was called Iyer hall). Sri B.M.Srinivsayya (of BMS COLLEGE fame) ran the Prajamata press which also published Janavani, an evening paper as Mr Ramamurthy has correctly said. As for Subbamma Stores, I do not know how old it is. Mr Ramamurthy, Thank you for bringing these to our attention. Talking of Masti, I remember once Masti and Bendre (both Jnanpeeth winners) strolling in our area. Like very close friends, they had arms around each other’s shoulders and were making jokes and laughing.

  5. Does the article mention the club where Masti would play cards and Prajamatha press who published the first Kannada eveninger and the most popular weekly of those days, Prajamatha in Telugu as well as Kannada? And of course a landmark in woman enterprise, Subbammana angdi which endures to this day ? Controversial but true, some of the shops there are still under the control of tenants who pay a pittance by way of rent .It is certainly a slice of Bangalore, with a few remnants of the old surviving the challenges of time.

  6. I work in this area. It’s beautiful. Some places and some people here will make you feel like you have travelled back in time to a simpler, better life. Simply love it. Thanks for writing about Basavanagudi.

  7. A sequel by you would be very interesting, Siri Srinivas. something like “Basavangudi these days”? Thanks a lot for your comment

  8. This is so lovely! I shall join the long list of people who will readily identify with the places mentioned.

    It was only on meeting people from the other Bangalore(as I will call it irreverently) that I began recognising(and carefully listing) the paradigms of South-Bangalore-ness:

    One had to have grown up on family outings to Vidyarthi Bhavan(A place visited by nostalgic patrons sometimes staggering in straight from the airport), one had to go through a lost-and-found-ritual during frantic pre-festival shopping on DVG road. One had to have a relative who was an ardent admirer/student of HN. One had to solemnly present one’s 10th Board Exam admit card at the venerable Dodda Ganesha temple while hoping fervently to be admitted into the opposite BMSCE two years hence. One could also drop in at the Bangalore Science Forum and seriously consider pursuing a science degree. Or being led into The Indian Institute of World Culture’s lectures by a persistent grandparent!

    Like some sort of checklist to prove our South-Bangalore-ness. 🙂

  9. I am glad you could relate to the article, Poornima Dasharathi. Change is the way of life and it is necessary. But the way it is taking place is what worries people.

  10. Thanks for the story. I could understand much of what you have described because of the nostalgic stories from my father.
    Once while weaving through the thick traffic in Gandhibazaar Gavipuram area, he was quite excited about an old tree, on which he used to play as a kid with his friends. It set all of us in a lighter mood in spite of the jam.
    About the deities, I’m sure many other deities in the city temples’ want a breather. Vijaynagar’s Maruti Mandir for example was earlier just a koti bande for many years until..

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