Amid the raging controversy pitting Kempegowda and Tipu Sultan against each other in Karnataka, it is important to know what they did for Bengaluru. On November 10, the day of Tipu Sultan’s birth, blood was spilled as pro-and anti-Tipu groups clashed in the hilly district of Kodagu in the state and two people, including a senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad functionary, were killed. Last week. the suggestion to change Bengaluru airport’s name from Bengaluru’s founder Kempegowda to the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ made by writer Girish Karnad only added fuel to the fire
The Kempegowdas ruled Yelahanka, a small province, and were the most prominent among the feudal chiefs of the great Vijayanagar empire, which sprawled from the river Krishna in the north to Kanyakumari in the south.
They belonged to a community known as Morasu Vokkaligas. Their initial capital was Yelahanka, now a suburb of Bengaluru. They moved to Magadi, not very far from the city, and then to Savandurga.
It is this family that laid the foundations for modern Bengaluru. The modern airport at Devanahalli gets its name from Hiriya (Senior) Kempegowda, also known as Kempegowda I, who dreamed of a city with a strong fortress and well laid-out avenues. With permission from the Vijayanagara rulers, he founded Bengaluru in 1537. He raised a mud fort in the vicinity of the present City Market, where he witnessed a hare chasing and attacking a dog. He considered this spot auspicious, a ‘gandu bhoomi’ (heroic land).
On completion of the fort, he shifted his capital from Yelahanka to Bengaluru. The fort he erected had eight gates. He earmarked the areas streetwise for different traders and artisans, naming them Doddapete, Chickapete, Balepete, Akkipete, Aralipete, and Upparpete. To this day, these busy narrow lanes and the localities around them are identified by their trades.
Kempegowda was a master planner and filled his principality with monuments. He built the Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple at Gavipuram, the monolithic Nandi or Basava at Basavangudi and the Someshwara temple at Halasuru. A majority of his temples were in the Dravidian style.
Kempegowda is also credited with the construction of many tanks in and around the city. Kempegowda was a scholar in various languages. He composed the Telugu Yakshagana Ganga-Gauri Sallapam.
His son, Kempegowda II, erected the four legendary watch towers at the four cardinal points of Bengaluru. There existed several towers in and around the city, mostly on hillocks, not merely to mark the city boundaries but also to enable buglers to keep vigil and alert the army in case of an attack from neighbouring chieftains.
In 1597, Kempegowda II founded the Kempapura Agrahara and built the Karanji tank in Basavangudi, now extinct. He invited traders and artisans and encouraged them to settle in the city.
However, the Kempegowdas were forced to shift to Savandurga as Bengaluru was captured by the Bijapur army led by Ranadulla Khan, and Magadi became their headquarters.
Tipu Sultan should get equal credit for contributing to the growth and development of Bengaluru. Born on November 10, 1750, at Devanahalli, he was well-trained in the military arts at a young age. When he was barely 13, he accompanied his father Hyder Ali on his 1763 mission to Malabar.
Tipu was innovative in several respects. He enhanced trade in Bangaluru. To promote the profitable silk trade, he set up sericulture hubs. He took immense interest in improving Lalbagh by introducing a variety of saplings from different parts of the world.
Tipu built a grand palace (a part of it still exists near Victoria Hospital). It was completed in 1791. He built an armoury near Kalasipalya. He also manufactured and launched rockets in the area, known as Taramandalpet. He strengthened a fort, parts of which remain to this day. Tipu built the Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Shah dargah in honour of a Sufi holy man. It stands to this day in Cottonpet. That very year the British captured Bengaluru under Lord Cornwallis who admired the grandeur and exclaimed, “The most splendid fabrics! Grand and spacious!”
The third Anglo-Mysore war (1790-92) turned out to be the most disastrous. The British, after establishing their rule in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, started extending their sphere towards Mysuru. With the assistance of the Marathas and the Nizam, they attacked Bengaluru, forcing open a passage at Halasuru Gate. The defenders were equally vigorous, but the assailants continued the attack on Tipu’s armies. Initially, Tipu was successful, but he could not maintain success consistently. The British insisted on entering into an agreement with him, and after accomplishing the treaty of Srirangapatana in 1792, returned Bengaluru to Tipu. The city had changed hands another time.
Tipu wanted to oust the British from the country. He refused to join the Subsidiary Alliance mooted by Lord Wellesley. This caused much annoyance to the British and the fourth Anglo-Mysore war broke out. Tipu lost, and was killed in 1799. Both the Kempegowdas and Tipu Sultan have left an indelible mark on the history of Bengaluru. They used their sovereignty to render noble works. May the heroes rest in peace. Let us not put them down for narrow political gain.
The writer is a historian based in Bengaluru