When the Tiger roared in Bangalore

The roar of the Tiger of Mysore, died down more than  268 years ago, with the advent of the British in 1799,  but  despite all the hullabaloo about celebrating November 10th as Tipu Sultan’s Birth Anniversary, most  Bangaloreans harbor feelings of pride in the exploits of this valiant son of the state. It is was thus rather strange that despite this keen interest in Tipu Sultan, so few would visit the Fort and his Summer Palace. After some restoration — which unfortunately wiped out much of the carpet-like frescos on the walls – from 2005 there has been an effort to promote the Palace. On my last visit, I was in fact delighted to see the well kept lawns and flower beds and the palace with its new coat of paint.  The Fort and the Palace are among the only historically important architectural pieces in the city (besides Lalbagh) connected with the lives of Tipu Sultan and his father Haider Ali.

The Bangalore Fort was first built out of mud by Kempegowda, a trusted chieftain of the Vijayanagar Empire, forming the nucleas of his city in 1537. At that time there were 8 gates along the walls. The fort passed through the hands of the Bijapur Sultans, then to the Mughals and from them to the Wadiyars of Mysore. Having wrested power from the Wadiyars,  Haider Ali who took over Mysore and  rebuilt  Kempegowda’s mud fort with stone and made it his stronghold.  After the death of his father, Tipu Sultan spent his time between his fort at Srirangapatna, Nandi Hills and Bangalore.

The Bangalore Fort is built in an unusual oval shape, and only one of its doorways is in use now. This is the Delhi Gate, which has exquisite Persian carved friezes in the inner and outer walls. These friezes, which are in the shape of arches include designs that are a part of Karnataka. Here we can see ornate lotuses, the Mayura (or peacock) the half-elephant /half-bird motifs and elephants.

The door  to the Delhi gate is missing, but massive iron knobs—three on either side, indicate the enormous doors that must have been hinged on them in Tipu’s era. There is also a massive inner gate, which still has the original doors with iron spikes intact on the upper half. The lower spikes upto a height of 8 feet, have obviously been knocked down by invaders. A plaque marks the spot where Lord Cornwalls and his men breached the fort.

 

Earlier within the fort area and now fairly close to it is the rather small palace used by Tipu Sultan in the summer months, which he named ‘Rash-e-Jannat— the abode of happiness and the envy of heaven.’ This inscription can still be seen carved on the wooden bannisters of the staircase.  Begun in 1781 by Haider Ali, the palace that portrays a splendid example of Indo-Islamic style of architecture, was completed in 1791 by Tipu, and is reminiscent of his other more ornate Palace, known as ‘Daria Daulat’ at Srirangapatna.

The palace is built on a low stone platform and is a two-storeyed building with audience chambers, both in the front and the back. Beautifully cusped arches in teak wood rise above fluted stone pillars. There are 160 pillars, some of which reach all the way up to the ceiling of the upper storey, rather in the style of the Diwan-i-am of the Mughals. Other pillars support the Jharokas on the upper floor while two flights of stairs from either side, lead up to the Central hall. Four staircases lead to the first floor. A large hall on the first floor has four rooms at four corners. These rooms were Zenana quarters, considered to be used by the ladies of the royal family. There are two projecting balconies, one on the East and the other on the West side. It is said that these were used to hold durbars and conduct affairs of state, with state officials seated in the balcony area.

To preserve the wood, the arches and the ceiling have been painted in a shade of dark brown, with a cream trim. Earlier the entire palace is said to have been elaborately painted as is the Daria Daulat palace at Srirangapatna. However all the paint work has not been totally ruined, and some of the inner walls still have traces of the original frescoes.

 

The original design featured delicate white flowers on a brick red back ground that covers the entire wall like an exquisite carpet. This was originally bordered on all four sides with a raised frieze of gold flowers and leaves, on a white base. The entire design was highlighted with a delicate tracery of black outlines. It has also been said that there were earlier frescoes depicting scenes from Tipu’s colourful life, on some of the inner walls. But there is no trace of this to be seen now.

Both Tipu and his father Haider Ali, were great lovers of nature and created the famous Lal Bagh gardens at Bangalore. Tipu Sultan added to the large number of rare trees that his father had brought in from different lands. The palace, which is looked after by the Archeological Survey of India, stands within a garden planted during Tipu’s time. It has been said that there were originally fountains and flowering trees in the garden with most of them giving way to lawns.

With Bangaluru now such a fast moving, busy and bustling metropolis, it is increasingly more important that we try to remember these small areas of history and try our best to preserve what remains for posterity.

 On your next visit to Bangalore, just take an hour off for a visit to the Fort and Tipu’s Palace, to remind you of the brave ‘Tiger of Mysore’.

Columnist: 
Shona Adhikari