A road on which the King rode on horse-back
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A road on which the King rode on horse-back

April 4, 2024

By Gouri Satya, Sr. Journalist

It is not just buildings that are our ‘heritage’. But many other things also form part of our heritage. Streets of the past in a city have their background, a past story to reveal. We cannot ignore them. They form a part of our heritage and culture.

The few write-ups I have written in these columns so far show how these streets and Keris in Mysuru have contributed to the rich socio-economic and cultural growth of our erstwhile royal city and how in most cases we are ignorant of their past, their heritage. Aware or unaware, we have changed the names of some of them. While doing so, we have done damage to our heritage and history.

One such road that has suffered such a name change is close to Mysuru’s Race Course. Its historic name has been erased and faded away from our memory. It carries a name that is in no way relevant to the place or the person after whom it is named now. That road is Chamappaji Urs Road, now called Maharana Pratap Road.

Chamappaji

Rana Pratap Singh is no doubt a great ruler of 16th century India. A renowned Rajput warrior, he was the king of Mewar in Rajasthan. He refused to submit to the mighty Mughal army led by Akbar and continued to fight courageously till his last breath.

Chamappaji Urs, in honour of whom the road was named earlier, hailed from Arepura, a village in Gundlupet taluk of Chamarajanagar district, earlier Mysuru district. He had married the sister of Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar, who succeeded Krishnaraja Wadiyar III.

Even earlier this, Chamappaji Urs was closely associated with Chamaraja Wadiyar’s                         predecessor, Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (Mummadi), being related to the royal family. Chamappaji Urs looked after their interests and strove for their welfare.

After Mummadi’s death, Chamappaji became the guardian of young Chamaraja Wadiyar. It may be recalled that before his death, Krishnaraja Wadiyar III had adopted Chamaraja Wadiyar, who was still very young. It was Chamappaji who took care of Chamaraja Wadiyar as the guardian.

He, along with Bakshi Narasapa, who was the Palace Finance Controller, is said to have played a crucial role in negotiating with the British administration in making Chamaraja Wadiyar the Maharaja. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III wanted to adopt a boy to succeed him as the future Maharaja of Mysuru.

However, the British administration opposed it and declined permission to Mummadi for adoption. It was only after the death of Mummadi, that the British recognised Chamaraja Wadiyar as heir to the throne.

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As guardian, Chamappaji had accompanied Chamaraja Wadiyar in October 1875 to Bombay (the present city of Mumbai), to greet the Prince of Wales on his first visit to India, besides Dalvoy Devaraja Urs, then an eighteen-year-old who had already made two journeys to Calcutta and one to the Himalayas, and Desa Urs, a boy of thirteen, a classmate and playmate of the Maharaja, and Gopala Raj Urs, a (biological) brother of the Maharaja. On many other occasions also, Chamappaji accompanied the Maharaja.

Chamappaji among the Palace officials at Mummadi’s European Durbar.

Bakshi Chamappaji, Sardar Kantharaja Urs and a few others were known for playing the traditional game, Chaduranga (chess). However, Chamappaji’s daughter excelled in it. About the prodigious chess prowess of Chamappaji’s daughter, renowned composer Mysore Vasudevacharya narrates an interesting anecdotal story as follows: “A horse trader from Kabul arrived in Closepet (now Ramanagara) to sell horses at the military encampment in the town. A passionate chess player, he was excited to hear that a soldier there was a chess talent.”

“Tracking down the soldier, the trader invited him to play chess with him. They played several rounds. The horse trader marvelled at the soldier’s talent at the game. But the soldier merely smiled, “My play is nothing. If you want to know what real chess talent is, you should play with Bakshi Chamappaji’s daughter in Mysore. Women in his house though are behind a purdah and don’t meet outsiders, try your luck. If it works out, you will have played the most fabulous chess game in your life ever.”

Intrigued and curious, the horse trader made his way to Mysore. He waited outside Chamappaji’s house in the morning and greeted him as he came out of the gate. The sequence recurred over a couple of days. Noticing it, Chamappaji called out to him, “Who are you? Is there anything you want from me?”

The horse trader explained everything. Chamappaji replied, “Women live in seclusion in our house. I am not sure you will be able to play chess with my daughter. But I can check with her and let you know. Please come back in the morning.”

Chamapajji let his daughter know about the trader’s desire. She readily agreed, “We can have the game tomorrow afternoon. A curtain can be put between us. A small slit can be made in it to let me see the chessboard. And, you can make the moves for me.”

Delighted that his wish would be fulfilled, the trader showed up for the game in the afternoon. He bowed to Chamappaji’s daughter behind the curtain before sitting down at the chessboard. Before the game started, she asked her father to ask the trader to pick the soldier pawn he wanted to be checkmated by.

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Her opponent nervously chose one only to be checkmated within a few moves. The bewildered trader exclaimed, “I’ve never experienced this kind of defeat in my life.” And left the place after bowing to her.

Bakshi Chamappaji’s son Bakshi Basappaji was also closely associated with the royal family and their day-to-day affairs. An area in his name, Bakshi Basappaji Laya and garden, existed in Fort Mohalla. Even now there is a road having that name there.

Thus, both father and son and their successors of the Arepur clan were associated with the Palace and its administration.

The road near the Race Course had been named in memory of Bakshi Chamappaji. A milestone at the beginning of this road leading to the Golf Club read Chamappaji Urs Road.

Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar, accompanied by his elder brother Subrahmanya Raj Urs, and Chamappaji used to go on horse-back on this road towards the foot of Chamundi Hill steps every Tuesday and Friday, the Maharaja riding on his favourite white horse.

After offering worship to the Goddess at the foot of the hills, they were returning to the Palace. It is here that Mysore Vasudevacharya was able to meet the Maharaja and plead for his help to learn music. Chamaraja Wadiyar asked him to teach Sanskrit to his children. After about a year, he sent Vasudevacharya to learn music under famous musician Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer at Thiruvayyar in present Tamil Nadu, providing him with clothes and monetary help.

Vasudevachar says with humility, “The Maharaja poured oil to my life’s lamp. I believe even today it is that sacred light which is illuminating my life’s journey.”

Unaware of its historic importance, the road was renamed ‘Maharana Pratap Road’ some time ago though the Rana was in no way connected with the road or the history of Mysuru.

One only hopes that the Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) restores the old name and its heritage importance. Any other prominent road in the city can be named in honour of Maharana Pratap.

If you come from the Chamundi Hill, an old road sign still stands there. But it exhibits the name, Maharana Pratap Road, named by those who knew very little of its significance.

In this old group photograph below, Bakshi Chamappaji Urs is seen with the Young Maharaja and his two brothers. Also seen are Bakshi Basappaji Urs, Bowring and his wife and others.

Chamappaji with a big turban.
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