By Gouri Satya, Senior Journalist
The recent reports about the fate of heritage structures in quick succession come as a shock and bring to focus once again the monumental neglect of the age-old buildings by the authorities concerned in Mysuru. The way they are facing decay and damage may turn Mysuru into a city sans heritage soon.
A few weeks ago, there was a report about the deteriorating condition of Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion which had regained its old charm in 2006 after the Infosys Foundation had restored it at Rs. 1.17 crore. One of the Palaces in the ‘City of Palaces’, this prestigious possession of Mysore University has shockingly reached the stage of falling into decay within a short span of 16 years.
The breach of Kukkarahalli Kere, the city’s popular water-body and the overflowing waters flooding a few buildings of the University came next. After a lapse of several years, it is found now that the discharge valve which safeguards the tank and its banks remained neglected. The ‘Raja Kaluves’ passing through inside and outside the city interlinked tanks and facilitated the discharge of excess water from one tank to the other. But, over the years, they have been neglected and encroachments are blocking the flow of rainwater in many places. As a result, tanks have begun to breach and flood the living areas in and around the city, besides rain waters flooding the roads in the heart of the city during heavy rains.
Next came the shocking news of the collapse of a portion of the Palace Fort Wall. Most people may be unaware that the Fort’s history can be traced to the days when Mysuru was called ‘Puragere’. The ‘Hudevu’ of the 14th century was an irregular mud wall built to protect the dwellers in the small town from wild animals. It also marked the city’s boundary — ‘pura-gere’ or ‘purada-gere’. In the later years, successive rulers of Mysuru reinforced it and Krishnaraja Wadiyar III rebuilt it after it became his capital. Later, Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV had it reconstructed in its present shape and form, making it an attractive fort wall with artistically designed gates.
Soon after this, came the news that the Mysuru City Corporation proposed to change the whole shape of the ‘Fountain Circle’ on Bengaluru-Mysuru Highway by removing the historic Elgin Fountain and ignoring the name of the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, as part of its proposal to beautify the Circles in the city. As though not just these alone, now comes the shocking collapse of a portion of the prestigious Maharani’s Science College building which heralded girls’ college education about 122 years ago in the royal city.
Photos posted along with the reports clearly show profuse growth of vegetation in crevices of the Fort and the Maharani’s College. Such dangerous growth of weeds may be seen in many other historic monuments in the city, including the architecturally unique structures in the Maharaja’s College campus. The growth of vegetation in the crevices and cracks is always a threat to the stability and strength of any building and could lead to its collapse as has happened in these two cases.
Apart from these, what causes further concern is the fate of several other neglected structures like the Lansdowne Building, Devaraja Market, Maharaja’s High School, Medical College Hostel, Vasantha Mahal, Vani Vilasa Market and even the Chamundi Hill, the pride of Mysuru. The unscientific and irrational development of the Hill is threatening its very ecology. Water is allowed to seep through instead of facilitating its flow. During the reign of Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the roads were so designed rain waters flowed down from the hills forming ponds and filling up tanks around the foothills. The temporary waterfalls from the hills particularly at the horseshoe valley during monsoon was a fascinating sight. The scenic foothills and the horseshoe valley must have disappeared and the name forgotten with encroachments all around. While writing this piece comes the news of another landslide atop the Hill, the fifth one!
Here it may be recalled that Mysuru has already lost a few historic landmarks like the Purnaiah Choultry, Yele Thota, where the famous Mysuru variety of betel leaves was grown and the portico of the Saraswathipuram Fire Station, besides chosen varieties of avenue trees and aesthetically designed gardens, developed by renowned German horticulturist Krumbiegel, distinguished horticulturist of Mysuru H.C. Javaraya and others.
In this depressing scenario, what may come as surprise is the survival of the historic Lansdowne Building and the functional Devaraja Market bearing the brunt of heavy rains lashing the city. Their survival without any further damage shows that heritage buildings built during the period of the Maharajas can serve for several more years if only they are restored and conserved in a scientific manner and the demand to demolish them has very little justification. Instead of restoring them, these iconic buildings are being allowed to decay further like many more buildings in the city and their fate continues to hang in balance, with no hope of restoration soon.
Any more disdain towards heritage structures, their maintenance and restoration, may lead several more historic assets to meet their end soon. Mysuru was hailed as a ‘heritage city’ till recently. But now this has been conveniently dropped, perhaps realising that the city’s historic buildings and places have no future, pulls and pressures, besides shortage of funds, operating full force.
In the background of this scenario, the candlelight protest to urge the authorities to take immediate steps to ‘Save Mysuru’s heritage’ comes as a relief that there is an awakening among the youngsters about the future of the city. But this campaign needs to be sustained and should not become a one-time effort lest the authorities continue their monumental indifference. They need to be impressed that such continued callousness may lead to the loss of Mysuru’s heritage and tourist places and it is time to make the past the present like in many other countries which care about their heritage structures utmost and make them global attractions.