By K.B. Ganapathy, Senior Journalist
Mysore/Mysuru: The royal city of Mysuru has many historical and cultural structures that include Palaces and public buildings and also massive ornate royal arches spread all over the city. Unfortunately, due to decades of neglect in maintaining them, either by the PWD or the Department concerned, these heritage structures are now dilapidated and in danger of collapsing. Some of them have been abandoned, but no administrative action has been taken either to renovate and restore or to demolish them.
Some of these buildings are still being occupied by the reluctant tenants at the urging of their patrons, who go by different names like patrons of heritage buildings or the saviours of the poor, helpless shopkeepers, etc.
However, all these do-gooders forget one most important aspect in dealing with these old heritage public buildings that are located mainly in downtown areas with heavy density of people. The apprehension that is haunting the people, who are occupying these buildings and the public who go there as customers or to transact business, is that they might lose their lives or limbs, should these buildings collapse during their presence there. That was what happened earlier in the case of Devaraja Market and Lansdowne Building.
It is surprising that in these days of advanced technology in the area of building construction, some of the social activists keep clamouring to conserve and preserve these heritage buildings neglected all through their existence and beyond repair or conservation.
Do they think that they are miracle-makers to conserve these buildings, maybe using the same kind of building materials to make them stand with required strength to put them back into public service?
Now let me focus only on Devaraja Market because it is in the news now. The Karnataka High Court, in its wisdom, quashed the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the decision of the MCC (Mysuru City Corporation) to demolish the whole building and reconstruct. The MCC wanted to maintain the existing architectural design thereby conserving the physical appearance of the 137-year-old Devaraja Market as it looked when it was built in 1886.
This was good news for all Mysureans, who loved their lives more than the original mud, brick and lime mortar market building. Be sure, those who advocate and hold brief to restore the Devaraja Market with expert knowledge of conservationist will never ever be its occupants as vegetable vendors or shop-keepers or who will leave their footprints there for whatsoever reason, once their work of consultancy for heritage conservancy is over and fee collected. Therefore, they will have no risk whatsoever but the same cannot be said of lakhs of people who will be visiting Devaraja Market.
Already a part of the Devaraja Market has collapsed and despite efforts on the part of MCC, it could not be rebuilt or restored except, according to reports, a substantial sum was paid towards consultancy. Whose money it was anyway!
Of course, in our legal system there is always an opportunity to go to the higher Court by the loser. According to reports, though the High Court has quashed the PIL filed against the decision of the MCC, the petitioners of the PIL have decided to go to the Supreme Court.
That means further delay in the matter of deciding the fate and future of Devaraja Market for some more time or many more years. Therefore, Mysureans need not be surprised if the Devaraja Market building gets natural justice which naturally will be bad news.
In the midst of all these, the citizens of our city had a disappointing news from Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), the only active NGO and considered pragmatic in its approach to various public causes. In its meeting held on Aug. 13, 2023, it decided to exert pressure on the State Government to save the structure of Devaraja Market! A case of beating a dead horse!!
Apparently, MGP was against the plan of MCC to demolish and reconstruct Devaraja Market. One wonders whether they are more worried about potential loss of a heritage building and less worried about the possible loss of living human beings.
MGP should have also considered that in a Welfare State and in a Democracy, Devaraja Market is not just an ornamental building with heritage value for the tourists to look at and recall the history of the Maharajas, ignoring its (Market’s) need and usefulness with safety and security to those who use the Market on a daily basis.
It is said that there are two kinds of monuments with regard to heritage buildings, whether they are Palaces or places of worship or even public buildings. Where the building is put to use for the purpose for which it was built it is called a living monument. Where such heritage building is maintained in its original form and structure, maintaining it with care and repairs regularly, where only tourists and visitors in small numbers and in a regulated manner, like it is in Qutub Minar in Delhi (some years back and could be now also) and at the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and even in cases of some caves, it is known as dead monuments.
All things considered, my personal opinion, that would surely make the people who filed the PIL and also the MGP happy, is to declare the Devaraja Market as a dead monument, conserve it as a heritage building and open it only to the tourists as I mentioned above.
This will also help de-congest the already overcrowded downtown area of our city with people and vehicular traffic. It will thus reduce the emission of carbon monoxide from thousands of vehicles in that area making the 3.67-acre Devaraja Market area as a lung space.
To me, it looks like a dilemma faced by the Government in resolving the problem of man-animal conflict in the agricultural sector. All aspects of the problems considered, there is a lesson for the present rulers and those who construct public buildings like museums, public halls or places of worship. The lesson is that if they want these buildings to remain as heritage buildings even after centuries of their existence, all that they need to do is to maintain these buildings periodically and attend to the repair works related to the structure, water supply, electricity and UGD without fail.
Probably because of these reasons, we could see in countries like China, Russia, England and in Europe, many heritage buildings, not just 137-year-old ones like our Devaraja Market, but of more than 300 to 400 years old. For example, Westminster Abbey in London is 754 years old, Louvre Museum in Paris is 230 years old, The Leaning Tower of Pisa is 850 years old and Buckingham Palace is 320 years old.
Our Mysore Palace is 111 years old and is already needing heavy repairs and maintenance. As we know, the public Durbar Hall facing the courtyard has already become weak in structure so much so when Mr. Chiranjiv Singh was the Director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had advised the Dasara authorities not to hold the famous Palace music concerts, open to the public at this Hall. Here whom do we blame? The sub-standard construction, the poor maintenance or the age of the building? You be the judge. But let not the judgement come from the heart but let it come from the head.
And finally, in response to a report published in Star of Mysore, this writer had published a letter to the editor on July 4, 2022, which read as follows:
In yesterday’s Star of Mysore (3.7.2022), a news item titled ‘Two buildings to be originally renovated’, with a suggestion that on similar lines, Devaraja Market and Lansdowne Building can also be renovated, was published.
However, it must be remembered that Devaraja Market and Lansdowne Building are constructed architecturally in a totally different manner using different materials.
Therefore, they are beyond renovation and they can only be demolished and reconstructed keeping the original architectural design and using modern construction materials like steel and cement.
– K.B. Ganapathy, Senior journalist, Mysuru, 3.7.2022