Neglected Legacy
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Neglected Legacy

February 16, 2024

Once vibrant century-old Rama Mandiras of Mysore fading into oblivion

By Maya Sitaram

The frenzied fervour with which the Ram Temple at Ayodhya was inaugurated transports one to the memoirs of the unique music tradition reverberating from the innumerable Rama Mandiras in                   Mysore for over 200 years.

In the quaint bylanes of Mysore’s old localities, Lord Rama was celebrated by placing and presenting him in beautifully built structures — Mandiras — which have now become ‘heritage.’ But amidst the innumerable heritage buildings spread across the city which include the magnificent Palaces and other majestic buildings, the smaller and localised Mandiras are obscured and long forgotten.

On the verge of collapse: Sri Rama Mandira located on the Second Cross in Sunnadakeri, Mysuru.

At the beginning of this century, there were around 120 Rama Mandiras in Mysore with various vintages, some with known and a few with unknown antiquity. Exact number is not known. There was one on each road, says an avid Mysorean. Of these, perhaps 25-30 were of heritage value. Even the heritage experts are unaware of the existence and/or decay of some of the old Mandiras, maybe because of too much ‘antiquity’ on their hands.

The Mysore Heritage Area Development and Preservation Expert Committee has listed 198 heritage buildings in the city. The Bidaram Krishnappa’s Sri Prasanna Sita Rama Mandira located on Narayana Shastry Road and Sri Ramabhyudaya Sabha, Srirampet, are the only two Mandiras which find the place.

The former was inaugurated in 1928 and the latter is 133 years old, thereby making it clear that being ‘100,’ as defined in the Mysore Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1961 and Rules, 1965, is not the only criteria applied.

Moving into oblivion: Thipaiahnavara Hathu Janagala Dasharatha Rama Mandira (Attached to Ustad Gopala Somanna Garadi) on Nala Beedi in Sunnadakeri.

The impasse of being ‘heritage’

The attributes of being ‘heritage’ include having architectural, aesthetic, historic or cultural value inherited by people as per the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961. The Kunchitigara Rama Mandira, Santhepet, is not listed despite possessing these qualities and being 140 years old.

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The Act also says that the buildings which have their history reflecting the culture of the people when they came into existence should be preserved but is this possible when heritage buildings and assets therein have been unrecognised however unusual and priceless they are?

Was there yesterday – gone today: Sri Maha Nada Sabha Rama Mandiram in Ittigegud.

Traversing the old Mysore area, one comes across several big and small Mandiras, some of which are on the verge of collapse and need urgent restoration. These Mandiras were built by the weavers, wrestlers, traders, merchants, washermen and fishermen communities each of which had a specific caste and cultural identity. The Mandiras were built to provide a platform for social and cultural activities for the surrounding neighbourhood which communed to sing Bhajans and listen to the discourses from the epics (Harikatha). The Ramanavami festivities were celebrated with much gusto, bringing in stalwart musicians to the city and adding to the cultural fabric. 

The Wadiyars ಆಳುವ ದೊರೆ supported the festivities with funds and, at times, with Palace honour/s. From 1900, for about fifty and odd years, it was fashionable to build ‘hathu janagala’ Mandira —  ಹತ್ತು ಜನಗಳ ಮಂದಿರ — which laid its foundation on public participation in institution building and management. Most of the Mandiras were attached to a  ‘garadi’ (ಗರಡಿ), a place equipped for physical training.

Attempted modernity: Sri Sita Rama Mandira on Jatti Beedi in Nazarbad.

Crumbling Heritage

Old-time Mysoreans recollect the disappearance of a Mandira at Ittigegud due to neglect, another at the cross road of Ashoka Road was demolished to make way for a commercial complex, the list is endless. There are a few more which are on the verge of collapse like the Premaleela Sri Rama Mandiram at Sunnadakeri. 

Community participation and contribution dwindled with the advent of time and television, thereby leading to apathy and the collapse of many of the Mandiras. A few of them were converted to temples as it attracted people and the revenue needed for the upkeep and maintenance. Lack of funds, lack of leadership and intra-family conflicts are some of the factors which led to the neglect.

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The sustainability concepts introduced by some of the founders, of building and renting out commercial spaces within the Mandira precinct, have not yielded the desired results due to many factors including inflation. Added to it is the boom in real estate prompting the Mandira managers to wait for the collapse of the structure, such is the misery of urban heritage.  

Will soon see the ground: Premaleela Sri Rama Mandiram – The pillars stand in silent agony.

Conservation!?

The modern-day utility of the Mandiras has taken different hues. Some have a modern touch to the flooring, wall etc., to keep up with the trend! Jaade Sanjeevayya Rama Mandira, Veeranagere, close to Central Jail, is being used as a backend kitchen of a fast-food restaurant, Belle Rama Mandira located at the bylane of Irwin Road is used as a carpentry workshop. Mysore Style Painting of Sri Rama at the altar, old-type mantapam and Lord Hanuman in metal relief work which was earlier used as processional images are the remnants!

Not following the old way of restoration processes has lessened the antiquity value, this is less understood and appreciated. Different definitions and perceptions of what constitutes ‘heritage’ by different authorities add to the confusion! There are no adequate policies or execution which protect, promote, conserve and enhance the heritage value. Framing of the Heritage Act has seen a decent burial!

Incentives by the Government for the upkeep of the premises, waiving property tax, organising Rama Mandira Tours, including the Mandiras on the world map along with the other known heritage structures are ways by which visibility is created so that the Mandiras stay, thrive and enhance the heritage value of the city and add to ‘Our Heritage, Your Destination.’ 

If not all, at least identify the ones that could be salvaged and restore to its past glory in order that the Rama Mandira is seen and appreciated at one’s own backyard than only at Ayodhya!

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