The glorious past of a present-day landmark!
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

The glorious past of a present-day landmark!

March 17, 2024

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

My last article was about the striking similarity in the Torquay Fountain in England and its identical twin that we have here in our city.

I had already said that our ‘migrant’ fountain, that now stands as a mute witness to the history of our city, at the Northern end of our Ashoka Road, started its ornamental journey from opposite our now most miserably dilapidated Lansdowne Building, where it had been originally erected and soon named as the Elgin Fountain, in honour of Lord Elgin, the then Viceroy, upon his visit to our city on 20th, November, 1895.

It was named after him when the Viceroy came to pay a courtesy call to our then recently bereaved Maharani, Kempananjammanni Devi, upon the very untimely demise of our Maharaja Sri Chamaraja Wadiyar X at the age of just thirty-one years, on 28th December the previous year.

The reigning king is said to have succumbed to an attack of Diphtheria while on a visit to Calcutta, where his funeral was held on a small plot of land at Kalighat, that still stands as the property of Mysore royal family.

The Elgin Fountain stood in its original place of pride until the year 1952, when our present-day landmark, K.R. Circle had to be created, in the year 1952, in a fitting act of regard and gratitude, in memory of Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV who had passed away on 3rd, August,1940. This Circle was originally meant to be created as a replica, to match the Chamaraja Circle that stands a stone’s throw away, opposite the Northern Gate of our Palace, although it is a different matter that the two edifices look surprisingly different!

What prevented the builders from making K.R. Circle an exact clone of its counterpart, is a mystery that I have never been able to unravel to this day, despite my curiosity and all the digitised archival records that are now available at the click of a mouse.

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My personal surmise is that it was due to some last-minute cost-cutting measures, going by the lack of an expensive gold-plated dome, that adorns the top of its counterpart and which could have only come at an astronomically high cost.

Understandably, K.R. Circle could be created only after slicing away nearly one third of the stately Lansdowne Building and relocating the Elgin Fountain.  So, two relocations of the Elgin Fountain, first to what is now called the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Circle and subsequently to its present place at the Northern end of the Ashoka Road which is now known only as the Fountain Circle, is understandable because being such a magnificent structure, it was not just necessary to retain it but also retain it in a sufficiently prominent location of the city.

But another mystery which does not seem to have ready answers is why it was divested of its hallowed name and left almost nameless for eternity and at the mercy of being helplessly called by whatever name people preferred to call it by?

If we rely on the small bits and pieces of the history available on this subject, the second relocation of this fountain was made to commemorate the first visit of our first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad to our city. The then Municipal Councillors and other dignitaries of our city are said to have received the President at this spot, which itself was then officially christened as Dr. Rajendra Prasad Circle. In this process, perhaps to avoid confusion and to prevent the clash of the names of two personalities, then of equal stature, the fountain itself was divested of its original name!

 I find this a really sad and almost tragic turn of events, at least from a historical perspective, because it would have been no burden for the fountain to carry its famous name along with it, while                 the Circle itself carried its own name.

All said and done, although creating the K.R. Circle to honour and commemorate the memory of one of our greatest rulers of the recent times was most essential and justified, there may be many Mysureans like me who cannot help visualising in their mind’s eye, how the stately Elgin Fountain standing at the end of the full-length Lansdowne Building, might have looked in all its glory, in full colour. Funnily, I do it unfailingly, every time I pass that way! And, visualising this scene in our mind’s eye is all we can do now because no colour pictures of the place exist.

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But all is not lost because day-dreamers like me can take some solace in feasting their eyes on a picture of the edifice that depicts it in its full glory and vibrant colour, against the backdrop of the illuminated Palace, which I am sharing here.

The source of my solace is a painting by the once most gifted but now almost forgotten painter, N. Hanumiah, a humble farmer and home-grown son-of-the-soil of our own city, who has left a great legacy of his paintings, a good many of which are in art collections abroad. Hanumiah was called ‘The Painter of Light’ by some of the greatest artists of his time, because capturing the interplay of light and deep shadows, in almost all his paintings, was his hallmark.

Born on 5th September, 1909, he was a former student of Chamarajendra School of Art, here in our city, who passed away in the year 1991, at the age of eighty-one. Even as a child I have been an admirer of his paintings, and I most humbly admit that I have tried hard, as a struggling, self-taught painter, to replicate his work, without much success.

I may perhaps write in greater detail about this forgotten genius once I find enough resource material about his life and works. Thankfully I am hopeful that I may be able to lay my hands on it, as a few members of his family, are surprisingly very close to me. So please stay tuned!e-mail:  [email protected]

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