Old is gold: INTACH’s work on the conservation of Bangalore’s heritage buildings

Heritage buildings in Bangalore are in the spotlight thanks to INTACH, who are ensuring citizens learn about their contribution to city culture.

When Bangalore was gifted to King Kempe Gowda during his reign from 1513-1560, it was still a village. Ulsoor Lake was built by his successor, Kempe Gowda II, and is the only surviving tank built by the Gowda kings in Bangalore.

Located it central Bangalore, Halasuru begins roughly near the Eastern terminus of MG Road, and is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. Known for its numerous temples and quaint streets, the area of Ulsoor is one of great heritage in Bangalore. The presence of a jackfruit orchard near the Ulsoor Lake led to it being called ‘Halasina Hannu’, the Kannada name for jackfruit, which later got anglicised to ‘Ulsoor’ during the British rule.

With the recent increase in threat to heritage buildings in Bangalore, the work of Bangalore’s INTACH has become all the more significant.

The Bangalore chapter of INTACH, an acronym for Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, is an organization dedicated to the conservation of heritage buildings in Bangalore. The national NGO was found in the year of 1984, and is now a network of volunteers spread across the country, all of whom work to spread awareness on heritage of local and national value. Using heritage walks, cultural programmes and teacher-training programmes, the organization has been involved with the successful restoration of many Bangalore heritage buildings, including Mayo Hall and Tipu’s armoury.

Most recently, INTACH conducted an exhibition at the beginning of this month to make locals aware of Ulsoor’s heritage, at the Halasuru metro station. The event set up several panels to showcase the history of the area and its evolution through photo stories, maps, and sketches. Additionally, the organization has been in the process of putting together a comprehensive list of heritage structures in Bangalore, starting with Ulsoor in the East to Gavipuram in South Bangalore.

The Alternative got in touch with INTACH’s Co-convener Meera Iyer to know more about their work and methods, and how better the citizens of Bangalore can be educated about its heritage.

INTACH's ehibition through Halsuru | Pic - Facebook

INTACH’s exhibition through Halasuru | Pic – Facebook

INTACH has been compiling a list of heritage buildings throughout Bangalore. What is your process of arriving at this list and what are some challenges you face?

As a part of the process of listing (that is, making an inventory) of Bangalore’s architectural heritage, we have been doing the listing in different pockets of the city and would eventually like to have the entire city covered. To do the listing, we have architects who walk each street of a neighbourhood, identify heritage buildings, and wherever possible, make a note of the interiors, and also make a quick visual assessment of the condition of the building. This means that listing is quite a bit more than just walking the streets and making a note of old buildings. It is a somewhat technical process.

For example, in our recent Ulsoor listing, it was only because architects visited almost each and every house that we got to know interesting details of the construction of the old houses there—that many still have bamboo roofs, or that they are planned around courtyards, or sometimes, even two courtyards. Merely walking the streets would not reveal these details. Also, by talking to the resident/owner, we get a better idea of some issues, like maintenance.

Challenges [are that] not everyone wants their building to be a part of a list of heritage structures. There is some apprehension that this might lead to them not being able to ‘do anything’ to their houses later on, for instance.

What do you think is the most important threat right now against heritage areas such as Ulsoor?

The lure of money, I suppose! So many people want to demolish their old houses and build a three storey structure there to get more rent. Coupled with this is a lack of awareness of alternative uses for a building. For example, it might be possible to get a higher rent by renovating a building and putting it to an alternative use – a café, or a shop, for example. This may not work everywhere of course, but repurposing is often possible.

Since the dissolution of the Bangalore Urban Arts Committee and the government’s negligence to allocate funds for heritage conservation, who is really helping conserve Bangalore’s buildings? How can we raise awareness about the situation?

It’s really down to private individuals and institutions, now. Also, the government needs to set aside more funds for heritage. In Bangalore in particular, infrastructure gets huge amounts of money. But a fraction of funds needed for a new building can not only restore a building, but also preserve that character of a place.

As for raising awareness, that was the whole purpose of the current Namma Halasuru exhibition (that moved to the MG Road Boulevard for another week). When we told people that we were planning an exhibition on Ulsoor’s heritage, the response we got from everyone, bar none, was “Oh, but what is there other than the Someshwara temple?” This is partly because in our country, heritage is equated with monuments. But heritage is so much more than that. It includes markets, houses, building techniques, lifestyles, festivals; all of these and more are part of our cultural heritage.

I think heritage needs to be in the public domain a lot more – we need to talk about it, highlight it, and make people think about it differently. We need to make people see that heritage is not something to be ‘museum-fied’, not something that is necessarily antithetical to development. In this context, it is heartening to note the number of heritage walks happening all around the city, and to note that the audience for many of these (INTACH’s Parichays being a prime example) are Bangaloreans.

Someshwara temple is Ulsoor’s best known landmark, but what are some other parts of the area that are perhaps just as worthy of attention?

For someone interested in heritage, the streets of Ulsoor are very interesting. As I mentioned before, if we drop our monument-centric idea of heritage, then heritage is there all over the streets of Ulsoor – in its jagalis, where you can still see women sitting and chatting in the evenings; in the little details like the doors and windows with their elaborately carved lintels and monkey tops; in the little niches for oil lamps next to each door (Have you seen these anywhere else in Bangalore?).

If you want non-residential buildings in particular, one of the most beautiful is the Ankamma Choultry on Car Street, built by Subbaiah Reddy. It’s a nicely proportioned red brick building, with beautifully and precisely cut and polished wire-cut bricks, lovely eaves, and cornices. Subbaiah Reddy was a mason who, though his hard work, rose to become a contractor. The attention to detail in this building is probably because he was so intimately familiar with all aspects of erecting a building!

An educational walk through Someshwara Temple, Ulsoor | Pic - Facebook

An educational walk through Someshwara Temple, Ulsoor | Pic – Facebook

Namma Halasuru took place from Nov 1 – Nov 7. How was the process of putting together such an extensive exhibition? What was your main challenge?

Exhausting, exhilarating! It is not really an extensive exhibition, but we were able to manage because of part-funding from a couple of donors. One of them, Mr Shashikiran Mullur, came to know of INTACH through our heritage walks, and was interested enough in heritage issues to make a donation through his company to enable the exhibition to happen. Even an individual can make a difference! Apart from that, it was great fun to work with a bunch of enthusiastic people – photographers like Peevee, artists like Sneha Prasad, architects like Pallavi who worked on oral history…All of them believed in the exhibition and so made it happen!

What can the everyday person do to help conserve Bangalore’s heritage?

Walk the streets of the city! Talk to people; get acquainted with it personally and emperically. That’s the first step to identifying, and making a bond, with the city. Take your friends and family with you to these places. Take your kids to Lalbagh or to Devanahalli Fort and have them run around there, for example, instead of taking them to a mall every time.

Other than that, stand up for what you believe in when required.

A visitor to the Namma Halasuru Exhibition | Pic - Facebook

A visitor to the Namma Halasuru Exhibition | Pic – Facebook

The heritage walk continues next weekend, beginning on Sunday (November 23) morning. Starting with a photowalk through Ulsoor, with a talk by Peevee on photography and commentary by Pankaj Modi, an INTACH co-ordinator, the event ends at Green Bazaar 8. Be there!

Green Bazaar

Currently pursuing an engineering degree from BITS Pilani, Goa, Sanjana is a Chennai-born girl settled in Mumbai, and writes for The Alternative in a humble attempt to fulfill the stereotype of being a frustrated engineer. more


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Currently pursuing an engineering degree from BITS Pilani, Goa, Sanjana is a Chennai-born girl settled in Mumbai, and writes for The Alternative in a humble attempt to fulfill the stereotype of being a frustrated engineer. more

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