In 1970, an officer of the Bangalore City Corporation (BCC), now known as Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, named M. Fazlul Hasan self-published a book titled Bangalore Through the Centuries, on the history of Bangalore (now Bengaluru). It was a valiant exercise considering that Hasan was not an academically trained historian, and his effort was pioneering since such an exhaustive and systematic study had not been published until then.
Hasan’s labour was vindicated when the book immediately emerged as an authoritative work, densely filling in the nebulous details of the saga of Bangalore since its founding in 1537 and its anointment as the capital of Mysore (Karnataka was known as Mysore until 1973) in post-independent India.
For many years, Hasan’s book remained a comprehensive account of Bangalore’s past. There was only one edition of this book, and because it was not reprinted, hundreds of people interested in the city’s history relied on photocopied versions. A lucky few still cherish their original editions of the rare book. Mayi Gowda of Blossom Book House, the famed second-hand bookshop, said, “There was a constant request for Bangalore Through the Centuries, but copies were scarce, and when they became available, they sold for between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 5,000.”
Considering the significance of this work, there were demands to reprint the book over the decades, but the children of Hasan, who died in 1991, resisted these attempts until a few years ago when a prominent Bengaluru-based architect called Naresh V. Narasimhan reached out to them.
Ameena Shaheen, the daughter and eldest child of Hasan, explained, “Many people approached us (to reprint the book), but we felt it was not right because they were thinking only from a commercial point of view. We (Shaheen and her two younger brothers, Aziz Hasan and Basheer Hasan) did not want that until Naresh Narasimhan came into the picture, and we realised that he was equally passionate about the history of Bangalore.”
A new edition of the old book
Having secured their permission, Narasimhan, along with a team of editors, set about revising and editing the book, and a new edition of Bangalore Through the Centuries was finally launched on June 27. The date was significant because it was the birthday of the “founder of Bangalore” Kempegowda I, a chieftain and vassal of the Vijayanagara Empire. As Narasimhan said at the book launch, the revised edition was launched on the city’s 486th birthday.
Hasan dedicated his book to the “Citizens of Bangalore”. In his foreword, the then Governor of Mysore (Karnataka), Dharma Vira, who also launched the book, wrote evocatively: “Bangalore has a singular charm of arousing the interest of both Indians and foreigners in its chequered history. Its strategic position has played a great part in influencing the history of peninsular India. Its salubrious climate, which has attracted people from all over the country and abroad, is largely instrumental in leading to its present prosperity”.
Dharma Vira added: “It is interesting to know that Bangalore had been a pawn on the chessboard of Indian intrigues. Kempegowda built it. Bijapur Sultanate conquered it. The Moghuls sold it. Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar purchased it. It was the personal jahagir (or jagir, a feudal land grant with privileges) of Shahji Bhonsley and Haider Ali, two great historical personalities, in different periods of its history. It was a ‘Spot of England’ during the British days. This historic city has its strange incidents, too. How many exciting episodes and fierce battles have been written into its history!”
Dharma Vira culled the essence of Bangalore’s history in this paragraph from his reading of Hasan’s manuscript, which extended this story in meticulous and tantalising detail over 20 chapters.
A past far removed from the present
In his preface, Hasan wrote the following lines that still resonate 53 years after they first appeared in print: “Bangalore, ‘the Garden City,’ is the vibrant heart of Mysore State. Sprawling and always in a state of perpetual growth, it presents a vista of countless multicoloured buildings, glittering parks, narrow streets, well-laid roads, and superb public edifices lying unobtrusively around. Here, people drawn by countless forces are buffeted about in the whirlpool of its life. Behind this facade of Bangalore’s modern appearance lies a glorious past, which, if it somewhat appears to be far removed from the present time, nevertheless almost insensibly blends into it.”
In the 254 pages that followed (expanded to 395 in the new edition because of the larger font size), Hasan traced the journey of Bangalore from its founding as a township in 1537 by Kempegowda I.
The region was ruled by the descendants of Kempegowda until they were defeated by the forces of the Bijapur Sultanate in 1637, during which time control of the city passed to Shahji, the father of the valorous Shivaji, who, in fact, spent some part of his early days in the city. In the time of Aurangzeb, the imperious Mughal Emperor, Bangalore came under the control of the expanding Mughal Empire for three years between 1687 and 1690 before it was sold to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar for a sum of Rs. 3 lakhs. Hyder Ali, a brave soldier of the Wodeyar rulers of Mysore, received Bangalore as his personal jagir in 1759 and, within a year, ruled Mysore directly after supplanting the weak Wodeyars. After his death, the city passed into the hands of his son Tipu Sultan, who died in 1799 in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War while battling the forces of the East India Company.
With the defeat of Tipu, the trajectory of Bangalore’s journey pivoted as, even though the city reverted to the Wodeyars who ruled Mysore, its pleasant climate ensured that it was chosen as the location of a permanent British garrison in 1809. It subsequently became an administrative centre but remained divided into two parts: the old City areas and the relatively new British Cantonment. In 1949, these two parts, which had distinct social characters, were merged to form a single unit, and the status of Bangalore was enhanced further when, after the linguistic reorganisation of states in 1956, it was proclaimed as the capital of the newly formed Kannada state of Mysore (Karnataka).
Coherently written and rigorously researched
Shaheen explained how her father developed an interest in the history of Bangalore: “He found an inscription stone in Sunkenahalli, which he later realised was the donation stone for the Domlur Chokkanathaswamy temple. Intrigued by this finding, he researched continuously, and as he proceeded with his studies, he wrote a book. He had a busy schedule but despite that, he made time to read countless articles and books as part of his research. He wrote many articles on local history based on his epigraphical inquiries in the 1960s in Deccan Herald and in Kannada in Praja Vani, which were liked by his readers.”
Shaheen added that 2,500 copies of the book were printed, out of which 1,000 copies were given to BCC and were presented to visiting dignitaries. The book was priced at the “handsome sum of Rs. 25, and copies sold out gradually.”
The discipline of history has changed over the decades, and some may feel, not inaccurately, that Hasan’s ornate style of history writing, with its excessive focus on personalities and signposted by events, is somewhat old-fashioned. However, what is undeniable is that his work was coherently written and rigorously researched, with copious references to a range of primary sources.
His sound narration of facts continues to fascinate the current crop of the city’s historians, such as Aliyeh Rizvi, who said, “Hasan’s seminal work on compiling Bengaluru’s history has been widely referred to for decades now by anyone writing or studying Bengaluru. Material gathering has always been a tedious, painstaking effort for all scholars, but I often wonder how he identified and accessed his extensive source material and the references to Bengaluru that they contained back then. It was remarkable!”
Mansoor Ali, an architect who conducts heritage walks in Bengaluru, added that Bangalore Through the Centuries “...inspired a lot of other historians as well as other authors who have written books on Bangalore.”
Bangalore Through the Centuries filled a glaring gap as no detailed histories of the burgeoning metropolis of Bangalore were available at the time and, through this, provided a worthy legacy to the city as the perception, which continues even now, was that Bangalore was a young and modern settlement.
As Narasimhan reminded his audience with some pride: “We (Bengaluru) are older than Bombay, Chennai, and Calcutta as a city.” Meera Iyer, convenor of INTACH’s Bengaluru chapter and author of Discovering Bengaluru, said, “By bringing the history of Bengaluru to the notice of its own people way back in 1970, Bangalore Through the Centuries gave the city a respectably deep and dramatic history that it could be proud of. It also piqued interest in the city’s past, which otherwise was not really considered old enough to merit much serious attention.”
Janaki Nair, retired professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who has extensively researched the history of Bengaluru, stated, “Hasan’s Bangalore Through the Centuries was the first meticulous account of Bengaluru’s history and will serve us for a long time to come”. According to her, most people are not aware of the city’s 16th-century antecedents and its slow but dramatic growth for the three centuries that followed. “Perhaps this is because we don’t have too much of a material heritage of those times, and our preservation efforts have been dismal.” This makes Hasan’s book, though written by an enthusiast and not a professional historian, even more precious as a historically tempered account that must be built upon if we are not to lose even the precious memory of those times, summed up Janaki Nair.