Sunday, June 07, 2015

A 'Stone Unturned': Rediscovering Bangaluru's Heritage

Every day I travel from my home in Bangalore to Electronics City. You've no idea how exasperating it is to cross the flyover known as Silk Board Junction if you haven't experienced it yourself. I have vented my frustration on the traffic here in innumerable Facebook statuses and tweets. 

But yesterday was different. I was actually excited about crossing Silk Board. The reason: I was visiting a small village called Begur alongside Hosur Road. This unremarkable place has garnered attention thanks to the excavation of a rock with early medieval inscriptions in the 1000-year-old Naganatheshwara Temple.

My attention was captured by one particular phrase etched on the stone.

"Bengaluru kalaghadhol buttana setti sattam." It translates to English as "In the Battle of Bangalore, Buttana Setti died".

About the temple
This Shiva temple with two gopuras (monumental towers) is said to be at least 1100 years old, and was constructed during the reign of Cholas. As was customary in temples of that era, the main sanctum sanctorum has a Shivling inside and a Nandi outside. Locals worship Shiva with the name Nageshwara and/or Naganatheshwara.

Interestingly, the design of the Naganatheshwara Temple is a perfect match with the architecture found in Gangaikonda Cholapuram, a small town in Tamil Nadu, the then capital of Cholas. Apparently, the Cholas ruled south India during 11th-century AD and the inscription found in the Naganatheshwara temple in Begur also dates back to around same time period, according to epigraphists.

Bengaluru war
One of the "hero stones" or veeragallu found at the temple site contains a reference to the "Bangalore War" in old Kannada (Halegannada). According to the late epigraphist R Narasimhachar, the inscription dates back to circa 890 AD. The inscription is also entered into the Epigraphia Carnatica a book on epigraphy on old Mysore (now Karnataka) written by B L Rice.

What it means to Bangalore
Until now, the evidence of the existence of a place called "Bengaluru" was available only with the onset of the rule of Kempegowda II in early 1500s. But with this inscription, the earliest existence of namma Bengaluru dates back to 890 AD. Not only this, this inscription has also raised questions on the authenticity of the theories that describe how Bengaluru got its name. Historians are revisiting the "Benda Kaduru", "Bengavaluru" theories. Although the complete history of the city is still obscure, excavations like this have helped give a new past to namma Bengaluru. Historians and archaeologists are working on extricating the city's history.

On one hand, with political apathy, bad governance and mounting civic problems, Bangalore's future looks dismal. On the other hand, with such excavations, Bangalore's past reveals ever richer layers. In a sense, the past is giving Bangalore its true identity. Let us hope that the future will hold on to it.

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