An ever-expanding city and a premier metropolis known as India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru is home to people who come from all over the country to live and work here. But hidden away in the heart of the city are clues to Bengaluru’s medieval past and its dramatic story.
A marble plaque, an ornate stone gate and four watch towers are all that remain of a historic fort that was the nucleus of the city built by the man who founded Bangalore in the 16th century CE.
Here are 5 things about the Bangalore Fort that you may not know.
1. BANGALORE FORT STARTED AS A MUD FORT
In 1537 CE, a local chief under the Vijayanagara Empire (1336 – 1646 CE), named Hiriya Kempe Gowda, chose the area that is modern Bengaluru as his capital city. He built a bustling commercial area with markets, wide roads and designated residential areas, which together formed the Bengaluru Pete. Kempe Gowda enclosed this area, which was 2.24 sq km, with mud walls, thus creating the first Bangalore Fort.
Many of the markets he created continue to function to this day as do four of the seven original stone watch towers. They can still be seen behind the Bandi Mahakali Temple, in the Botanical Gardens of Lalbagh, in the Kempegowda Tower Park near Mekhri Circle and at Ulsoor Lake.
2. A DAUGHTER’S SACRIFICE
While the Bangalore Fort was being built, it is said that the Southern Gate would collapse repeatedly. Kempe Gowda was told that a pregnant woman would need to be sacrificed to appease the Gods, so that the gate and its walls would hold. But Kempe Gowda would not hear of this. To save him from this predicament, it is said that his pregnant daughter-in-law Lakshmi Devi snuck out in the middle of the night and killed herself. In her memory, Kempe Gowda had the Lakshmamma Devi Temple built, which stands to this day in Koramangala. A municipal park nearby has a memorial, which marks the spot where Lakshmi Devi is believed to have taken her life.
3. BANGALORE FORT WAS RECEIVED BY HYDER ALI AS JAGIR
The fort changed hands many times, and was controlled by the Bijapur Sultanate (1489 – 1686 CE) for a while and later the Mughal Empire. In 1689 CE, Bangalore was sold to the Wodeyars of Mysore, led by Chikka Devaraya Wodeyar, for a sum of 3 lakh rupees. Under the Wodeyars, the fort was expanded further, between 1673 and 1704 CE. Hyder Ali, a military commander of the Wodeyars, received the fort as a jagir or land grant in 1758 CE, and began renovating the structure. It was under Hyder Ali that the old mud walls of the fort were replaced with stone walls, parts of which we see even today.
4. EAST INDIA COMPANY LAID SIEGE TO BANGALORE FORT
In March 1791 CE, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, the East India Company army under Lord Cornwallis laid siege to Bangalore. For 12 days, the British surrounded the fort, while two companies of the Madras Pioneers secretly dug trenches up to the fort’s ditch. Through these trenches, Cornwallis attacked on the night of 21st March 1791, and the fort fell. The capture of the Bangalore Fort gave the British a strategic base from which to attack Srirangapatna, capital of Tipu Sultan, the then ruler of Mysore.
Of the many gates that gave access to the fort, only one is still standing – Delhi Gate. Adjacent to the gate is a plaque, which marks the spot where the assault was delivered through a breach in the walls of the fort.
5. THE KILLEDAR OF BANGALORE IS REVERED AS A SAINT TODAY
When they attacked the fort, the British noted the presence of an almost saint-like figure. Tall, fair and exceedingly handsome, the man had a white beard almost down to his waist. He was more than 70 years old but fought with the vigour of someone half his age. This was Bahadur Khan, the killedar or commandant of the Bangalore Fort.
A lieutenant in the East India Company’s army, Roderick Mackenzie, later wrote that the gallant commandant only breathed his last after “receiving almost as many wounds as Caesar on the capitol”. Deeply impressed by his bravery, the British offered to return his body to Tipu Sultan. Upon hearing of the death of his commandant, Tipu is said to have wept, and then replied that “the Khan could be buried nowhere with greater propriety than in the neighbourhood of the place at the defence of which he had fallen”.
And so, the East India Company buried him with full honours at a spot that is a 3-minute walk from the Delhi Gate, at the corner of S J P Road and N R Road, amid what is now K R Market. That burial spot has since turned into a dargah or tomb of an Islamic or Sufi saint, and Bahadur Khan is known as ‘Hazrat Meer Bahdur Shah Al-Maroof Syed Pacha Shaheed’. Both Hindus and Muslims pray at his tomb but few realise that the man is not a saint, rather a fallen soldier.
Today, little remains of the old Bangalore Fort. The protective ramparts around the town were torn down and the ditch filled in, in 1861. The Fort Cemetery, which held the remains of British soldiers, had vanished by 1912. Only a section of the fort has survived, most of it cordoned off from the public. For a monument that is today underwhelming, the stories it has to tell are very dramatic.
Cover Image: The North Entrance Into The Fort Of Bangalore [with Tipu's flag flying]
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deepanjan Ghosh is a broadcast professional from Kolkata, India. A history buff, a landscape and architecture photographer and blogger, he has has been writing about Kolkata since 2013 and hopes to release a book on Kolkata's history soon.