The wreckage that has become of namma Bengaluru's green cover is a pity and the media swapping its tag from garden city to garbage city to is heartbreaking. Today, it is hard for my friends to believe me when I say that just a decade ago summer in Bangalore used to be a warm 30 degrees Celsius. Bangalore earned the garden city monicker for some very good reasons, none better than the two-century-old abode of flora called Lalbagh.
It was after a decade that I walked inside Lalbagh with a camera in hand. But I had no idea of its history, its chronicles and the great human beings who made Lalbagh happen, until I started exploring its past. I'm sure most of us, just like I did, think of Lalbagh as just an old and huge green park. Here's my attempt to get to its roots. It is something that I feel every true Bangalorean deserves to know.
The ruler of Mysore in the mid-1700s, Hyder Ali is acknowledged to be the founder of Lalbagh. Known for his fondness for the Mughal style of gardens, he planned Lalbagh principally on the model of Khan Bagh, an impressive garden in Sira (near Tumkur), developed by Dilawar Khan, the Mughal emperor's south representative. Dr. Francis Buchanan, in his 1807 book Journey from Madras: Through the Countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar has written that Hyder Ali shared some sensibilities for the English. This was evident in the fact that before it was named Lalbagh, the park was called the "Cypress Garden" -- Cypress trees were a mainstay of parks in England those days.
Somewhere in the 1760s, Hyder Ali chose 34 acres of land on the east of the Kempegowda tower. He procured seeds and plants from a variety of places, including Kabul, Persia, Turkey, Lahore and Multan. Tamil-speaking gardeners from the Thigala community were recruited to look after the gardens. This explains why the community still has a strong presence in Bangalore.
After Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan extended the garden by acquiring more land. He imported pine and oak plants from the Cape of Good Hope, explains Dr Suryanath U Kamath, former chief editor of the Karnataka Gazetteer in his 1991article The early long history of Lal Bagh. Other exotic plants and seeds were brought in from Mauritius and Africa. Two old mango tress said to have been planted during his time are still seen in Lalbagh. He also appointed Mohammed Ali and Abdul Khader as Daroga (Chief Gardener). Tipu improved the gardens to a greater extent even as late as in 1798; he obtained plants and seeds from the Isle of France. Thus Lalbagh grew to be a house of rare tropical and sub-tropical plants.
After the British invasion, Lalbagh became a property of the East India Company. On 27 February 1836, Sir Mark Cubbon transferred its ownership to the Agri Horticultural Society, Mysore. By August 1856, Lal Bagh became a government botanical garden and in 1881, it was passed into the hands of the Maharaja of Mysore. The area covered by the garden continued to expand, and by the end of the 19th century it was a whopping 120 acres of mesmerising flora.
Zoo at Lalbagh
There were also proposals to incorporate a zoo in Lalbagh to increase the number of visitors. In 1862, it had a black panther, hundreds of deer, a few tigers and kangaroos. It is also said that an orangutan was a popular resident of the zoo. A pigeon house with 100 pair of pigeons was built. The plague of 1899, however, impacted the zoo and aviary and by 1900 the number of animals and birds was reduced to 60; all these were later transferred to the Mysore Zoo.
Flower shows have been held at Lalbagh since 1867. In 1888, John Cameron, the then superintendent of government gardens, proposed for the construction of a glasshouse for the purpose of holding horticultural shows. Designed originally on the lines of the Crystal Palace in England, it was completed in 1890 at a cost of Rs 75,000. The Crystal Palace was destroyed in a fire accident, but Lalbagh's marvellous glasshouse still stands.
Lalbagh rock and lake
The great plate of south India was part of "Gondwanaland", and is one of the oldest formations on earth. It dates back to about 3000 million years! A rare remnant of this antiquity can be seen at Lalbagh in the form of a rock hill, known by geologists as a peninsular gneiss. Perched on top of this rock is one of the four cardinal towers that were part of the border of namma Bengaluru city built by Kempegowda in 1537.
For more than 200 years, this elegant garden has been an oasis in this part of the world. From its initial 34 acres to the present 240 acres of green cover, every part of it has its own story to tell. To me, the fact that it is in the very heart of namma Bengaluru makes it even more special. I wish that the long cherished legacy of Lalbagh will continue forever and bring further prosperity
I would like to extend a special thanks to the helpful members of the Horticultural Department for answering my endless questions with so much enthusiasm.