Before Emergency was declared, George Fernandes planned to bomb Vidhan Soudha

At 60 the majestic Vidhana Soudha remains poetry in stoneRavi Tej Photography
news Heritage Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 18:29

Barely 20 years after the seat of the Karnataka government – Vidhana Soudha – was inaugurated, a plot was hatched to bomb it. The plan was a rather harmless one, nothing like the fantastic fireworks in the climax of the Hollywood hit “V for Vendetta”. The target in this bombing was a toilet.

In his autobiography titled “Suragi”, Kannada writer and Jnanapith awardee UR Ananthamurthy wrote that ahead of the Emergency, George Fernandes (who was then underground) sent Ananthamurthy a message to meet him under the guise of sending the review of a book.

Ananthamurthy went to his friend Pattabhirama Reddy, who blindfolded him and took to him a decrepit old church where George and his brother Lawrence were hiding. George told Ananthamurthy that Snehalata Reddy (an activist and URA’s friend) would have to go to a “rarely used lavatory” in Vidhana Soudha at night and explode a bomb when no one was there.

Photo Courtesy: Ravi Tej

“Our objective was to hassle the government, and not to inflict violence on anyone. The government was convinced it could get away with anything, and people wouldn’t protest. If such subversive incidents took place every now and then, the frightened citizens would feel reassured something was afoot to dislodge the government. It was our duty to protect the people’s will to resist. We had to find a bridge there, and a government building here, and bring them down with dynamite,” writes Ananthamurthy in his autobiography, translated into English by SR Ramakrishna.

Looking at the tight security today, on the 60th anniversary of its completion, it seems impossible to believe that such a thing had ever been considered.

Located in the heart of the city, Vidhana Soudha seems formidable, unapproachable. But the structure that was to become the seat of power in Karnataka’s history has a fascinating story of its own.

When the Vidhana Soudha was completed in 1956, it was actually the seat of the Mysore state, which came into being on November 1 that year, following the linguistic reorganization of states. The state was given its present name only in 1973.

Built largely of “Bangalore granite”, excavated from areas around Mallasandra and Hesarghatta to the north of the state capital, the Vidhana Soudha is 700 ft long, 350 ft wide and 150 ft tall. For visual variety, "Magadi pink" and "Turuvekere black" stones have also been used. Its three floors house 172 rooms. The Chief Minister’s chamber is the largest room.

It took 5,000 labourers and 1,500 chisellers, masons, and wood-carvers four years to complete the structure on the 60-acre campus, after the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone in 1952. Most of the unskilled workers were convicts who were set free on its completion.

Photo Courtesy: RV Clicks

The structure was built during the Chief Ministership of Kengal Hanumanthaiah, who headed the then Mysore state from 1951-1956. The chief architect of the building was BR Manickam, a civil engineer and town planner. Together with his assistant Hanumantha Rao Naidu, Manickam designed the secretariat to be classical European in character, but neo-Dravidian in detailing.

According to “A Concise History of Modern Architecture in India”, masons capable of creating traditional Dravidian temple architecture – chhajjas, column capitals, and brackets - working with the granite chosen for the building in a traditional Dravidian manner had to be brought from as far as Karaikal and Tiruchirapalli. Today, such skill is hard to find.

The 350-ft wide and 150-ft tall central dome, and the six smaller domes were designed by Mysuru sculptors – Siddalinga Swami, sculptor to the erstwhile royal family, and his son Nagendra Stapathi. Although Hanumanthaiah wanted the domes in the Dravidian style, Nagendra managed to convince the latter to adopt the Chola and Dhakni styles. It is believed that financial constraints prompted the government to have the domes built smaller than they were originally designed by Nagendra and his father.

The first sitting of the New Assembly in the newly-built Vidhana Soudha was held on December 19, 1956. The strength of the Assembly which was 208 in 1957 increased to 216 in 1967 and to 224 in 1978. The Assembly is now composed of 224 elected members and one nominated member.

Poet and writer Kuvempu – a portion of whose poem is now the state song – called the building “poetry in stone”.

Historian Suresh Moona told The News Minute that the building is “like a spot of kumkum on Bengaluru’s forehead, unlike many buildings today, which look like pimples on the face of the city”.

While the building and subsequently the Vikas Soudha – which was initiated by the then CM SM Krishna – have been the site of many historic decisions, the iconic structure of Bengaluru’s landscape has made it even to consumerist popular culture. You can now have the Vidhana Soudha cover a cushion on your couch, thanks to kitsch retailer Chumbak.

 

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