Krumbeigel, Koenigsberger, Exener… their names are associated with many of the buildings and gardens of colonial Bangalore and Mysore. How the British handled them makes for an absorbing story, says Papiya Bhattacharya
Most of us living in Bangalore are mourning the loss of its old world charm that meant its links to its colonial past in the form of old bungalows, spacious avenues with flower-laden trees, roads with names such as Queen's Road and Cunningham Road, and areas in the Cantonment called Benson Town, Cox Town and Richard's Town. Who is to say who was Richard, and what did he do to have a part of the city named after him?
Only the other day, the papers were talking about the sale of Brindavan Hotel on MG Road, called as Parade Road in the days of 1896. The article also said that during that time Winston Churchill had a room for reading in the same building! India had not appealed to him though, for in his book, My Early Life, he has described Bangalore as a “garrison town which resembles a third rate watering place.” He has also mentioned that he had a room ‘in a magnificent palace in the middle of a large garden!'
That line made me sit up and take notice. Wasn't it Krumbiegel, a German architect and botanist, who had conceived and planned the city's gardens? Were the avenues and gardens designed after 1896, then?
In the book, ‘Autobiographical Notes and other writings of historical interest' by Sri Aurobindo, there is a letter from him to Clarke, the then Principal of Baroda College, that mentions that the Maharaja would like him to consult with Krumbiegel and draw up a plan for future Students' Quarters, Professors Quarters etc. The letter is dated 18.9.1904!
A Wikipedia article on Krumbiegel suggests that in 1908 he was requested by Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the then ruler of Mysore, to serve him and he succeeded John Cameron at the Lalbagh Gardens as an economic botanist and superintendent.
What is turning into a very interesting tale is that the Diwan of Mysore appointed him as an architectural consultant despite protests from the British Resident in Mysore. This means that Bangalore did not have its lush green cover, tree-lined flowering avenues and the profusion of gardens just yet!
Vandana Baweja in her Ph.D. thesis, A Pre-history of Green Architecture: Otto Koenigsberger and Tropical Architecture, from Princely Mysore to Post-colonial London, 2008, says that Bangalore was divided into two cities: the Civil and Military station (C&M station) or the Cantonment, which was under British administration, and the Bangalore city or pettah or native city, which was under princely jurisdiction. She said that the Cantonment area had colonial formations of architecture in Neo-Classical and Gothic styles, the most well-known type of which was the bungalow.
Her thesis also suggests that for the princely institutional buildings in the city, the Mysore regime chose eclectic European styles. By the 1920s, the Mysore government had already recruited Indian and German architects and was avoiding using the services of British architects.
Declared as enemies
One also reads that during World War II, Germans in India were declared as enemies and Krumbiegel was along with other Germans kept in an internment camp in Bangalore! Vandana goes on to say in her thesis that the Mysore Government negotiated with the British Resident in Mysore to retain Krumbiegel, Exener, and Koenigsberger (all German architects) as government architects during World War II, during which the German architects were classified as enemy subjects and confined to the camp. The Mysore Durbar (court) exercised considerable pressure on the British residency for their immediate release so that they could continue working on architectural designs.
The thesis mentions that most of the public buildings in Mysore, especially schools, dispensaries, and hospitals, were produced through philanthropy by the elite of Mysore and the princely government.
Mysore State had a practice of laying a granite epigraph during the foundation stone laying ceremony and when an Indian architect was recruited, the British regime listed his name on the epigraph! The Mysore government did employ German architects, but never acknowledged the contribution of German architects on stone epigraphs in buildings.
Krumbiegel designed the Indo-Saracenic building called as Corporation office or what is today's BBMP building. Later the building was redesigned by Lakshminarasappa. Both the plans are completely different but their elevations and the Indo-Saracenic styles are similar. Lakshminarasappa's name figures on the epigraph while Krumbiegel's name is missing!
Buildings designed by Koenigsberger, including the Victory Hall, the Ayurvedic Hospital, the Krishna Rao Pavilion and the Mysore Engineers Association do not mention his name as the architect. Yet, the architect for Mysore Sugar Office, T.S. Narayan Rao, was acknowledged through the epigraph on the Mysore Sugar building. Was the British Government trying to hide the important role that these German architects were playing in the growing new cities of our country? Was England fighting a mini war with Germany right here in Mysore and Bangalore in the backdrop of World War II?
Ms. Baweja says “Krumbiegel, Exener, and Koenigsberger's names did not figure on any of the Mysore epigraphs. Their architectural contribution to Mysore State has been deleted from the architectural histories of Bangalore and Mysore. Though Krumbiegel is remembered for his contribution to horticulture in the histories of Bangalore, his contribution as an architect has been forgotten.” This is a tale of two cities and a slice of history that has been underplayed by the then British Government of India!