Hessarghatta with its vast grasslands is a haven for researchers and ornithologists, but the drying up of the lake has meant residents had to go into the city for work
A neighbourhood yet unborn, Hessarghatta is a rare area in the city that has managed to escape the invasion of skyscrapers and flyovers, at least for now. While a reason for this is its actual physical distance from the city centre, the other is what the locality has inherited from its history.
“During his reign, Achyuta Raya raised the Shivasamudra dam across the Arkavati at Hessarghatta, founded an ‘agrahara' and built a temple there the same year. This reservoir, widened in 1896, is the city's supply of regular piped water,” says an extract from A city yet unborn by Suryanath Kamath, a essay in Multiple city writings on Bangalore edited by Aditi De (2008).
“Government records from 500 years ago have mentioned Hessarghatta by the name ‘Shivana sagara agrahara'. Also, legend has it that sage Vyasa lived near a lake that was around 6 km from the village, and so the area came to be called Vyasaraghatta. This name, in common parlance and through regular colloquial usage, turned into Hessarghatta,” said S.T. Basavaraj, a long-time resident of the area.
The lake, of course, was the most crucial inheritance. Performing the role of an enabler, it used to be the source of subsistence for the entire neighbourhood, apart from supplying drinking water to the city. Residents cultivated horticultural crops, mostly betel leaves. Completely dependent on the lake, the government invested in 16 ‘ilaakhas' (industries), mostly dairy farms, fisheries, poultry and seed farms.
“Earlier, people used to come here for a holiday because of the lake. Boating and the farms nearby attracted a lot of people from the city,” said Nagesh, an autorickshaw driver. With all these activities centred around water, when the Arkavati dried up, the entire locality suffered a setback.
Nevertheless, it was not just the availability of water that attracted people to Hessarghatta. The area offered space for research, which is evident in the establishment of institutions such as the Institute of Horticultural Research.
It is also a haven for ornithologists. A report compiled by S. Subramanya titled ‘Biodiversity of Hessarghatta grasslands' lists around 133 species of birds along with 14 kinds of butterflies and 39 native and naturalised plant species.
Nurturing research in the arts and home to various dance forms and talent, Nrityagram, which literally means a dance village, is a gurukul tucked away in this remote neighbourhood.
But, for the original residents, the drying up of the lake meant going to the city in search of work.
Increased access in the form of regular buses has gradually brought the city closer. And with it comes renewed interest in this locality's preserved legacy of fields and green cover.
“The government has proposed to set up a theme park in the 300 acres of grasslands here. We are presently running a campaign against this. This grassland needs to be declared as a forest reserve as it is a very important catchment area for the lake and an ecological treasure in itself,” said Mahesh Bhat, a photographer and activist.
These are the first signs of the arrival of the city into Hessarghatta, but the regular commute to the city in search of work has not yet instilled in many residents a desire to migrate to the city. “People who have grown up here are the ones that are used to open fields, clean and fresh air and plenty of light. No amount of city attraction can make them want to move,” said Basavaraj.