True to the glory of ‘Fort Town’ Srirangapatna, it has innumerable monuments with inestimable value. But several monuments that show the diversity of heritage are crying for attention.

Whilst those authorised to protect the historical memorials failed to do so, an elderly woman is offering commendable service by protecting and conserving hundreds of historical edifices at the internationally well-known ‘Garrison Cemetery’ on the banks of the Cauvery in the town.

Vidyalakshmi B.N. Venkatasubbaiah, a 71-year-old widow, has been maintaining the historical cemetery for the past two years. The cemetery was earlier a rendezvous for pick-pockets and local thieves. Anti-social elements used to take shelter there and steal iron grills and marble slabs from the monuments.

The cemetery, situated around 300 metres from the Bangalore-Mysore highway, is locally known as ‘Parangori’ (Foreigners’ Graveyard). It has 307 tombs, including those of around 80 personnel of the Swiss ‘de Meuron Regiment’ who were killed in the final war at the Srirangapatna Fort in 1799 in which the then ruler Tipu Sultan was killed. The remaining are of the family members of the same regiment.

The ‘de Meuron Regiment’, known after its commander ‘Comte Charles-Daniel de Meuron’, has an historical significance. It was selected to fight against Tipu Sultan in the 1799 Srirangapatnam war, the final confrontation between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore under Tipu Sultan, say historians at Srirangapatna.

Ironically, before fighting for British forces in Srirangapatna, the adventurous Swiss soldiers fought against the British East India Company forces in ‘Ceylon’ (Sri Lanka). However, the Regiment was absorbed into the regular British forces as later it went bankrupt.

Secret agreement

The regiment had 800 odd warriors. It needed money to pay the salary as well as to meet the other needs of the troupe. As it was struggling for money, the regiment made an agreement with the British rulers. The latter absorbed the regiment in the regular British forces.

“Later, the regiment members participated in the fight against Tipu Sultan,” a historian said.

Buried

The people who died in the battle were buried at the Garrison Cemetery. While the first burial took place in 1800, the cemetery was in service up to 1860. The cemetery came to be known as the Garrison Cemetery as the British East India Company turned the Srirangapatna Fort into a military garrison.

Neglected

Because of the lack of conservation efforts, the cemetery had been losing its importance of late. The historical structures were wholly neglected by the authorities concerned till a few years ago. The magnificent tombs were on the brink of collapse. The cemetery was completely covered by weeds and bushes.

Restored

Louis Dominique de Meuron, a descendant of the de Meuron Regiment, visited the cemetery with his wife Monique some years ago. The couple then decided to conserve the cemetery and financially assisted an agency in Mysore to restore the structures. However, the couple died in 2007. Their son Jean de Meuron and daughter Sophie continued the work of restoring the structures.

In a while, the cemetery was restored to its original form under the guidance of the State Archaeology Department. The workmen gave a new breath of life to the structures by using traditional lime mortar, organic additives and other materials.

The cemetery was formally handed over to the de Meuron family in the presence of officials concerned of various government agencies in November 2008.

“Monuments serve as a reminder of the past events. Most tourists to Srirangapatna visit the ruins of the monuments and go back with memories. But, majority of them never understand the importance of the historical monuments,” Ms. Vidyalakshmi told The Hindu . “These are all treasured monuments. They have historical and political value which is far greater than any price.”

“Though the sprawling cemetery is well connected with the war history of Srirangapatna, it was completely covered by bushes. No one was ready to maintain the cemetery when the de Meuron family and the authorities at St. Bartholomew's Church, the oldest church in Mysore, offered me the job,” she said.

“The de Meuron family has been impressed with my service and so offers me a monthly honorarium of Rs. 4,500.”

Help sought

But she seeks help from interested people as Rs. 4,500 is not enough to live in these expensive days.

Vidyalakshmi B.N. Venkatasubbaiah can be contacted at 94836 51074.

M.T. SHIVA KUMAR

A 71-year-old widow has been maintaining the historical ‘Garrison Cemetery’ on the banks of the Cauvery in Srirangapatna for the past two years