A city that fell to the lure of trade

Historian S. K. Aruni traces Bangalore Pete’s trajectory from the capital of a medieval administrative territory to a commercial hub

Published - January 02, 2013 03:51 pm IST

A recent view of Avenue Road, photographed shortly before sections of it were closed for civic works. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

A recent view of Avenue Road, photographed shortly before sections of it were closed for civic works. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Bangalore’s ‘Pete’ has a longer history than that of the Cantonment. During the British period, Bangalore was divided into the ‘Old town’ or the ‘native town’, and the ‘Cantonment’. The ‘native town’, which is now thickly populated, was originally called Pete, which refers to an urban or commercial settlement.

In the medieval period (between the 16th and the 18th century), petes usually came up near forts. The Bangalore Pete, which is rectangular in plan and covers 2.5 km from east to west and 1.5 km from north to south, originally lay to the north of the fort.

Kempegowda’s capital

According to historical sources, the Yelahanka Nadu (administrative unit or territory) chief Kempegowda I (1510-1570) founded a new town, Bangalore, in 1537 and made it his capital. Later, this town came to be known as ‘Pete’. Important trade routes such as the Madras-Bhatkal route from the east to west coasts and the Chitradurga-Dharmapuri route from north to south intersected in the Bangalore region.

Bangalore served as a capital town for a century, from 1537 to 1638, during which it slowly grew into an important town in the southern part of the Vijayanagara kingdom. Sources mention that the present pete was an important centre of activity during the rule of the Kempegowda family, and was divided into large and small units, or upa-petes .

Bangalore was primarily established as the capital of a medieval administrative territory, and under the Kempegowda family, it served as a residential place for the administrative and military officers, pandits and other elite classes.

After the fall of Yelahanka chiefs and the capture of Bangalore by the Adil Shahis of Bijapur in 1638, Bangalore lost its administrative town character and grew into a town for commerce and artisans. Historical records refer to Bangalore as a commercial town or pete during the Maratha and Mughal periods.

Pete’s decline

Soon after Hyder Ali took over the Mysore State, Bangalore served as a political seat and continued to do so until the end of the Tipu Sultan period in 1799. After the establishment of the British Cantonment in 1809, the pete area lost its importance as the new town had modern features such as wide roads and a drainage system.

Residents of the pete began to look at new spaces outside the pete region, and this led to the dismantling of old houses, which were modified into commercial establishments. Amazingly, all the houses of the old capital town are now shops or commercial establishments. Nowhere else in south India can such an example be found of an entire old city being converted into a commercial area.

Structure and layout

The rectangular pete was protected by massive mud fort walls and a deep ditch. It had four main gates in the cardinal directions. During the process of urbanisation in the 19th and 20th centuries, the walls and the ditch were dismantled.

A description of the Pete layout is found in one of the British records. The Military History of Madras Engineers and Pioneers from 1743 up to the Present Time compiled by H.M. Vibart (1881) says “[T]he pettah to the north of fort was surrounded with a rampart and ditch, with an intermediate space planted with thorns (prickly pear, &c.), 100 yards wide. The pettah had several gates covered with fleches; there were no drawbridges.”

The outline of the fort walls and ditch can be traced from the old maps of the city that were prepared in 1791. The cardinal gates to the city were the Yelahanka-dvara (the current Mysore Bank circle), Halsur-dvara (Corporation Circle), Kengeri-dvara (Binny Mills Cross) and Delhi-dvara (near K.R. Market). In addition, there were smaller gates known as diddi-bagilu ; one such gate was near Shantala Silks and Sarees on Tank Bund Road.

Of the four main gates, the Yelahanka-dvara and Halsur-dvara were witness to important events in the Pete’s history. When the British army attacked the Halsur gate on 7th March 1791, Tipu’s army caused large-scale destruction of the British army, and many British officers were killed there. It took a huge effort by the British army to capture the Pete . The Yelahanka-dvara played a vital role as it was the main entrance to the city; all rituals and processions used to go through this gate. Today, this is still done during the Karaga festival.

The Delhi-dvara served a dual function, as it was also connected to the oval fort. The Pete was divided into many small settlements on the basis of caste. The Dodda pete had an agrahara with a large temple called the Ranganatha temple, in which one can find an inscription dating back to 1628, the time of Kempegowda. The inscription mentions that certain merchants of Mutyalapete of Bangalore gave grantsfor the maintenance of the temple.

Street names

The Pete was divided into main and sub-roads. There are some references to old street names such as ‘Surya beedi’ running from east to west and ‘Chandra beedi’ running from north to south, now called Chickpete Road and Avenue Road respectively. The nucleus of the Pete was Chandra beedi, also known as Dodda pete beedi.

The Pete contains a large number of temples, dargahs and mosques, built in different periods from 1537 onwards. The Ranganatha temple, Jain temple, mosque in Taramandala (said to have been built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb), the Tawakkal Mastan Shah Dargah and Rice Memorial Church are a few of the important monuments in the area.

(Dr. Aruni is the Deputy Director of the Indian Council for Historical Research, Bangalore.)

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