There are two interesting kinds of conversations people of Bengaluru experience. We meet each other and ask: “Where are you from?”
We travel to other Indian cities and most people we meet exclaim: “Oh, Bengaluru is one city I wish to visit!”
This is even though we have no beach, hill resort, adventure sports, shrines, or any other major tourist attraction. They may say they foresee no problems here, regarding the food, language or clothing, round the year.
This may not directly connect us to the idea of heritage, yet they are the basis of the living and shifting heritage of Bengaluru. Our urban culture is our living heritage and is unique in India. Heritage is everywhere, in every space, society, scale, and time. We are in a city of culturally rich neighbourhoods, and not of grand monuments.
A comfort zone
Bengaluru is a city of in-migrants, right from the time of Kempe Gowda, the Mysore rulers, the British, down to post-Independence, and the recent globalised MNC era. That is why we end up asking, “Where are you from?”
Naturally, it has evolved as a multi-lingual, multi-community cosmopolitan centre, which people wish to visit for everyone has a sense of comfort here.
Subject experts classify heritage under these categories: tangible heritage [constructed buildings, manufactured objects, handmade products, designed parks, handicrafts, sculptures — all visible and measurable], intangible heritage [traditions, rituals, faiths, language, dance, drama, music, memory, community — all implicit with no permanent presence], material heritage [arts, archives, paintings, manuscripts, old books and letters — those evolving from any material], and natural heritage [hills, rivers, lakes, forests, flora, fauna, oceans].
While these classifications continue, their definitions have become diluted with an ever expanding holistic idea of the heritage.
Visitors may end up at M.G. Road, Majestic, Gandhi Bazaar, or Russel Market and feel that they have seen the four cornerstones of the cultural diversity of Bengaluru. But to complete this picture, we need to walk into the roads and bylanes of Nagawara, Kamaraj Street, Fraser Town, Banaswadi, Chickpet, Siddaiah Road, Whitefield, HSR Layout, and many more. Most of us from here, leave alone visitors from outside, are not doing so, preoccupied as we are with our own little Bengalurus. The ever expanding geographical spread of the city, coupled with its infamous traffic, is reducing city-level events like the Basavanagudi groundnut fair [Parishe], old town Hoovina Karaga, Shivajinagar St. Mary’s Feast, Mamoolpet Mastansaab Darga Urs, Ulsoor Car festival, Makar Sankranti at Gavipura Cave Temple, and others to a locale or community specific celebration. A few of them are even reduced to symbolism.
Languages, food, clothing
Language is among the most threatened intangible heritages of Bengaluru. Culture critics have predicted that most of our mother tongues, including Kannada, may end up in “house arrest”, with English and Hindi becoming the dominant city languages. In 2011, the Kannada-speaking population was around 40%, a number which might have decreased in a decade now.
Comparatively, food culture has had continuity especially with Darshinis continuing the local food traditions. Many speciality regional and community cuisine options have sprung up, be it Chettinad restaurants, North Karnataka food joints or Mangaluru fish curry centres. Besides, the clubs and pubs, which have for long etched out an image for Bengaluru, continue to thrive.
Dress habits have been a casualty all over Indian cities, more so in Bengaluru owing to its erstwhile colonial and recent Western influences. While it is pleasant to watch groups of traditionally and gorgeously attired women during festivals or marriages, men present a dismal future for our heritage with nearly all the guests in modern clothing, but for a few from the host family. A day may not be far when the heritage of men’s attire would die a slow death.
Cultural practices mostly evolve from rural and semi-urban contexts, with their own contexts of space and time. In the Bengaluru region, they evolved from erstwhile Sunkenahalli, Koramangala, Puttenahalli, Halasooru, Kathriguppe, Kaikondanahalli, and such hundreds of smaller settlements.
Unprecedented urbanisation has spelt doom for most of their local cultural events, owing to shrinking space and time, both physically and metaphorically.
Yet, the prominent city events revolving around Deepavali, Dasara, Ganesh Chaturthi, Makar Sankranti, Vishu, Vaishakhi, Ugadi, Mahalaya Amavasya, and many others continue to flourish in Bengaluru.
Typically, cultural practices lead to arts and crafts, which is conspicuously absent in Bengaluru, but for the much diminished silk weaving.
The city’s beginning was in trade and commerce, later as a British garrison town, becoming an industrial town post-Independence, then emerging as an administrative capital, and now finally a global city. The city never got a chance to shelter many craft heritages.
From across India
Also, the city continues to see many rites and rituals, beliefs and faiths, caste and community practices at their respective neighbourhood contexts.
Thanks to such continuity, Bengaluru is a city where one can dance the garba, walk into Durga pandal, join a Jain procession, decorate the Onam pookalam, fill in a rangoli, taste the Tamil pongal, arrange the Navarathri dolls, watch the Bihu dance or chant Sangham Saranam Gacchami, all thanks to respective communities who are the repositories of their culture.
Indeed, if any city has majorly emerged as a melting pot of culture in recent India, it is Bengaluru.
There has been a population explosion in Pune, Hyderabad and Kochi, but Bengaluru has different stories to tell. It is a curious mix of the local, regional, national, and international images with a diversity found in no other city around.
This raises the question – is this hybrid amalgamation enriching the local urban heritage or would this shift mean a subtle cultural discontinuation? Only the coming generation can answer this question.
(Sathya Prakash Varanashi is a designer and conservation expert.)