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Majestic at 50: the story of Bengaluru's traffic lifeline

Majestic @ 50: When our bus station was a lake...

Urbanisation, inability to meet the drinking water demand of growing city and changed notions of sanitation led to demise of the water body

May 30, 2019 08:13 pm | Updated 10:27 pm IST

Dharmambudhi lake in the 1950s.

Dharmambudhi lake in the 1950s.

From a lake that was the chief source of drinking water to a ‘maidan’ that hosted public meetings to finally becoming the city’s transport hub, it was a slow transformation from Dharmambudhi lake to Kempegowda Bus Station (KBS).

Research shows that urbanisation, the lake's inability to meet the drinking water demand of the growing city and changed notions of sanitation post the plague breakout – all in the 1890s – contributed to the lake’s demise.

The lake was a source of drinking water that pre-dated Kempe Gowda. A system of open channels took the water to the pete area and villagers collected water from stone troughs in villages for many centuries.

“The city faced a famine from 1876 to 1882, and the lake couldn’t meet the needs of the city. New railway lines laid in the area had encroached on the channels linking Sampangi lake and Dharamambudhi lake reducing the water flow. Attempts were made to build a tunnel below the railway infrastructure to restore the linkages, but they failed. The lake was even deepened to hold more water in 1892, but it failed to meet the needs of the growing city,” said Hita Unnikrishnan, Newton International Fellow at Sheffield University, UK, who has studied the transformation of Dharmambudhi lake.

In May 1893, the city stopped depending entirely on Dharamambudhi lake and Hebbal lake too began catering to the need for potable water. The success of this initiative led to creating the Hesaraghatta lake through an embankment across Arkavathi river and bringing water from there through a pipeline in October 1898.

“What also pushed the case for piped water was the changing notions of sanitation in the city post the plague outbreak. There was a paradigm shift to enclosed water supply as against open channels to prevent diseases,” Dr. Unnikrishnan said.

Over time, like most lakes, Dharmambudhi became the destination of the first sewerage network of the pete area, heavily polluting the lake. By the early 1900s, the lake bed was a marshy area infested with mosquitoes and termed a ‘health concern’, said Harini Nagendra, ecologist and professor, Azim Premji University. In her book Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future , she explains: “A number of lakes were drained as part of misguided efforts towards malaria eradication, including Dharmambudhi lake.”

This was in the early 1920s, after which the lakebed was called a ‘maidan’. It was the venue for fodder melas and large public meetings, some of which were addressed by big names of the freedom movement, including Jawaharlal Nehru and C. Rajagopalachari. It came to be called ‘Gandhi Sagara’ in honour of Mahatma Gandhi.

But large tracts of the land remained marshy with wild growth of grass and was with the Horticulture Department till a portion was allotted to the Transport Department to build a bus station in 1964.

“Though the topography of the area has been irretrievably changed, water still finds its gradient as KBS is the lowest point. You can’t fight nature,” said water conservationist S. Vishwanath.

Mention in 13th century inscription

Contrary to popular perception, the lake was not created by Kempe Gowda. The earliest reference to the lake is found in an inscription from 1247 AD when the region was ruled by the Hoysalas, clearly pre-dating Kempe Gowda who founded the city in 1537.

“An inscription dating from the 13th century speaks of lands below Doddakere of Vengaluru, and this may be the earliest mention of the Dharmambudhi water body,” said Ms. Nagendra.

Geologist and writer T.R. Anantramu states, in his three-part seminal work on the city Bengaluru Darshana , that documents of two Lingayat–Veerashaiva Mathas of the city from 1844 and 1876 refer to Dharmambudhi lake as Doddakere.

Dance on floats

Dharmambudhi lake was a part of the local festival – Karaga. The festival retains its links to Sampangi tank and Karagada Kunte in Cubbon Park.

“When the lake overflowed during the monsoon, a theppotsava was held in celebration. Oil lamps were made of rice flour, lit, and set afloat at night in the lake, which was a beautiful sight,” says Harini Nagendra. As the lake was located near the city’s main railway station, dance performances on floats on the water were organised to welcome visiting dignitaries, including Prince Albert in 1889.

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