Graveyard of gold Karnataka

Bengaluru’s Kolar Gold Fields: Vestiges of the golden past

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By 2001, the once-prosperous KGF had wound down. Despite some assurances, former workers were not resettled nor mining restarted.

On All Souls Day on November 2, hundreds of believers across faiths arrive at the many graveyards that dot the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), some 100 kilometres from Bengaluru. “The man resting in this small space, six feet under, was once responsible for bringing up gold from nearly 8,000 feet underground,” says Murugan with a wry smile. “He didn’t wear even a scrap of gold in his life.” The day brings back not just the memories of his grandfather but also of the bitter end to the work at the mines.

Decrepit iron shafts of former mines stand tall over the town. The gathering rust and the pervasive silence are a reminder of the fall of India’s gold rush town. Gold was perhaps first mined in the area in 200 AD, and later, during the Chola period (900-1000 AD), it became a recognisable gold mine. With the arrival of the British Raj, and the introduction of machines, the town turned into a large-scale gold mine by the 1850s, the world’s second deepest.

Profits were huge, and KGF became the site for many of India’s firsts: India’s first hydroelectric power generation unit was created on the Cauvery to support the mining; the town was India’s first to be electrified (second in Asia). Trains, electric trams, electric clocks, telephones, a golf course, and even filtered water were introduced here much before the rest of India.

By the 1920s, 24,000 people were working here, drawn from socio-economically backward communities in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. KGF was contributing all of India’s gold output, accounting for 2% of the world’s gold generation. After 1947, KGF became Bharat Gold Mines Ltd., but gold production slowly became untenable and the town soon lost its lustre. By 2001, it had wound down. Despite some assurances, former workers were not resettled nor mining restarted.

Today, these labourers and their children continue to stay in shanties and in the former workers’ colony, but their jobs are in Bengaluru, two hours away. KGF is a ghost town, peppered with crumbling godowns, buildings, clubs and grocery stores — vestiges of a golden past.

(Text and images by Bhagya Praskash K.)

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