Saturday 12 January 2013

The hanging bridge of Srirangapatna

He conceived it as an experimental bridge and one of the towers of the bridge was in his garden while the other was on the opposite banks of the Cauvery.
The bridge was built just nine years after the death of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. It was considered to be one of the wonders of the age as it was a hanging bridge built of brick, mortar and concrete.
The bridge was in Srirangapatna and it was built just five years after the Wellesley Bridge was built by Dewan Purnaiah in 1804.  The story of the hanging bridge and de Haviland is as romantic as any other story.
Thomas Fiott de Havilland, as he was known, was born in Guernsey in April 1775 and he joined the Madras Army in 1795 as an assistant engineer under the then Collector-engineer Colin Mackenzie.
Between 1798 and 1800, he prepared sketches of Coimbatore, Dindigal and some regions to the west of Thanjavur. These sketches were for the Army.
In 1801, de Haviland was sent to Egypt where he surveyed Cairo and the Suez Canal. On his return journey, he was captured by a French pirate but later released.
In 1805, de Haviland was appointed as engineer to the Hyderabad Subsidiary Force of the Nizam of Hyderabad with directions to complete the survey of the Deccan which had been started by Major Colin Mackenzie.
In 1808, he married Elizebeth Saumarez and settled down first at Srirangapatna and then at Mysore. He took a leading part in the European military officers mutiny of Srirangapatna which was put down by the British.
His house in Srirangapatna was at the end of a road which led to the beautiful garden of Tipu Sultan called Lalbagh. There were many British bungalows on the road de Haviland’s house was near the Cauvery river.
Being an engineer, de Haviland was interested in building and building technology. He saw the beautiful dome of the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, the dome at Daria Daulat and the monuments of Hyderabad, Brihadeshwara Temple in Thanjavur and the palace there. In all these structures, it was the cupola or the dome that struck his eye.
He then decided to construct an experimental arch. Seeing the serene Cauvery flowing nearby, he hit upon the idea of  constructing an arched bridge. The proposal of a hanging or arched bridge was not welcomed and people said such an incredible feat of engineering was not possible.
It was then that de Haviland decided to build an experimental structure.He hired native workers from Srirangapatna and surrounding areas and planned the arched bridge. While one span rested on firm ground in his backyard, the other was on the other side of the Cauvery.
It was in the middle of 1808 and when completed the arch was a wonder of the area. It was called the swinging bridge. It was actually an experimental bridge and a smaller version of what was supposed to be a bigger structure.
de Haviland had an idea was to build a similar bridge across the river. For some reason the bridge across the river was not built in this style. His proposal was for a five arch bridge across the  Cauvery.  By then, the Wellesley bridge was being regularly used. The British, therefore, did not welcome the idea of another bridge.
The structure built by de Haviland got its name as a swinging bridge as it used to swing about 3 inches at the keystone when people walked over it.
The arch had a span of 100 feet with the two ends placed on either side of the Cauvery. He used bricks- country bricks-mortar, lime and other native materials for construction. He then gave it his name.
The bridge took three years to complete. It is said that de Haviland personally inspected the building materials that went into its construction. Since one of the spans stood in his garden, daily supervision was not a problem.
The bridge survived for nearly 130 years. Unfortunately, the bridge fell into disuse soon after de Haviland left for Mysore in 1810 and from there to Madras with his family. In 1936, the bridge collapsed and today all that remains of the structure are the two pillars or spans and the fallen section made of brick and mortar.
The bridge is just a short walk from the magnificent Ranganathaswamy Temple.
The building of such a bridge was a tacit process of knowledge transfer of native architecture to European minds. By commissioning the experiment of the great arch in his backyard, de Haviland became familiar with a wide range of  Indian building knowledge and indigenous building technology.
The locals, read Indians, prepared the material and built the arch while he watched and recorded the procedure. The bridge was thus his hands on contact and approach with the raw matter of bricks and mortar. He thus was among the first of the engineers engaged in ethnoscientific venture in India.
He used his expertise gained here to build a dome on Mount Road in Madras called Kirk dome and buildings in Mysore.         
de Havilland got married in 1808. His wife Elizabeth died in 1816 at the early age of 35 and she is buried in St. George’s Cathedral Cemetery, Madras, which was actually conceived and built by Havilland himself. Ironically, his wife was among the first to be buried here.
On his part, de Havilland lived in the building which later became the Madras Record Office. He called his house Egmore Retreat in what is today’s Padupet. After Elizebeth’s death, he advertised in the Madras Courier in 1819, offering the house for sale.


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  2. Excellent read again....yes..the arch is in a pityful state is said that the mortar used was lime (sunaa) and foul's eggs..thousands of them...

    also in he same supposed to be a pillar called "Stumbal Rani" was a execution instrument used by tipu...this would be insterted into the womb of a woman caught in adultry or a male's rectum for similar such crimes...and they would be pulled down and shred to pieces..hardly anyone knows about the atrocities tipu commited...if you could get any info on would be really nice..

    also there is a story about a french engg who built something similar to de Havilland's arch for tipu and had his eyes dug out on completion so that he would not build anything of that sort for anyone else again..again really good if u cud get any info...