Sunday 24 March 2013

The Lalbagh that is not

Look up any tourist books and even the web and you are told that it was Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan who pioneered the Lalbagh Botanical Garden at its present location in Bangalore.
Even records with the State Government, Department of Horticulture that manages Lalbagh and even British records seem to suggest that the present location is the spot where Hyder initially set the ball rolling for Lalbagh by planting a few cypress trees.
Even the website of the Department of Horticulture seems to say that the British further developed Lalbagh from its original location.
However, recent research has indicated that the present day Lalbagh was not the exact location where Hyder and Tipu had commenced their garden. Moreover, the research has also put paid to the myth that pone of the biggest trees in the garden-the silk cotton- was planted by Tipu Sultan.
The research, however, agrees on the fact that the mango trees were indeed planted by Tipu.
This research was published in one of the issues of Current Science and it was conducted by a group comprising Meera Iyer, Harini Nagendra and M.B. Ranjini.
Their work was published in the magazine as “Using satellite imagery and historical maps to investigate the original contours of Lalbagh Botanical” (submitted June 2011) and accepted by Current Science..
The article states that only a tiny portion of the original gardens developed by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan is part of present-day Lalbagh. The researchers studied the original contours of Lalbagh using historical maps and old paintings and recent remotely sensed images to arrive at several important conclusions.
They contend that the major portion of the original Lalbagh has been swallowed up in the name of development and a part of it now forms the Wilson Garden crematorium and the Wakf burial ground.

The researchers examined the actual boundaries of the Garden as it was in the period of Tipu Sultan. They used two maps drawn in1791. This map was drawn by the British after they defeated  Tipu Sultan in the Third Anglo-Mysore war.
The Siege of Bangalore took place in February–March 1791 and e Lord Cornwallis led the British army. They captured the fort of Bangalore and also overran Lalbagh and Bugle Rock , both tourist spots today, from where a small Mysore Army personnel fired at the British soldiers.
The British captured Bangalore on March 21, 1791 and following the victory, Lord Cornwallis asked surveyors in the British Army to prepare maps of the Fort and its surroundings upto a distance of eight kms, including the Peta and Lalbagh. These maps can be currently seen in the British Library.
These maps predate the Great Trigonometric Survey, and therefore do not conform to the standard projection system followed by later maps. However, the researchers obtained digital maps and superimposed them on the base map of the city drawn in 1987.
Soon after the superimposition, the researchers found that the gardens during Tipu’s period consisted not of one contiguous area, but were a series of five rectangular plots of varying sizes.
This fact corresponds with historical information which suggests that the gardens developed by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, including those at Sira and Srirangapatna, were laid out in the Islamic charbagh style basically a series of plots separated by walks.
Even, Francis Buchanan, a Scottish entomologist, has recorded that the gardens of Tipu and Hyder were divided into plots which were separated by walks. Some of the historical paintings of Lalbagh also back this view.
The researchers found that of the original five gardens demarcated on the maps, four are well outside present day Lalbagh. Only a portion of the southern most plot falls within the boundaries of the present day Lalbagh.
Using GPS coordinates, the researchers have debunked the long held fact that the biggest silk cotton tree in Lalbagh was planted by Tipu. They state that the silk cotton tree never existed in the patches that made up Lalbagh during the period of Tipu.
However, the mango tree believed to have been planted by Tipu was within the southernmost rectangular plot.
The research conclusively proves that the five plots were abandoned early in second decade of the 1800s. There is historical and contemporary records in 1800 to prove that Lord Cornwallis handed over the Cypress Garden or what remained of it to Benjamin Heyne, a botanist in the East India Company.
Heyne was handed the management of  two of the rectangular gardens. He was only able to attend to the garden intermittently. He held the post till 1808. He reported in 1812 that the garden had been abandoned and most of it had been brought under the cultivation of rice and ragi
The garden was consolidated into a single plot when it was taken over by a military paymaster, Major Gilbert Waugh in 1814. He held on to the garden as his private property before it reverted back to the British and they developed the Lalbagh of today.
Make no mistake, this post doe not demean the contribution of Hyder and Tipu in developing Lalbaghs at Bangalore, Srirangapatna, Sira and Malavalli. What we would like to stress is that the original rectangular design perhaps has been post to posterity and what remains of the original garden is only a patch of green.

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