Sunday 14 April 2013

The Taj of the South-Brett's folly

What Taj Mahal was to north India, this was to the south. If the Taj was a memorial of love, this building was also the same. The only difference was that Shahjahan built the Taj for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, while this building was by an Englishman to live in.
Today while the Taj survives and it is the wonder of the world, this building in the south which once resembled the famed Kenilworth Castle of England is no longer extinct and it is in full ruins. Except books on history and a letter here and a photograph there, there is no mention of this landmark building while for several decades stood out for its beauty, sheer magnificence and unique architecture.
Yet for all its attractions, this building was never called anything but a house. Today, the ruins too arte known by the same name and it is located in Hosur which is about 50 kilometres from the Garden City of Bangalore.
The house was then and even now is called Brett’s house and it was built in the form of a mediaeval castle by one of the Collectors of Hosur.
The photograph accompanying the post shows Mr. Brett's house at Hosur, Tamil Nadu from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections: India Office Series (volume 21, A numbers) taken by Henry Dixon in the early 1860s. This view looks across the garden and along the drive towards the house, with the entrance and a porte-cochère at the right.
The beautiful building-Kenilworth Castle- was constructed between 1859 and 1862 and it for some time served as the divisional officer’s bungalow. It was purchased by the Government in 1875 and was known subsequently came to be known locally as “The Castle”.
The caste stood adjoining the Hosur fort which was once a  stronghold of several Empires. The southern wall of the fort is the location of the first and probably the only example of a British castle built in India and that too as a model of the grand Kenilworth Castle.
The Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire is one of the historic monuments of Britain and figures repeatedly in British history and of course the novels of Sir Walter Scott.
Today the Indian counterpart of Kenilworth Castle is only a ruin and a mass of stones and grave. The original Kenilworth still stands the test of time, while its Indian counterpart is called as Brett’s folly.  
Here is how Brett’s folly came to be built.
Hosur was the head quarters of the Salem district of the former Madras Presidency from 1830 to 1860. In 1855-56, Mr Brett, ICS, was appointed as the Collector of Salem. He was engaged to a Scottish lady of noble birth. His would be refused to India unless she was provided with a home as beautiful as any other castle of Scotland.
When she told Brett about her fascination of the Kenilworth castle, Brett decided to build a similar structure in India. Since he was stationed at Hosur, he thought of  building the Indian Kenilworth here.
He then had the plan prepared in England and employed skilled workers to construct the castle. He decided on the southern face of the fort at Hosur over the moat as the best place to raise the castle. Since the castle would require a large quantity of  quicklime or chuna, he invited chuna manufacturers to reside in an adjoining hamlet which today is called Chunam Jeebi.
The Chunam Jeebi today is on the road from Hosur to Bangalore. The cost of chuna alone, used in the construction, amounted to Rs 17,000. The castle costed upwards of Rs 1,70,000, which was a fantastic figure in those days and it would easily amount to more than two hundred million rupees at today’s exchange rates.
A Tehsildar (revenue official) at Hosur was asked to maintain accounts and look after the construction. The Tahsildar stopped keeping accounts after the expenditure exceeded one hundred thousand rupees.
The construction, which began about 1857-58, was completed by 1860-61. But unfortunately for Brett, the Collectorate was shifted to Salem in 1861 and Brett, who had spent so much money and time, never got the opportunity of living in the castle.
Meanwhile, his wife, on hearing the change of the location, refused at first to come to India and live with him at Salem. Mr Brett too lost much of his earlier enthusiasm for work. Finally, after much persuasion, his wife came unwillingly to India and she died in Salem after a short stay. Even to this day, her grave is found in St John’s Cemetry in Bangalore.
Coming back to the Indian Kenilworth Castle, it was a surreal Scottish structure in a semi rural setting. It had a lofty tower, which stands only partially now. Large elegant windows adorned the walls of the huge central hall and its many rooms. It also provided a wide and spectacular view of the lake nearby. The stained glass windows of the castle reflected, any colours during dawn and dusk.
After Brett left Hosur, his castle still housed the offices of the sub-collectorate and subsequently it became the residence of a number of British sub-Collectors till 1935.
The building, though outwardly mammoth and impressive, had weak foundations and it was declared unfit for habitation in 1935 and then sub-Collectors began to reside in the guesthouse attached to the Castle, till the present Sub-Collector’s bungalow was built in 1938.
The castle slowly came to abandoned and there are many stories about it. One says a large Indian snake was shot in the premises by one of the Salem Collectors. The snake, which lived on the grounds of the Castle, had  a three-pronged marking on its head and it was considered holy. The Collector is said to have lost the use of his limbs. Thereafter, the castle also fell on bad days.
The entire building and grounds of the castle were sold for Rs 2,050 in 1936. The buyers demolished most of the building and sold the exquisite woodwork and furniture, so that only the skeletal remains of the building stand today.
One of the subsequent owners excavated an armoury with about 500 iron cannon balls. The vast vaults and underground chambers of the castle are yet to be explored. The subterranean chambers also are sealed.  
As for as the career of Brett goes, the British found him guilty of profligacy and dismissed him from service. Lord Cornwallis found him guilty of mishandling the company’s money.
The Hosur fort was built around the present day Kottai Mariyamman temple. Today, there are only a few stones that tell us the story of the fort.
Today, Hosur is part of the IT boom that has swept over Bangalore and surrounding places. If Brett’s folly has disappeared, there is another important landmark that few visitors to Hosur know. This is the house of C.Rajagopalachari or Rajaji, the first and only Indian Governor-General of India and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. His ancestral house is well maintained and it has several artifacts relating to his life and times.   


  1. Hi Samyuktha,

    I've been wantingot the to go and search for this Castle in hosur, but havent got the chance..hoped that you would say that it still existed..

    i was told of a Castle in Kumbalgodu (mysore road) near the Vrisabhawathi river..any info on that

  2. Yes, the ruins of the castle can still be seen in Hosur. It is near the old fort wall. However, the castle has collapsed completely. As far as the castle near Kumbalgod, we will be writing about it shortly. Thank you.