Majestic @ 50: From hosting Nehru and Master Hirannaiah to becoming the city’s transport lifeline

In the 1920s, the water was drained out and Dharmambudhi lake turned into a venue for large political gatherings

The first ever Kannada Rajyotsava on November 1, 1956 — the day the unified State was formed — was celebrated with much pomp and show at a venue that was once the Dharmambudhi lake bed, which now houses Bengaluru’s transport hub.

The lake bed came to be called a ‘maidana’ by the 1920s after the water was drained out and turned into a venue for large political gatherings addressed by the likes of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who addressed Congress meetings in 1931 and 1955, and freedom fighter C. Rajagopalachari.

L. Chinnappa, 74, who lived in a house on the lake bed from 1950-65 as his father, working with Horticulture Department, was in charge of its upkeep, remembered the transition of the lake to a marsh with wild growth of grass.

“The Horticulture Department used to give a contract to harvest the wild growth, and those people in turn would sublet it to cattle grazers. It was a site of open defecation and for dumping sewerage from the pete area, leading to a foul smell.

“There was a walkway from Sangam Talkies towards the railway station, cutting the lake bed into two halves. While one part had Gulmohar trees and a nursery of the Horticulture Department, the other had a large cement platform and a flag post,” said Mr. Chinnappa.

The Indian National Congress (INC) used to organise an annual consumer exhibition at the venue, popularly called ‘Congress Exhibition’, till the mid-1970s. Its strong association with the Congress led the maidana to be called ‘Gandhi Sagara’ after Mahatma Gandhi. It also housed offices of Akhila Bharata Congress Committee (U) and Kranti Ranga, both launched by Devraj Urs in the 1970s.

A hotbed for cultural programmes

The lake bed became a popular venue for cultural programmes. Several professional theatre companies camped on the lake bed and staged dramas every evening.

“Both Gubbi Veeranna Nataka Company and K. Hirannaiah Mitra Mandali had put up shows there for decades. I remember growing up in the two companies. It was like home to me,” said B. Jayashree, theatre thespian and granddaughter of Gubbi Veeranna. “I clearly remember the days when theatres were razed to build a bus stand. It still is a painful memory,” she adds.

Retired bureaucrat Chiranjiv Singh recalls that even after a part of the lake bed was converted into a bus stand in 1969, the other half hosted cultural events. “I watched a dance performance by Vyjayanthimala Bali for the first time in 1974. I also remember the première of Master Hirannaiah’s play Kapi Mushti, which was critical of Indira Gandhi during the emergency in 1975,” he said.

Kalasipalya hosted city’s first bus stand

Contrary to popular perception, the first ever bus stand in the city was not built on the Dharmambudhi lake bed, but at Kalasipalya, which continues to serve as a bus stand for private buses today.

Bus services – both intra-city and inter-city – were mainly operated by private companies that used the narrow bylanes of Kalasipalya as the bus stand. The early players, especially those running intra-city services, faced stiff opposition from the jatakas and shortage of petrol during World War II.

In early 1940s, the Bangalore Transport Corporation (BTC), with 90% private investment and 10% from the Mysore government, emerged as a big player. In September 1948, the Mysore government started Mysore Government Road Transport Department (MGRTD) with 120 inter-city buses. BTC was nationalised in 1956 and made a part of MGRTD.

“As the city’s population grew, so did the need for buses. By the 1960s, Kalasipalya was unable to take the load. A search began for a larger place to house a spacious bus stand,” says historian Suresh Moona. The availability of such a space right opposite the City Railway Station was probably what prompted the government to choose the lake bed to build a bus station.

L. Chinnappa, who spent his childhood on the lake bed, was by then working in the Transport Department and was involved in building the bus station.

“The Horticulture Department transferred half of the land to the Transport Department in 1964. Though construction of the bus stand began in 1965, it dragged on for three years. Heavy rains flooded three-fourths of the lake bed during this period, raising concerns. However, construction was completed. Then President V.V. Giri inaugurated the bus station on June 2, 1969,” he recounted.

“When the bus station was completed in 1969, it came for much praise as Bengaluru was the only city with railway and bus stations just across the road,” he said. This bus stand housed both intra-city BTS buses and inter-city KSRTC buses. This was till 1978 by which time the city had again grown by leaps and bounds, and BTS buses far outnumbered the inter-city buses, forcing the government to acquire the other half of the lake bed as well.

“Construction of the BTS bus stand began in 1980. As per the contract, contractors were supplied iron from Mysore Iron and Steel Ltd. I was working in the stores department then,” Mr. Chinnappa recounted.

The BTS bus station was opened in 1981.

(This is the third part of a series on the city’s central bus stand)

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