If you’ve been to Bengaluru, you’re sure to have heard one name over and over again. Let me give you a little nudge: he Kempegowda International Airport, Kempegowda Bus Station, Kempegowda Nagar, Kempegowda Road.
So who is this omnipresent ‘Kempegowda’? Hiriya Kempegowda was a visionary local chieftain who is credited with founding Bengaluru in 1537. Over 475 years later, though, the revered ruler is ‘back in the news’ as he finds himself caught up in controversy.
17 April was to be celebrated as Kempegowda Jayanti. But just days ahead of the celebrations, the state government cancelled the planned party, citing disputes over Kempegowda’s date of birth as the reason.
But who really was Kempegowda? And how did he come to establish India’s future IT capital?
Shrouded in Mystery
Besides his birth date, many other aspects of Kempegowda’s life remain shrouded in mystery. The birth year of the legendary chieftain, who owed allegiance to the Vijayanagar empire, is also under debate. Some say he was born in 1510, others 1513. But yes, he was born in Yelahanka, not far from Bengaluru’s present-day airport.
His father, Kempananje Gowda, was nobility. But there are no clear records of his mother’s or wife’s names. Kempegowda is said to have been just, humane and popular, ruling his neck of the Vijaynagara empire for 56 years.
The Mystery of the Missing Tomb
For decades, historians had tried to locate Kempegowda's tomb in and around Bengaluru, but had no luck.
This search finally came to an end in March 2015, by accident.
Historian Prashanth Marur found the tomb while driving by Kempapura village, 50 km from Bengaluru. Marur stopped to inspect a tomb which was similar to the ones Kempegowda had built.
The inscription on the tomb, which has been authenticated by other historians, says he died at the spot while returning from a battle fought at Kunigal, 70 km west of Bengaluru.
Bengaluru was Founded at Kempegowda’s Insistence
Suresh Moona, Historian Kempegowda was a visionary as well as a master builder. Planning was in his genes.
Bengaluru should thank Kempegowda for having a clear ‘vision’ of his capital – a city that would house a military cantonment, temples, water tanks, lakes, trees, roads and markets.
He took permission from Achyuta Deva Raya, the then Vijayanagara ruler, and laid the foundations of Bengaluru in 1537.
A few landmarks he built still stand today – the Nandi temple and Bengaluru fort.
An example of his progressive thought was the grid system he developed for water tanks. When it rained, the grid system made sure that after a tank was filled, the overflowing water wasn’t wasted. It was taken by the grid to fill adjoining tanks.
Now, Moona remarks, "The tanks have disappeared, let alone the grid system."
Kempegowda's Brief Arrest
Achyuta Deva Raya was happy with Kempegowda until he began to mint his own coins. The feudal chieftain was jailed for five years. Chastised, he was given back all his territory after he was released.
Kempegowda’s Legacy Lives On
Many rulers from India’s rich history have been treated shoddily. A road here, a college there. But Kempegowda has been luckier in this regard. With tonnes of infrastructure named after him, Kempegowda is pretty well-etched into the mind-space of the city he founded.
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