Ashoka Pillar- the iconic landmark of South Bangalore ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

Back in 1969, my father built a house in South Bangalore in the residential area of Jayanagar. However, my parents started living there only after my father’s retirement from the Indian Army in 1986. Jayanagar back then was considered the southern end of Bangalore and was one of the first planned neighbourhoods of Bangalore- and an extremely livable place. Hence, you see the ‘South End Circle’, the point where six roads meet. To mark this southern end of Bangalore the historic Ashoka Pillar was built by the then civic authority CITB.

Circa 1986, every weekend as I drove home from my hostel accommodation at the Indian Institute of Science, I would have to go past this iconic ‘Ashoka Pillar’, that is now a landmark in South Bangalore. A landmark that every Bangalorean worth his/her salt is aware of. So, if you are wondering if there is a story behind this landmark, then do read on as it is an interesting one.

Before the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) came into existence, the civic authority was known as CITB (City Improvement Trust Board). In the month of August 1948, the CITB approached a civil contractor P. S. Ranganatha Char and asked him to build a pillar in a record time of ten days. Char, a civil engineer had founded the civil engineering company Messrs Ranganatha Char & Co. Engineers took this up as a challenge. Ranganath Char was born in Chitradurga in 1913 to Shamiengar and went on to study in an engineering college in Lucknow. After a stint in Bombay (now Mumbai), and then Goa, he finally came to Bangalore to be mentored by the legendary philanthropist and businessman Sajjan Rao.

Picture of Ashoka Pillar in 1948; Courtesy: Internet

On August 20th, 1948 C. Rajagopalachari, the last governor-general of India was to unveil a historic stone nameplate on the base of the Ashoka Pillar to mark the birth of Jayanagar in South Bengaluru. However, on the eve of the inauguration, Ranganatha Char had to deal with an unforeseen crisis. The project was well on track when suddenly, the main sculptor on the project went missing.  He absconded overnight without a trace. The CITB that was founded in 1945, was anxious that their first project should be a success as they had been entrusted to develop new residential extensions. A delay would have been a loss of face.

Char’s son P R Ramaswamy who took over the family business has previously recounted to Aliyeh Rizvi, a cultural documentarian, that his father was someone who thought on his feet. Along with former chairman of CITB C Narasinga Rao and chief engineer R Madhavan they collectively worked to circumvent the crisis. In a scene straight of a film on the rainy midnight of August 19th, the team managed to quickly get another skilled mason called Arunachalam, all the way from Tamil Nadu to finish the job. Working with petromax lamps till daybreak in the rain, the team worked on this tall granite pillar that was finally ready for the inauguration. One can just imagine the sighs of relief.

Today the Ashoka Pillar, a 20-odd-feet tall granite stone structure, that was built at a cost of Rs 3,000/- represents a legacy of another era. The top of the pillar bears the four lions similar to the National Emblem. It also bears Mysore’s royal emblem, the two-headed mythological bird Gandabherunda. The ‘South End’ of Bangalore has since extended far and beyond but this pillar adjacent to the beautiful Lalbagh gardens stands as testimony to a part of Bangalore’s history.

Reference: Aliyeh Rizvi’s article in Bangalore Mirror

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