Every place has its history but the beauty of Srirangapatna, 16 km from Mysore, is that modern development has not robbed the town of its historic ambience and significance. The town is compact and circumscribed by the last crumbling walls of an old fort. Parts of the ramparts of this fort are accessible. There are two small dungeons to explore. These have been maintained well, probably by the Archaeological Survey of India. Jami Masjid is a wonderful structure with its dome, windowed towers and parapets. North of town, a visitor can also follow the Cauvery river along its southern bank to get a wisp of the surrounding countryside.
Srirangapatna has only one main road, a narrow road packed with shops on both sides. Small streets branch off the main road leading to houses or more shops. Some of these streets lead to dead ends. One gets the feeling that little has changed since the days of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan (late 18th century). This is probably true because the fort acts as a structural delimitation. The town is enclosed within the fort. Newer additions, such as the two bus stands, the railway station, the vegetable market and the Bangalore-Mysore highway are all outside the fort. This has to do a great deal in preserving the historic appeal of this town.
Then there are those gates that lead from the outside to the inside of the fort. Even with the busy traffic of a Saturday afternoon, it is difficult to escape the historic significance. One feels transported back in time. The arches of the Bangalore Gate are in five foils with deep cusping. The inner walls of the gate contain arches and stylized motifs in a technique that is similar to what in East Anglia is called pargetting. None of this is great art or architecture; but the fact that they stand as an integral part of modern Srirangapatna and oblivious to the bustle of 21st century India, makes them special. Here history stands silently and inconspicously to tell tales of the past.
Victories are celebrated. One of my early images of this town is a painting by David Wilkie portraying General Baird’s discovery of the body of Tipu Sultan on 4th May 1799. This painting is displayed in one of the galleries in Edinburgh. While this may be so, the prominent painting from the Indian perspective is a wall mural in Tipu’s summer palace. This mural depicts the Second Mysore War (1780-82) in which the British under Colonel Baillie were convincingly depeated at the hands of Tipu Sultan near Polilur. Had Tipu Sultan not forced the British to sign the Treaty of Mangalore (1784), had he taken military offensive to the other strongholds of the East India Company, the history of South India might have been very different and we may have been closer to France than to England. History however is a complex web and what happened in India were never isolated from events in Europe. The palace which today doubles as a museum has a wealth of other beautiful murals, paintings, mezzotints, aquatints, drawings and weaponry.
The summer palace is not much to look at from the outside but much to interest within. Much can be said of the wall murals at this palace but I am no expert on this topic. All I can say is that they lack the three-dimensional effect of Renaissance paintings. This only does credit to these murals. They are unique. The intention has been to record colour, form and features. There has been no attempt to make it look photo-realistic. They have historic and cultural value.
Tipu Sultan’s tomb is a little way out of the town center. An auto-rickshaw should cost only Rs. 30. One of the buildings houses the tombs; the other is a mosque. This arrangement is very much the same as I had seen at Ibrahim Rauza in Bijapur.
From here I walked to Sangam, a place that is the confluence of three rivers. This is no more than a geographical fact but Hindus have attributed a certain sanctity to this place on account of their beliefs. Where these rivers join, the surface is ruffled into little eddies and currents. Where rocks stand, shivlingas have been installed. People wash away their sins at this place and leave behind mounds of trash with none to clean. Many years ago my grandfather’s ashes were immersed in these waters and last year my grandmother’s. I began to feel the holiness of the place but somehow my sentiments wearied at the sight of all that trash.
From town, bus 316 goes to Sangam and back. No one, not even the local villagers, know the bus timings. They wait and wait. I walked from Sangam to the railway station. The walk took exactly an hour, passing the village of Ganjam. I was tempted to explore the little streets of this village but running short of time I gave it a miss.
As I waited for the train, the sun was setting. Parrots flocked to their nests. The railway caterers filled their containers with fresh tea and coffee. Maddur vada, a local delicacy, was being fried and its spiced-up odours filled the platform. When the train arrived, the sun had set and the long shadows had merged into deepening darkness. The silhouettes of the Ranganatha Swamy Temple and the fort’s battlement receded as the train left Srirangapatna.
There are buses from Bangalore but I took the Mysore-Tuticorin Express which takes about 3 hours. I left Bangalore at 0700 this morning and the return train from Srirangapatna was at 1815, giving me enough time to explore the town. There is really no need to make reservation on this train between Bangalore and Mysore. Reserved berth is three times the normal ticket price. I didn’t know this. I found that mine was the only name on the reservation chart! Anyway, I made good use of it and slept soundly on the way back.
Nothing much inside town but if you come out to the highways that connect to Bangalore and Mysore there are couple of decent options. Nonetheless, they are not fully hygenic. My advice would be to use discretion and have a light meal.