Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vrushabhavati was a RIVER then

I had made a reference to Vrushabhavati river in a blog in September titled "Gangecha Yamunechaiva...".   That reference was to the present day Vrushabhavati, or more to what we have made her today.   But it was not always so.  She was actually a river once, a river which provided lifeline to many villages on its path.   A river which was providing drinking water (!) and source of irrigation to many agricultural fields on its banks.   A river in which children played while women folk washed their utensils and clothes.   I have seen the river as a young boy, by which time it had ceased to be a source of drinking water, but still used for washing utensils and clothes.

Fifty years ago, Kengeri was a small village situate ten miles outside Bangalore (distances were actually measured from the Kalasipalyam Bus Stand in those days), on the Bangalore-Mysore highway on the banks of the river Vrushabhavati. The present satellite town had not even been thought of and there were agricultural fields between Bangalore and Kengeri.  Bangalore University offices functioned from the red buildings near Mysore Bank circle, inside Central College premises.  "Jnana Bharati" was not in existence and that area was like a semi forest.  Trains running between Bangalore and Mysore and BTS (Bangalore Transport Service) buses were the means of travel between Bangalore and Kengeri.   It is said that the name Kengeri has come from the two Kannada words "Tengu" and "Keri" meaning "Coconut" and "street" respectively and Tengeri has changed to Kengeri over the years.  The village was surrounded by a number of coconut trees, especially along the banks of the river, and some of them have still survived the onslaught of the civilisation.   It was also known for Sericulture and Mulberry gardens lined the river banks.   My father used to write to his uncle in Kengeri on Post Cards and give them to me fill the address part on them as a learning exercise.  Sometimes the letters were on "Reply Post Cards", two post cards attached to each other.  One card carried the outward message and the attached blank card with sender's address duly filed in was to be used for the reply.  This ensured prompt reply as there was no need to go to Post Office for buying a post card and thereby obviating delay. The Postal address used to be Kengeri, Bangalore South Taluk, unlike the PIN Code 560060 now. 

Kengeri Railway Station was half a mile away from the village and there was a Railway gate between the village and the station, unlike the huge flyovers of today.  There was a well in an agriculture land opposite to the Railway Station.  Its water was sweet and good for drinking unlike other wells in the village which mostly had salty water.  My father used to tell me that the water from that well had medicinal properties as well.  The Railway line from Kengeri to Bangalore City station was on a steep gradient and the steam engines in use did not have the capacity to pull up trains to the City station.  An additional engine was being stationed in Kengeri Railway Station and attached to "Chamundi Express", which was a popular train between Bangalore and Mysore, on the journey from Kengeri to Bangalore City.  On the reverse direction, the additional engine would be detached at Kengeri and wait for the next train coming from Mysore!.  Villagers from the nearby huts used to collect the excess hot water discharged from this engine in their pots and buckets for their use.

Vrushabhavati river, a tributary of Arkavathy was still considered a river and used for washing clothes and utensils.  Malleswaram extension in Bangalore was always a popular and prestigious area to live in Bangalore, like Basavanagudi in the south.  Malleswaram derives its name from the famous "Kaadu Malleswara Temple", as the temple was in the middle of a Kaadu or forest.  The temple is still available for devotees, but there is a concrete forest around it now.  Vrushabhavati is believed to have originated in a pond near this temple, in the then forest.  We lived in a village on the banks of the river Arkavathy and Vrushabhavati was close to our heart.  My grandmother came from Kengeri and hence my father's childhood days were spent on the banks of Vrushabhavati.   His mother's younger sister (Chikkamma) and two younger brothers (maternal uncles) lived there and my father used to make regular trips to visit them.  He had lost his mother at an early age and he used to tell me that the affection showered on him by these three in his childhood as well as in later years was invaluable to him.  He would often take me with him to visit them.  His uncles were of his age group only and the younger one was born in the same year as my father.    One incident he told me that happened nearly eighty years ago summarise the lively existence of Vrushabhavati river.

It was in August-September of 1928.  My father had gone with his mother to Kengeri for Gowri-Ganesha festivals.  He and his younger uncle were both nine year old kids.   Festival was celebrated with all enthusiasm in the morning and there was a sumptuous lunch with Hoolige and Kadabu, special dishes for these festivals.  After the first batch of lunch was served, arrangements were being made for the second batch.  My father and his uncle had their lunch in the first batch and immediately proceeded to their headquarters - the big banyan tree on the banks of the Vrushabhavati; the point at which the river turned at right angles near the village.   There was only knee deep water in the river and the two got into it for their usual play.  There used to be flash floods in the river whenever it rained heavily in the upper parts of Bangalore.   Suddenly someone working in the nearby fields shouted that there was a heavy flow of water in the river and to be careful.  My father was near the bank and ran towards the tree.   His uncle was in the middle of the river and before he could make his mind as to which bank he should go, the flash flood swept him away.  Sensing that the boy was in trouble two villagers working in the nearby fields jumped in the river to rescue him.   Taken aback by the sudden development and overcome by fear my father hid behind the tree.

My grandmother and great grandmother had just sat for their lunch when someone informed that there was a flash flood in the river and one of the boys of their family was washed away in the river.  My grandmother ran in one breath to the river without knowing whether her brother or son was in trouble.  Closely followed by great grandmother wondering whether it was her son or grandson who was washed away.  They were both joined by other womenfolk, trying to console them.  Within a few minutes there was a big crowd near the river bank.  One Ibrahim sab, an expert swimmer of the village, appeared on the opposite bank and shouted that the boy caught in the middle of the river has been rescued by him and is safely lying on the other bank.  Having heard this my father mustered courage to come out from the shelter of the tree and join his mother and grandmother.  After a few hours the floods subsided and Ibrahim brought the uncle safely to the other bank.  There were the usual admonitions and firm warnings and life went on as usual thereafter.

We have flash floods even now in the Vrishabhavati valley during the rainy season.  There are news items that somebody fell in the storm water drain and was washed away.  But Vrushabhavati is no longer the river it was.   Heavy rain in Bangalore is a welcome relief as it cleans the main sewer system and students in R V College of Engineering can breathe easy for a few days.


  1. The tale of Mother Vrishabhavathi is touchingly
    narrated. Good job.

  2. what a pity >tyhis is like mitty river in Mumbai which has become sewage canal now near Bandra

  3. For further reading on the fate of Vrushabhavati river, please read:


    ............Keshava Murthy