I am sitting in Maratha Darshan off Queens Road. The nati chicken curry on my plate looks relatively innocent but it conceals a ferocious green chilli aftertaste that flashes fire periodically. It brings to mind Soyarabai, a feisty 17th century Maratha lady, sister of the powerful military commander Hambir (Hansaji) Rao Mohite. Bangalore is where she was married to Shivaji, the legendary Maratha ruler (at the insistence of her aunt Tukabai Mohite, his step mother). The ill-fated Soyarabai was eventually executed for treason but she remains a fiery medieval woman who out-rivalled the men in daring political intrigues. She was as mysterious as the ingredients in this dish.
“People complain if it is not spicy enough!” says Naveen Lad. Native to Srirangapatna, Naveen’s grandfather owned the Suresh Military Hotel in Mysore. His father GR Shantharaj Lad set up Maratha Darshan around 1989. It is a long way from simple beginnings spent serving meals from an auto near Cubbon Park. But Hemavathi Bai, his mother, still supervises every aspect of her famous `LUNCH ONLY’ menu. The ingredients are `nati’ (local) and the masalas, hand ground. The recipes and clientele have remained unaltered over the decades.
The Lads believe their ancestors were Maratha soldiers who settled in the region around 1638-1687 during the Maratha occupation of Bangalore. They left their mark on the city in more ways than one. Shivaji’s father Shahaji Bhonsle, a commander in the Adil Shahi army, conquered Bangalore along with Ranadullah Khan in 1638. He received Bangalore as a jagir from the Bijapur Sultan, Ibrahim Adil Shah and Bangalore became a powerful seat of provincial government thereafter. Shahaji is said to have governed from his now non-existent palace, Gowri Mahal, located somewhere near the Bengaluru Pete. It is also where Shivaji lived during his early years.
The Great Bangalore Sale
Following Shahaji Raje Bhosle’s death in 1664, his son from Tukabai, Venkoji (Ekoji I) lost Bangalore to Shivaji who then conferred it back as `Choli Bangdi’ (pocket money) on Venkoji’s wife Deepa Bai so it could be held by the women in the family. But before Venkoji went on to establish the Maratha dynasty of Thanjavur he began negotiations with Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar, the Mysore ruler, for the sale of Bangalore and donated generously to the Kadu Malleshwara temple in Malleswaram. Shrines were also built here for their tutelary deities Amba-Bhavani and Vithoba-Panduranga Vittala. Maratha silk weavers continue to occupy areas in the old Pete area and Yeshwanthpur is said to have been named after Yeshwanthraj, a Maratha chieftain. Every interstate bus traveller in the city knows T. Anand Rao Circle, named after this illustrious Diwan of Mysore, a Thanjavur Maratha.
But what does this have to do with food?
Maratha presence also contributed to the city’s unique gastronomic sub-culture with the red hot Kolhapuri cuisine, Savji community fare and `militry’ hotels. Maratha Darshan serves rustic Maharastrian meals with local overtones. The nati chicken curry comes with Ragi Mudde or chapatis. But the highlights are undoubtedly the mutton chops, kheema meatball curry and the Liver Masala. A stand and eat section caters to the rush hour, but the first floor provides basic seating.Arrive early at around 12.30 pm if you want to try everything. With over 300 plates churned out from Hemavathi Bai’s neat open plan kitchen daily, the mutton vanishes from the menu pretty quickly. Speaking of menu, there isn’t one.
Vegetarians will find only rice–rasam-sambar but the politicians, Kannada film stars, office goers and local mechanics who haunt it at lunchtime have the menu committed to memory. They also know that Sunday is for special chicken biryani and Mondays means closed. “We called it Maratha Darshan because Maratha indicates spicy” smiles Naveen while I hiccup my way through this marvellous meal. As the Chilli Chicken aggressively challenges my palate, I realise that Maharashtra’s fierce non-vegetarian cuisine is just as thrilling as its history. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Originally published in the Bangalore Mirror, March 17, 2014.Read it here. Find it at: Thimmiah Road, off Queen’s Road, near the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Party office. 12:00 – 3:00 pm.Mondays closed. Average cost per meal (for two) Rs.350.00