Where There’s a Will-BK Mariappa’s Hostel

Nobody, not even those connected to his legacy really know what prompted a young man named BK Mariappa residing in Nagarthapete to suddenly write his will and testament at the age of 35. The document was completed around the 4th-5th of March, 1914 and the codicil was annexed on 8th March of the same year. Instructions were given for the properties to be sold and six honorary trustees (the first being Sir M Visvesvaraya’s maternal uncle, H. Ramaiah) were appointed to manage his estate. And then just as inexplicably, the philanthropic merchant passed away four days later on March 12th, 1914 leaving behind a young wife, Smt.Girijamma.

BK Mariappa.Image courtesy: BK Mariappa's Charities

BK Mariappa.Image courtesy: BK Mariappa’s Charities

The terms of his far sighted will contained clear instructions. A hostel was to be built. It would provide free boarding and food for financially disadvantaged but deserving students, regardless of their caste. His decision was unprecedented in a time when most hostels and philanthropic gestures were largely limited to one’s own community. Money from the sold properties was to be invested wisely. The interest could be used to meet future institutional expenses. During his lifetime, Sri BK Mariappa had been benefactor to many students who had either been fed or accommodated in his home. Sometimes, he had even paid their boarding fees. He was familiar with the rigours of student life.

In an article to commemorate the institution’s Diamond Jubilee, Former Congress President T. Siddalingaiya recalls “when I migrated from Doddaballapur to this city in 1912 to join the Fourth Form, Mr & Mrs Mariappa hailed me to their home as if a hero had come who had fought and won a great battle of the English Lower Secondary Examination, in the very first attempt and blessed me…their residence was a home of sympathy and charity to all poor and deserving students.”

The Managing Trustees.Image Courtesy: BK Mariappa's Charities.

The Managing Trustees.Image Courtesy: BK Mariappa’s Charities.

“His father, Sri Kote Marishamanna was a well- known Nagartha Lingayat merchant in Nagarthapete where a road was named after him” says ninety year old Mr.N Puttarudra, the current Managing Trustee. “Perhaps the pre-fix Kote indicates that they came from the Pete area that was once surrounded by a fort.” Attaching the name of one’s village or occupation as a prefix to the first name was a common practise in South India. And even though this tradition is being slowly discarded in modern times, the Bengaluru Pete is a wonderful example of how caste, occupation and geography influenced individual identity.

Nagarthapete is a busy market in the dense Avenue Road area. According to Edgar Thurston, that prolific chronicler of castes in South India, it was once dominated by the merchant-landowner Nagartha community, also called Nagarattar or Nagarakulam who traditionally dealt in bullion, cotton, cloth, grains and medicinal drugs.They populated the large, urban market centres that historian Romila Thapar says were called `Nagaram’ in ancient times and administered by a Nagarattar. The Nagaram was where trade and other commercial activities and exchanges took place. The Mysore Gazetteer records that in 1894 (somewhere around the time of Sri Mariappa’s birth), there were roughly 5, 289 Nagarthas in the Pete.

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Thurston also goes on to say (Vol V, Page 136) that the Nagarthas were co-migrants to Bengaluru along with the oil pressing Ganigas. The principal members of both castes were appointed headman by one Mallaraje Ars  who exempted them from house tax. In the 1891 Madras Census Report, it was recorded that the Nagarattu `hailed from Kanjeevaram where it is said a 1000 of their caste formerly lived. The caste name-Nagaram (city) refers to this former home.’ He clarifies that the members of this Vaishya community followed the Brahminical rites of marriage and death and that the Census Report-1901 recorded them as a sub-caste of Chetti (or Setty).

The University of Mysore came into being in July, 1916, exactly two years after Sri BK Mariappa’s demise. Other educational institutions too were established in Bengaluru. Students from rural areas flocked to the city. The six trustees quickly set about honouring his wishes but it took time for the money to be accumulated, a suitable site to be identified and necessary permissions to be received. Four cottage sites and some land in Chamarajpet were purchased from the Bangalore Municipal Corporation while his personal legacy amounted to about 1.4 lakhs, an extraordinary sum for those days. The BK Mariappa’s Hostel finally opened its doors to 45 young men on July 1st 1921.

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Mr N. Puttarudra describes the hostel when he was a student here in the 1940’s. “We slept comfortably on the floor with no fans. The morning routine began with prayers and a simple breakfast. There was no public transport in those days so we walked all the way up to our colleges at KR Circle. Sometimes we had a drill at 6 am and left quite early.” He recalls a tense atmosphere in the city and protests at Chikka Lalbagh and Banappa Park during the Quit India Movement (1942). “On 14th August, 1947, students walked in the pouring rain to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat next door. We were there to see the Union Jack being lowered at midnight.” It was a moment that has been etched into his memory. It is one that is slowly disappearing from ours.”The spirit of sacrifice is gone” he says sadly.”Nobody wants to give up anything for the country these days.”

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Many students have stepped in and out of the institution since then, including K Dinesh (a co-founder at Infosys who has contributed extensively to its upkeep) and Retd.IAS officer, G Asvathanarayan. Film companies too have knocked at the door ” but we are not interested” says Mr. Puttarudra. Hostel facilities for women were added in 1999 and an Old Age Home is nearing completion. But the building in Chamarajpet retains its original structure, pointed gabled roof with detailed fretwork and Roman keystone arched façade. It also retains the memory of a young philanthropist who contributed his vision to an India in the making, long before we declared that the future of our nation lies in its youth.

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Find it at: 3rd Main, Chamarajpet, opposite the Rameshwara Temple.

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This story is a part of our project “Bengaluru-A Remembered City’ that seeks to map the city through the narratives of its people.It was orginaly published in the Bangalore Mirror on November 9th, 2015.Read it here

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