Joining the Bandwagon

Researching historical details can get confusing at times. This story for instance, begins in a Scottish city called Glasgow on a street named after the Saracen people from the Middle Ages. It then gets directed to a Victorian bandstand in a historic park laid out by an Irish military engineer in South India’s tech-hub, Bengaluru. And if you think it’s quite knotted up already, that’s not the end of it. But maybe that’s also the fun of it.

Centre of attraction

Parks historian and author Paul Rabbitts writes that the bandstand (or `band house’ as it was first called) was perhaps inspired by popular 18th century pleasure gardens like Vauxhall in London who also offered music pavilions and exotic entertainment including hot air balloons, tightrope walkers and fireworks. The bandstands were envisioned as an ornamental focal point for the park and provided acoustic shelter for the brass, wind and military bands that played there. Their rich decorative elements and curved shapes also seemed to reflect oriental influences like the pagodas and chattri’s from the eastern corners of the empire.

The first domed structure was reportedly built in 1861 at the Royal Horticultural Society, South Kensington. The concept soon captured the imagination of 19th century Britain where he says, approximately 1,200 bandstands were built between 1860 and WWII.  Though these public parks were primarily designed for relaxation, they were also interpreted as an attempt to `humanise’ the grim townscapes that emerged during the Industrial Revolution.

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Cubbon Park Bandstand.Image credit: Nirlek Dhulla for Native Place

Interestingly, the layouts of Bengaluru’s historic parks and the bandstands in them seemed to have been visualised with an intention of re-creating the familiar in a foreign landscape. While Cubbon Park followed the fluid design of an English landscaped garden, Lalbagh’s layout was re-organised along the lines of well defined British botanical gardens like Kew.

The bandstands served a similar purpose of ornamentation and were placed here in the same manner as they were in the public parks of England. They were even made by the same manufacturer and shipped across the sea to this part of the empire around the same time that they were introduced in England.The Cubbon Park bandstand with its traditional octagonal shape sits on the same axis as the Vidhana Soudha, Attara Kacheri and Government Museum. It is said to have been gifted to the park in 1914 by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore and initially placed near the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall. It was shifted to its current location in 1937, over what was once called the Ringwood Circle.

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Walter Macfarlane and Co.Ltd.Image credit: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk

The new Iron Age

Iron was strong, durable but light. Unlike wrought iron which had to be heated into shape, molten iron could also be poured into pre-fabricated moulds. This enabled accurate replication and extensive repetition. `Cast’ iron therefore became extremely popular for ornamental and commercial purposes and was the most sought after material of this age.

The framework for Cubbon Park’s cast iron bandstand took shape in the Glasgow based Saracen Foundry, owned by architectural iron casters Walter Macfarlane and Company Ltd. The company was initially set up in a disused brass foundry on Saracen Street in 1851 and soon became a famous designer-manufacturer of ornamental fountains, park and garden seats, conservatories, flower vases, baths, pipes and fittings right up till WWII.

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Walter Macfarlane and Co.Ltd.Conservatory design. Image credit:https://archive.org 

Bandstands then fell out of favour following WWII and saw a renewed interest in the 1990’s with funds being allocated for their revival. Music superstars like David Bowie and Pink Floyd even performed in them! But iconic Macfarlane and Co. Ltd cast iron designs were still spotted around the world. These included the main (northern side) entrance gates to Lalbagh and the conservatory style Glass House. I came upon the Macfarlane catalogue quite by chance. Inside it was a beautiful line drawing of a winter conservatory that could have almost been the Glass House.

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Lalbagh Bandstand. Image Credit:Nirlek Dhulla (dejaview.in) for Native Place

The Lalbagh bandstand is believed to have been conceptualised during the tenure of its first horticultural Superintendent Mr. William New (1858-1874). He organised the first few `Lalbagh Shows’, the predecessors of today’s famous flower shows, around it in the late 1860’s long before the Glass House came up in 1890. Mr. John Cameron who succeeded New in 1874 recorded the bandstand’s repair and renovation; a granite platform was also added and the wooden roof was improved.

 

Old timers recall orchestras and military bands playing regularly at bandstands in the city, including Cole’s Park, while city chronicler Mrs Maya Jayapal mentions that live music was scheduled for the fourth Thursday of every month in the 1920’s. The bandstands now accommodate deep breathing pranayama practitioners in the morning, sleeping somari’s in the afternoon and performances by local school children and classical musicians on weekends. It’s always fascinating to see how our local history runs alongside, intersects with or unites stories of people and places around the world.

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*This story was originally published in the Bangalore Mirror on June 27, 2016.

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