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Bengaluru founder Kempe Gowda comes alive
- G Ulaganathan
Photos: Balachandra Kaali

September 3, 2019

Kempe Gowda, the creator and architect of present day Bengaluru, was a great patron of arts and culture, a brave warrior and a generous king. He was also an epitome of justice and a true patriot. But not many details are available about his life and times. At least, there is no authentic recorded history and it is being interpreted by different writers in different ways.

Shivapriya Academy of Dance and Music tries to unravel the mystery behind this persona, Nadaprabhu Kempe Gowda. Shivapriya is the brainchild of eminent dancer and acharya Dr. Sanjay Shantaram, and was set up 30 years ago. Students are not only taught dance, they also learn theoretical aspects of dance which includes history, growth and development of Bharatanatyam.

The dance production featuring about 60 dancers was staged in the city on August 12 at the Chowdaiah Memorial Hall and the funds raised from the programme was given to the Articulate Ability Foundation, which trains blind children in various styles of dance and other performing arts.

Sanjay Shantaram
'Nadaprabhu Kempe Gowda' is a musical dance drama based on the history of Bengaluru, and the creator. "It explores the mind of the man, his hard work and sacrifices that went behind the conceptualization and creation of a city with all amenities, that stands as one of the most sought after metropolitan cities in the world today," says Sanjay who donned the role of the protagonist Kempe Gowda. With brilliant period music and orchestration by Praveen D Rao, this production had lavish costumes and props on the stage by Sajini.

While the dancers were performing, on the background on a huge screen there were still photographs from the history of Bengaluru and also some remnants of the past, like the Bangalore fort. The musical starts with history, explaining the lineage of the emperor, whose ancestors were hardworking agriculturists. Kempe Gowda had seven brothers and the eldest was Ranabhaire Gowda, who lived a simple life as farmer during the 13th century in the village of Yedagunji Putturu.

When the evil chief of the village eyes their only daughter Doddavva, and begins to harass them, the entire family of almost 30 people migrate to Avathi village (the present Yelahanka town). There, they continue their life as agriculturists.They unexpectedly stumble upon a treasure and their life changes. Ranabhaire Gowda's son Jaya Gowda takes control of the family and slowly the rich family wins the love and respect of the people in their as well as the neighbouring villages. Their fame reaches the Vijayanagar emperors who entrust Jaya Gowda with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the southern part of Karnataka. His son Kempe Gowda, who takes over in the 14th century, apart from providing excellent administration, also promotes art and culture in a big way. He is also a brave warrior king with big dreams.

The second half of the musical revolves around the valiant king who starts building a city with all amenities close to Yelahanka. What happens during this entire process, their sacrifices, joys, and the contribution of the royal family were brought out in the dance drama. Sanjay cleverly used the chorus technique with two commentators coming on stage as guru and his sishya and narrating the sequences. This production is like the Broadway musicals and had a high element of theatre and included classical and folk dances, narratives and provided a total visual experience.

Prahlad has written the Kannada script and the main cast included Sanjay Shantaram as Kempe Gowda, Gopalakrishna as Ranabhaire Gowda, Raghavi as Kempamma and Anjali Srikanth as Doddavva. "Our aim in presenting the play with nearly 60 seasoned dancers and many technicians is to showcase a city that is not just built beautifully over a period of time, but it also is a city with a strong history and emotions attached to it," said Sanjay.

It was a colourful costume drama and gave a wonderful peep into the fast growing Indian city and its founder. Though it was a blend of fact and fiction, the dance drama was an eye opener to those who are unaware of the beginnings of this wonderful city, Bengaluru.

G. Ulaganathan is a senior dance critic based in Bengaluru.

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