Brief ethnographic & epigraphic notes on Bangalore

Early History (AD 400 - 1000)

The earliest epigraphical records that have been found in Bangalore dist are that of the Gangas. This dynasty ruled across regions of present kongu districts of Tamizh Nadu, Mysore, Chamarajanagar, Mandya and Kolar - comprising of what was known as gangavADi 96000, the number indicating the count of villages in the province. The oldest of Ganga inscriptions corresponds to the time of mAdhava tandangala konganivarma (459 AD) - whose copper plates were retrieved in mallohaLLi of doddabaLLApur tAluk. The plates describe the lineage of the said ruler & record his victory over the bANas and detail the grant made to a kADaswAmi, a brahmaNa of tippUr village in marugere rAShtra [1].

A second plate found in Bangalore dist itself dates to 485 AD, details the lineage of the early Ganga rulers and their marital ties with the Kadambas of banavAsi. Another grant found in mallohaLLi dates to AD 517 - to the times of avinita. Beyond this point is a curious paucity of inscriptions & plates (at least in so far as what has been founded & recorded) for the next two centuries, perhaps due to pallava-noLamba annexation of the region.

A general continuity is found from the times of srIpurusha - who despite a victory over Pallava Nandivarma, appears to have been displaced from the capital in kOlAra and forced to relocate to maNNe in nelamangala. From the times of Sivamara (in about 797 AD) - begins the start of a 200 years or so period where the Bangalore region must have changed hands quite often, owing to the initial animosity between the expeditious rAShtrakutas from the north & the noLambas - a family of Pallava stock, who competed for a grip on the region. The rAShrakutas appear to have gone to great lengths to subdue the Gangas - initially imprisoning Sivamara, but subsequently forging peace with him through a marital alliance. Through this period - we find records of both the rAshktrakutas as well as the noLambas.

A Mentionable record of these times is that in bEgUr - a tiny village off present day Electronics city; It details nAgattara - the Ganga chieftain of the uruvuLiyur and faithful confidante of Ganga satyavAkya permanADi along with another chieftain, fixing sluices of the agara lake in around 870 AD. The same chieftain seems to have been killed in battle while fighting the son of noLamba ayyappa dEva at tumbepAdi in about 890AD and the stone commemorating him - now preserved in Bangalore museum is one of best specimen of hero-stones we have today & a vivid depiction of war in those times.

bEgUr’s paMchalinga temple (commonly known as nagarEshwara / nAgEshwara temple) is thus probably the oldest temple we know in the present day extent of Bangalore. Another inscription recording the death of a buTTanna in the battle of bengaLUr (the oldest claim to the name “bengaLUr”) was also found on a floor stone of kali kamaTEshwara shrine in this complex[2]. vIragals of bEgUr are still found dumped in the temple’s premises. bEgUr also has remnants of an old embankment fort, a Jaina shrine & other minor temples.

Middle Ages (AD 1000 - 1600)

We find chOLa overlordship of Bangalore and gangavADi at it’s peak in the 11th and 12th centuries, which left a notable tamizh imprint. Of the chOLa inscriptions, all but 10 or so are in tamizh. The first of these records is a stone found in kammasandra village of hoskOTe - a rAjarAja grant made in the presence of noLamba chieftains, dating to AD 997 (in Kannada). It was around these times that the Gangas were completely subdued, even losing their capital talakAD to the chOLas and in subsequent times reduced to petty chieftainship until they disappear from history around the 12th century.

chOLa inscriptions numbering more than 50 are found in Bangalore, hoskOTe, nelamangala taluks over the course of the next 250 years, along with their minor feudatories - the Chengalvas and the Kongalvas. During this time - it appears that there was fierce competition with the upcoming & enterprising hoysaLas, whose records are found in parallel.

A lot of the chOLa inscriptions are found inscribed on or inside temple walls - thus coupling credible history with these monuments. A mentionable example is the record at the chokkanAtha temple of domlUr where the oldest inscription - a grant for the deity’s dIpa, dates to AD 1200. A subsequent grant by tripurAntaka seTTiyAr of the same place (tombalUr is fashioned in the record by it’s Sanskrit alias dEsimanikkapattaNam, belonging to the rAjendrasolavalanAD principality), details the temple’s rights of worship & land to irAmapirAn allALa nambiyAr and is dated to AD 1226. There are further grants made to the same temple by the later Hoysala & Vijayanagara rulers - the latter inscription in Kannada still standing at the temple till the date.

Hoysala inscriptions in Bangalore begin markedly around AD 1110 - under the enterprising vishnuvardhana, a certain interest of their incursions & interest in chOLa holdings of Mysore region, likely in partnership with the deposed Ganga chiefs who were their feudatories. Their inscriptions vastly outnumber the chOLa ones, indicating their sovereignty over the region in the 12th century. The Hoysalas branched out after the death of vIra sOmeshwara in AD 1254 and Bangalore thus came under vIra rAmanatha - the former’s son ruling from kaNNanUr koppa near Srirangam till AD 1294. All his inscriptions are in Tamizh.

Upon the passing of rAmanAtha, the Tamil Nadu branch of Hoysalas shades into oblivion & vIra ballALa III, his nephew reunites the fragmented Hoysala kingdom. AD 1310 was a major epoch in south indian history, with Malik Kafur - the Khilji general, already having made advances into the south as far as dEvagiri & wArangal, penetrates into Hoysala lands in a remarkable blitzkrieg to capture Halebid. Although ballALa manages to retain his kingdom through a mix of bending over & strategic gains,the times lead to a turbulent phase of the land - chronicling the metamorphosis of his decline.

In a 1318 inscription from tindlu, ballaLa is said to have been ruling from aNNAmale - the present day tiruvaNNAmalai. A melamangala village inscription from 1333 - describes him as ruling from the unidentified hosabeTTa. In 1339 - an inscription from korati village of hoskOTe taluk tells of his ruling from vIra vijaya virUpakShapura (also unidentified). A 1340 inscription in keMgEri describes him crowning his son vIra virUpAkSha Raya - although not much is heard of this prince after coronation. In the same year, the sakaladevanapura inscription of doDDabaLLApur speaks of him ruling from another unidentified hosanad. In 1342, he appears to have been in tiruvaNNAmalai again - going by his inscriptions at gANigarahaLLi & jakkUr, but another dEvanahalli record from the same year places him back at vIra virUpaksha pattaNa. In 1343 - a paattandur agrahAra inscription (close to present day Whitefield) puts him in tiruvaNNAmalai again. The last Hoysala record in Bangalore is from kATanAyakanapura in keMgEri, dating to 1346 - is likely about a past grant “from the days of ballALa rAya”. vIra ballALa III appears to have met his end in a battle at kaNNanUr koppa in 1343.

Vijayanagaran inscriptions begin to appear starting from AD 1346 - a seamless & swift transition of power indicating their non-competition with the Hoysalas (although there is an inscription belonging to the kukkala nAD[3] chief’s acknowledgement of Harihara from AD 1340 at bAnasavADi in nelamangala Taluk - but it is to be noted that Harihara is styled at this point as a mahAmaMdalEshwara);

Vijayanagara appears to have provided a solid, centralized power centre with clear, recognized hegemony over small chiefdoms all over south india and applying generally to Bangalore as well. Numerous Vijayanagara inscriptions have been found in temple renovations, grants & administrative charters. An excellent example is the previously mentioned domlUr grant to the chokkanAtha temple - sanctioning the remittance of hejjuMka (a type of tax) of villages within the circle around domlUr to the temple directly for the deity’s morning offering. This was made on behalf of the erstwhile saMgama monarch dEvarAya II, by mallarasa - the tax official at soMDekoppa.

The overwhelming majority of the Vijayanagara inscriptions (sparing a few initial ones in Tamizh) are in Kannada. A handful towards the end (notably a rAmaraya grant to the raMganatha temple in Chickpet) and a couple of others by the Gowdas of Yelahanka in mArathalli & nekkuMdi are in Telugu. Although Vijayanagara rule in it’s potent form ended in 1565 with the battle of tALikote, we find the continuance of their inscriptions, ruling from penugoMda even until the times ofSrirangarAya (1700s).

1600 - 1900

Yelahanka appears to have been an important principality since the ancient times - the early chOLa & hoysaLa references on it being to a ilaipakka nADu; That territories as far as present day domlUr were considered part of large Yelahanka is affirmation of this fact.

The earliest ruler appears to have been a Bayire Deva - described as a Yelahankanada prabhu in 1367, from the times of Bukka Raya - as attested in an inscription found in hoskOTe Taluk. An inscription pointing the source of the Vrishabhavati river is seen today at the BasavanaguDi temple and dates to the period of kempE gowda - the founding father of modern Bangalore. It is during his times that Bangalore, otherwise a non-descript village was turned into a paTTaNa, protected with an embankment, provided with water tanks & established as a trade hub with a pETe / market area. Several of Yelahanka inscriptions (and the Gowda chiefs of Sugatur & Avati) are found across Bangalore, dEvanahaLLi, doDDabaLLApur, hoskOTe, Anekal & mAgaDi tAluks.

In the mid 1600s, Bangalore was under the Adil Shahi emperors. We know that shahAji - the father of shivAji, was a commander in the bijApur army and was stationed for quite a while in Bangalore. shivAji’s half-brother - veMkOji alias Ekoji was probably born and brought up here. He would subsequently go on to conquer tanjAvUr. We find a handful of marATha inscriptions in Bangalore, of which a notable one is by veMkOji, dated 1669 - testifying the allotment of mEdaraniMganahaLLi (present day IISc area) to the priest of the kADu mallEshwara temple.

The most recent inscriptions we have today belong to the Mysore rulers - starting with dEvaraja ODeyar (in Kanakapura taluk), “raNadhIra” kaMThirava narasarAja ODeyar (kottanur in Kengeri, grant to then kOTe vEMkaTaramaNaswamy temple built by his father). Towards Hyder-Ali & Tipu’s times - we find grants made to mosques & fakirs and even sale / lease of villages to private persons. There is a Persian inscription by Tipu on the walls of the Bangalore fort (in the city market area). The baLepet vEMkataramana swAmy Temple records a grant by krishNa rAja ODeyar in 1830 (in Telugu); Probably the last inscription (sparing modern ones) we have is that of krishNaraja Odeyar making a grant to keMgEri baMde matha in AD 1851.


With a history of continuous habitation and a wealth of inscribed history - Bangalore represents a geo-historic entity consistent with other such centres of cultural & political importance in Indian history. Although Bangalore today is at the frontier of Tamizh & Andhra countries, historically - it appears to have been well nestled in a Kannada dominion. This is consistent with the early epigraphic data we have available and evident in things such as place names, etymologies, history of ruling families and various nAD geographies described.

Though the early bANas & noLambas have external origin - they seem to have been localized over the ages. Inscriptions since the earliest times describe a system of affairs consistent with ancient Karnataka - of agrahAra grants to brahmanas (till date - we have a lot of agraharas in Bangalore), self-governance under the leadership village gAvuMDas, senubOvas & mahAjanas[4], commemoration of heroes & sacrifices through memorial stones (vIragals, mAstigals, nisidikals), patronage of temples & improvement of local infrastructure (lakes, guest-houses etc);

The chOLas caused the first significant wave of Tamizh migration into the Bangalore region in the 10th century, the effects of which are seen till date: An upsurge of tamizh inscriptions in grantha script, tamizh people and place names that survive till date; take for instance - sOladEvanahaLLi in nelamangala, chOLanAyakanahaLLi near hebbALa, etc; They also appear to have Tamizhised existing place names (ex - tAvarEkere - tAmaraikkirai, binnamangaLa - vinnamangaLam, etc) - a trend retained in part by the hoysaLas, particularly vIra rAmanatha. rAmAnuja’s flight to toMdanUr & mElkOTe caused a subsequent migration of Tamizh-speaking SrivaishNava brahmanas all around southern Karnataka - who appear prominently as temple patrons and curators; Even at present - the sthaLapurAna of various temples date themselves prominently (sometimes arbitrarily) to chOLa times.

Though the initial Ganga rulers were followers of the Vedic religion, subsequent rulers (and generally all of Karnataka) had a greater affinity for Jainism, and this is likely to have reflected in the subjects as well. We know that nAgattara, the hero of bEgUr was a Jaina - and that his daughter toMdabbe committed ritual suicide thorough sannyasana / sallEkhana. In following times - of the chOLas & Hoysalas, we find a resurgence of vaishnavaite / shaivaite matas and renewed zeal in temple building.

Trade & commerce would’ve been principally carried out by the vaishyas of the land - namely the baNajigas [5] and the nagartas; This demographic has altered with the ages - the chOLa times bringing a host of merchants & traders from Tamizh Nadu, and the Vijayanagara & Gowda times bringing in the Telugu speaking kOmaTis from the east. The agasAle maTha record of bEgUr speaks testimony to the ethnic diversity of the various seTTis described making a pledge to the temple.

The prominent land-owners and political fiefdom would have probably been the local okkaligas - of both the morasu & gangadikAra sects whose rule over minor principalities is well recorded. The seTTis / vaishyas would’ve held an equally important position. The brAhmaNas as mahAjanas of the agrahara would have possessed significant local democracy and tax-free ownership of their lands;

The brAhmana demographics of the region may have been an initial settlement of vaidikas in the early ganga times, many of who might have taken a fancy for Jainism at some point or switched to laukika professions - such as that of a village accountant. The chOLa & Vijayanagara eras caused a significant wave of Tamil & Telugu speaking brahmanas. Presence of vIrashaivas is also evidenced as early as the 1300s - the bEgur inscriptions for instance, containing a reference to ‘mAhESwaras’.

Significant caste diversity is evident considering place names - gANigarahaLLi, byADarahaLLi, kuruburahaLLi etc. After the fall of Vijayanagar - Muslims appear to have migrated, settled and ruled in various parts - Sira, Arcot etc, culminating in Hyder-ali’s usurpation of the Mysore throne. A significant minority of marATha people migrated during the times of shahAji & veMkOji. Christian & missionary history is well recorded in British records - the Jesuits being the early pioneers of educational institutions.

The British Cantonment was setup in 1806 - was made home to the Madras sappers - a regiment of soldiers recruited primarily from Tamizh nadu. This caused a major linguistic divide in the city - with the pETe area comprising largely of the natives, and the cantonment, primarily of the tamizh speakers, the latter at one point outnumbering the natives. After independence, this has eased out - with Bangalore’s diversity generally amplified by the migration of Kannada speakers from all over Karnataka & others from states across India.