If you are wondering how Bengaluru got its name, you might find the answer not in any book or archival material but in an inscription at the Begur Fort. Located about 13 km from the city centre, the Begur Fort might be the destination of one of your short adventure rides on a bike, but the place also narrates a piece of history that every Bengalurean ought to know.
Situated in Akshaya Nagar near Hosur Road, the Begur Fort is the oldest fort in Bengaluru and is believed to have come up in the 8th or the 9th century. Surrounded by high-rise apartments and buildings in the 21st century, historians point out that the earliest settlements around Begur came up during the rule of the Ganga dynasty, between the 6th and the 9th century.
It was also the time when Jainism flourished in Karnataka. Nagattara, the Ganga chief of the region, was a Jain. The statue of a headless Jain Tirthankara has been recovered from the area, indicating that a Jain Basadi once existed here.
More importantly, an inscription dating back to 890 CE was discovered at the site. Written in ancient Kannada, it talks about ‘Bengaluru Kadana’ or the battle of Bengaluru between the Jain Gangas and the Shaivite Nolambas.
According to historians, the inscription explains that Nagattara’s son Buttanashetty was killed in the battle – which is the earliest-known reference to Bengaluru. It also indicates that the city is more than 1,100 years old.
While Begur is famous for its Panchalingeshwara temple built by the Cholas, the Begur Fort draws little attention. The fort is circular in shape and covers an area of roughly 1.4 sq km. The low walls of the fort are made of mud and are now completely covered with vegetation. The entrance is through a stone getaway to the northeast and inside are two temples dedicated to Kashi Vishwanath and Krishna. Inscriptions discovered nearby also mention that Nagattara’s daughter Tondabbe ended her life through the Jain custom of sallekhana or fasting unto death at the fort.
The nearby Panchalingeshwara temple, also known as Naganatheshwara temple, is known for its five lingas – Nageshwara, Choleshwara, Kali Kamateshwara, Nagareshwara, and Karanashwara. Each linga is associated with a different aspect of life and well-being. The first two shrines of Nageshwara and Nagareshwara are believed to have been built in the 9th and 10th century by Ganga dynasty rulers: Ereganga Nitimarga I and Ereyappa Nitimarga II. The remaining three shrines were built by the Cholas in the 11th century. The figure on one of the pillars is believed to be that of Kulothunga Chola I and the inner walls of the temples built by the Cholas have inscriptions in old scripts of Kannada and Tamil. In fact, the Begur lake close to the fort is equally important because the ancient settlements were dependent on it for water – for irrigation and ritualistic needs.
Yashaswini Sharma, an urban historian, said: “Back then, the Rashtrakutas were making efforts to invade the Ganga land and there were constant battles between them. The fort could have been built from a defence standpoint. There is so much overgrowth of vegetation at the fort that we do not know if the fort’s size has shrunk. There are plans to restore the fort and the temple, but it has to be done with a lot of care. Because of the Rajagopuram that was built on the temple, some of the ancient structural remains could have been lost. Moreover, the temple was actually built on a lake bund, but now the bund has been turned into a road.”