It seems like business as usual in Devaraja Market in Mysuru, as crowds mill through the 110-year-old structure, buying fruits and vegetables, pots and pans, jewellery, incense sticks and flowers. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the market has 800 to 900 shops and is considered an architectural marvel. But, much to the chagrin of vendors and heritage lovers, if the Mysore City Corporation (MCC) has its way, this will soon make way for a modern structure.
The debate over the market’s future was recently in the news with Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar, the 27th head of the ruling family of the erstwhile princely state of Mysore, assuring vendors that the building will be saved at any cost. The history of the market goes back to his great granduncle, the 24th Maharaja, Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1894-1940), who had ordered the construction of a canal to bring water from the river Cauvery into the city. But only boulders were found upon digging, and, soon, work was abandoned. Over the years, an informal market came up there, but due to the practice of dumping waste in the canal, the spread of disease was soon rampant. The king then ordered that the canal be built over, with a proper structure in which his people could do business freely. It was named Devaraja Mohalla after Maharaja Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar (1659-1673). A small amount was collected as rent from the shop owners.
The descendants of these shop owners continue to do business here. Some pay rent: Bhagyamma, (68), with her small piles of pepper, beans, brinjal and bitter gourd pays a monthly rent of Rs 600. She’s the third-generation vendor here; her grandmother paid Rs 10 as rent a few decades ago when she set up her shop. R Ashoka, who is in his 60s, pays Rs 1,000 as rent for a slightly bigger space. Depending on the size and the location of the shops, the rent varies from Rs 500-1,500 at the market. While the low rent is a privilege granted to them by the erstwhile king, the corporation insists that the revenue from the market is not enough to maintain a structure as old as that. “Isn’t it necessary that they pay a little more so that we can maintain the structure better?” asks mayor Pushpalatha Jagannath.
Bhamy Shenoy of the citizen group, Mysuru Grahaka Parishat, believes that the issue of funds can be resolved if MCC penalises defaulters. Jagannath, however, contends that the structure is damaged and is not very safe. “Many alterations have been done to the structure by shop owners which have added to the damage. A portion collapsed once. It is necessary that a new structure comes in its place so that more untoward incidents can be averted,” she says.
The incident she is referring to happened in 2016 when a portion of the market collapsed during its restoration. The then government under chief minister Siddaramaiah had earmarked Rs 8 crore for the restoration. But after the collapse, which seemed to bolster the argument of the municipal body that the building is unsafe, restoration work came to a halt.
Prof NS Rangaraju, archaeologist and heritage conservation expert on board of a 14-member heritage committee constituted to study the building, believes that the market can be restored. He says that the 2016 incident was due to negligence during restoration, and it doesn’t indicate that the structure itself is unsafe. “The conservation of the interior of the market is almost done. We have also submitted a new report with a new estimate for its conservation which is a 20 per cent escalation on the fund sanctioned in 2016,” he says. He adds that the work can be completed within a year if it is allowed to start after this monsoon.
Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy visited the structure in March, while on his election campaign trail, and assured the vendors that a decision will be taken after he holds a meeting with all stakeholders. Mysuru deputy commissioner Abhiram G. Sankar says, “A decision is expected to be taken after the election. Till then, it is status quo,” he says.
Vendors like Bhagyamma, however, are unflinching. They have faith in their king. “The king has assured us that nothing will happen to the structure. So our business is safe,” she says.
Arathi Menon is a Mysuru-based writer and yoga practitioner. This article appeared in print with the headline ‘ Built to Last’