Ancient Indian Tactics translated as Tactical Urbanism
Tactical urbanism is not new. People have used tactics in their communities to survive better since ages. Around Indian context, these tactics were also observed on the streets of the civilization, as old as Mohenjadaro. This bottom – up approach has helped people live peacefully in their communities. While urban planners work to plan the tactics that would work best for the urban fabric, an Old town in a large city of South India, bordered by urbanization flawlessly dictates tactics through its culture.
This essay identifies tactics of ancient India, conferring Old town of Yelahanka, Bengaluru as case study. The history of one of the oldest settlements in South India, now known as Old town Yelahanka, goes back to the past of Bengaluru. Yelahanka existed in 1510, marking the community as a hot spot for traders and travelers of the famed Silk Route and other regions of Karnataka, such as, Doddaballapur and Kolar. Kempegowda’s maternal home was Yelahanka, where Hiriya Kempegowda ruled as Yelahanka Nadu, meaning administrative officer. This was before the establishment of Pete area in 1537, when Kempegowda laid the streets of Pete area marking the trade center of South India. Kempegowda named the North gate of Pete as “Yelahanka Dwara (gate)” confirming the presence of Yelahanka before Benguluru. The reason why and when Yelahanka fort was brought down is still debated, but the temples, streets, kattes, kalyanis and community still continues to be.
In fact, Yelahanka Kere (Lake), which is under redevelopment, is still one of the largest lakes in Bengaluru, which would have served the then town with fresh water. Along with a rich culture – worth studying, the geography contributed to its history as well, because of which the town still continues to hold up its ancient essence. Rich soil of Yelahanka braced flourishing agriculture, such as mulberry, which led the community to produce silk textile, for which South India is famous for even today, silk textiles. Silk was then produced by every home and traders came from different part to buy this lustrous handmade textile.
Today, Yelahanka Old town is hegemonized by urban development, new public transportation and redevelopment projects. However, the silk weaving community still continues to be. While walking on the streets of Old town Yelahanka, if you happen to hear clinging sound of machines, be sure that a beautiful silk saree is being hand woven around. However, some weavers sold their homes to move to the city, which have been now taken over and reestablished by landlords with modern weaving machines.
It is noteworthy to observe and interpret the past tactics which led the silk weaving community survive through ages. Not only the community, but the art and culture also survived despite dramatic and weighty changes in the urban fabric around the place. The following are the few tactics, which is common to Old town Yelahanka; which are as old as the town itself and which the western world tries to imbibe in their urbanism, today.
Blurred boundaries: Although the houses are made of solid walls, the porches and backyard do not stand on solid partitions. The porches are converted into social spaces based on convenience and situation. On some days, the porches and backyards are enveloped by colorful silk fabric kept for sun drying; some days you see a birthday party or a social event taking place; and some days are marked with celebrations of festivals. The porches also extend up to streets, subject to the number of people that needs to be accommodated. The residents park their cars and vehicles in the streets only during nighttime, letting the street free for social activities during the day. The idea is now being replicated by cities promoting car free streets and shaping spaces for public realm.
Public (social) spaces: Streets, kattes (solid platforms on the porches of homes, around trees, porches of temples) and Kalyanis (ancient water bodies meant for bathing and religious event but have dried up now) form the public realm in Old town Yelahanka. The activities of these spaces are well organized, for example, morning is meant for cleaning, men occupy them to rest in the afternoon, women occupy them to do chores while socializing in the late afternoons and is a family outdoor space by late evening. The night watchman uses the katte to rest at night. The sense of ownership makes people maintain these spaces. Is a modern day parklet or street side bench being so well multi-used?
Social capital: Continuing with the above example of public spaces, in case, the katte is outside of the commercial street, it is taken care of by the people performing commercial business. For example, the katte next to the Old town Yelahanka bus stop is multi-used by variety of business owners. If a shopkeeper cleans in the morning, the tea boys perform their business and cleans it again, before it can be used by workers to rest in the afternoon. Occasionally, businesses are performed on the kattes, such as, selling of idols during festivals. The whole stage is crafted by mutual understanding and feeling of ownership, devoid of any formal law or policy. This act of togetherness illustrates social capital being generated at its best. On the other hand, urban designers work hard on developing policies and physical fabric that would promote social capital.
Ensuring safety: Jane Jacob’s globally famed concept of “eyes on street” couldn’t be more perfectly demonstrated than the streets of Old town Yelahanka. The streets are always employed by activities, hence, chances of theft and other compromising events occurring are minimal. Even during nighttime, some residents chose to sleep under their semi-open porches, which ensures safety even during dark hours.
Promoting culture: The daily lives (and associated activities) of people, which is not yet influenced by urbanization keeps the culture alive, for the younger generation to absorb. Citizens around the globe are concerned that the new generation is too urbanized to value the culture of their elders or imbibe qualities of the past into their lives. It’s the daily small habits and practices which when continued brings out the culture. This idea is again well demonstrated among the residents of Old town Yelahanka, need not to illustrate the art of weaving that has continued through generations.
In 2010, government of Karnataka released their action plan promoting Commuters Rail Service (CRS), making Yelahanka as one of the growth centers. Since then, Yelahanka has witnessed substantial real estate developments, mega-project (residential and commercial) and developments in public transportations. This has led to urbanizing New town Yelahanka as well as periphery of Old town Yelahanka.
Today, urban planners in Bengaluru are concerned with and are coming up with masterplans to absorb the “urban population” which will flow with CRS. This essay, bringing out the importance of Old town Yelahanka, asserts the need to revive and protect the heritage and cultural of Old town Yelahanka.