Heritage in peril: Mysuru steps up to save its 138-year-old iconic Devaraja market from demolition

In early 2023, four citizens of Mysuru filed a PIL against the Mysuru City Corporation’s proposal to demolish the 138-year-old Devaraja Market. In August 2023, the Karnataka High Court dismissed the petition, and the case is currently with the Supreme Court

ByRama Ramanan

Published Mar 02, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedMar 02, 2024 | 9:00 AM

Devaraja market is one of the oldest markets in the heritage city of Mysuru that was built during the rule of Chamaraja Wodeyar IX

Seventy-year-old Prakash Rai walks in long strides as the morning sun rays filter along his path. He stops to wave at a few shopkeepers and then jostles his way back into the bustling crowd.

Accompanying him on this route are conical piles of kumkum powder, the aroma of sandalwood incense sticks, green carpets of leafy vegetables bunched together on wooden planks, stacks of fragrant flowers, the clanking of kitchen utensils, the riot of colours of fruits, and vendors screaming the names of goods they have to offer.

This is a typical day in the life of Rai and several other Mysuru residents for whom a trip to the 138-year-old Devaraja Market is almost a daily ritual.

But in the last six months, Rai’s face has been wearing a sombre look every time he visits the market.

“I don’t know if it will be alive as long as I am,” he worries.

In early 2023, four citizens of Mysuru filed a PIL against the Mysuru City Corporation’s proposal to demolish the 138-year-old Devaraja Market. In August 2023, the Karnataka High Court dismissed the petition, and the case is currently with the Supreme Court.

Rai is one of the many Mysureans for whom the Devaraja market is not a mere commercial space, but a part of his home, his identity and his entire existence.

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The origins of Devaraja market

Devaraja market is one of the oldest markets in the heritage city of Mysuru that was built during the rule of Chamaraja Wodeyar IX with the Indo-Muslim architectural style. It was initially a weekly market built above the Dewan Poornaiah Canal that supplied drinking water to the Mysore Palace. The market was named in 1925 after Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar, and is also known as Dodda market.

Besides being a hub of produce, the market has been an important part of the public realm and is known to have pockets bursting with life, energy, and colour.

But with the Corporation’s proposal for the demolition of this iconic piece of history, Mysureans and heritage conservationists are now an anxious lot.

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Devaraja market in Mysore’s daily life

Every single person in Mysuru has a story about their association with the Devaraja market, note Souharda UL and Amshula Prakash, residents of Mysuru.

Souharda lived in Rajasthan for a few years, before moving back to his hometown in 2017 to work in a company that curated experiential tours. Soon, he started witnessing his city with a fresh perspective.


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“European tourists are usually thrilled to see the heritage in every corner of our city. And the Devaraj market is always the highlight of every tour. There’s the fruit market, incense sticks, oils, vegetables, household utensils — all under one roof. Many tourists, who have travelled to more than 60-70 countries, call this the finest market they have seen,” he shares.

Prakash moved from Mumbai to Mysuru just four years back, and instantly forged a warm connection with the city.

“Mysuru has a quality of being a special place. I’ve lived in many cities but here everything is in moderation. It could be traced to the history of the Kings here who structured the administration and put a lot of thought into building this city which was progressive back in the day. And that has led the city to build itself. There’s a native modernity to it,” she shares.

But being a fairly new resident of the city hasn’t deterred Prakash from being part of the community that is persevering in the market’s preservation. Calling it a living heritage, Prakash believes the market is a way of life. “We all buy vegetables there. It’s a landmark, a fabric of everybody’s lives. Without the market, the nature and character of the city would change substantially,” she comments.

A nostalgic shift

Landscape artist Vishwanath R despised going to the market during his childhood days. “It was always crowded. But later, I started realising the value of the market and what the market gives to the city, rather than what we get from it,” he shares.

In 2017, when he moved back to Mysuru, Vishwanath set up a backpackers’ hostel through which he started creating awareness about the city’s heritage. He’s currently associated with a heritage building that is now converted into a cultural centre, which he claims is one of a kind in Mysuru.

“This made me lean towards the protection and conservation of Devaraja market,” he shares.

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Making a case for heritage

“Whose heritage is it?” asks Pankaj Modi, conservation architect in Bengaluru.

“It’s the heritage of the people. So, the locals have to first accept and understand the value of a structure,” he adds.


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For Meera Iyer, Convenor of INTACH Bengaluru, it’s not just about historical significance. “Whether it is British India or whether it is the princely states, they were all providing, they were all recognising and working hard to provide public infrastructure in their cities. Public markets have been built around the world. But in India, your architecture has to reflect the local climate. This is why the market has a central open courtyard and a facade around it,” she articulates.

Architecture, she says, was never about function alone, in the days of the yore. It was also about form. The makers and conservators accorded importance to aesthetics and that’s the reason much care was lavished upon how Devaraja market looks, she adds.

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Neglect maketh the city worry

In the last 138 years, the market has been part of every Mysurean’s celebration, including birth, and death.


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“Kuvempu, the state poet of Karnataka, used to shop in the market. The Palace too gets its produce from here. Demolition would mean something that’s part of your everyday life being taken away,” shares Prakash.

The lack of an entry ticket price could be one of the reasons for its neglect, opines Souharda. With parts of the market collapsing, the upkeep of the market has been ignored, he points out.

Most of the youth, Vishwanath says, do not understand the value of a heritage structure. “They are not aware of what is a market, what does a market do. Its presence or absence doesn’t matter to them. When I heard about the demolition, I started meeting and discussing about it. Soon, Wodeyar’s College of Architecture hosted a symposium discussing heritage structures, with the market in the limelight. That’s when I started talking to Souharda, Anuroopa and Amshula,” he elaborates.

Public markets like Devaraja provide a space for social interaction, enhancing the vitality of a city. And what is a city? asks Iyer.

“It’s not a set of buildings; there’s a certain ethos and spirit. Devaraja market embodies that,” she offers.

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Valuation over values

Modi is worried that the demolition can be viewed by the powers-that-be as an opportunity to lobby, as a land bank.

“All the reports by the committees call the structure weak and therefore demand its demolition. But, nobody is talking about its value,” he laments.


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Time, effort and money are primary sources to conserve a heritage structure, points out Iyer, which, she says, has been missing in the case of the market.

In their bid to offer support, earlier, this January, INTACH Bengaluru organised a conference with structural experts who are familiar with the market.

“At the conference, Dr Raghunath, a structural engineer, who has worked on several heritage buildings in Bengaluru and Mumbai, said that Devaraja market’s damage is grade 2 level. He also pointed out that he has restored grade 4 buildings,” shares Iyer.

Recalling his interaction with a senior civic official, Souharda shares, “He told me that they are going to build a structure in place of the market in a similar way. But, how can we replace the original?”

Mysuru, he adds, has 15-20 heritage buildings that need restoration. “The easiest way for administrative officials is to demolish and build a new one,” he rues.

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Upholding heritage values

Besides, tourism is a big part of Mysuru’s economy. “Almost every foreign tourist who goes to Mysore spends time in the market. If the market is demolished, that’s a huge dent on Mysore’s image as a heritage city,” Iyer points out.

The government needs to adopt the right way to assess heritage value, says Modi.

“Often, if something is 100 years old, it becomes of value. If it is an archaeological monument, then there is value. But laws which apply to archaeological monuments do not apply to unprotected structures like the Devaraja market,” he highlights.

The government must recognise heritage beyond the protected monuments, he recommends.

“There are various structures that give a city its character, and are part of a city’s story, evolution, and historic sentimental value,” Modi emphasises.

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Community support

In the last few months, Mysuru and Mysureans have displayed an overwhelming outpouring of love, say Iyer, Souharda and Prakash. “People are showing up, sharing stories, turning up for events whether it is reading or photography,” they point out in unison.

“When officials know that people care, then it makes a difference,” Iyer emphasises.

Saving the market has become an intergenerational effort, chips in Prakash. College students, 80-year-olds, middle-aged people, working professionals, artists, and children have all come together, she notes.

“We started leveraging social media to involve the younger generation. We then started a group, sought permission from the police to organise a few events and that’s how the momentum set rolling,” Vishwanath adds.

The response has been good, he says.

Following the positive reception, Vishwanath and the team conducted a treasure hunt inside the market. ” Word spread, and we started talking about the role of markets in countries like Korea or Thailand, and the restoration work there which accentuated tourist footfall,” he shares.

Setting the community effort in digital motion is Mysuru resident Anuroopa KS, who has initiated a page on Instagram called Save Devaraja Market, to create awareness and find newer ways of storytelling, besides heritage walks, treasure hunts, and short films.

On his part, Souharda intends to make an emotional documentary filled with humour. “Because that is what the market is. It is also where Hindus, Muslims, Shettys, and Iyengars etc. survive together. It’s a living breathing example of India,” he adds.

While Mysuru awaits the decision from the apex court, the voice of the community is getting louder to save the Devaraja market, because beyond perils lie possibilities.