Bengaluru: A walk through the white gates of CSI Memorial church is like stepping into the pages of a history book. From the intricate and colourful patterns on the tiled floor to the old, beautiful piano which plays melodies even today, the place certainly has an old-world English charm.
Built in 1886 and recently declared a heritage site, it is the oldest church in the city. Originating as a gathering hall for the European and the Anglo-Indian community in the space granted by the Maharaja of Mysore, it grew into a place of worship that brought all sects of Christianity together in Whitefield, says 80-year-old Alexander TC, the secretary of the Christians of South India congregation, who are the guardians of the property at present.
“The settlers asked for some land to settle down in Whitefield and the Maharaja gave them a generous 30 acres in 1884. They came in, built their houses and then looked for a common place of assembly. A wealthy gentleman by the name of Mr Cage donated a handsome amount of money and a hall was built.”
Cage Hall, as it was known then, was converted into a small church in 1886 with contributions for the community, he adds. It was then renovated in 1945, two wings on either side were added but the core of the church remained untouched and still stands the same way as it did in the 1800s.
As India gained her independence in 1947, the church’s administration also saw a change. “The Europeans went back and subsequently the Anglo-Indians also migrated and the CSI has been taking care of the church ever since,” he continues nostalgically.
The church campus, that was originally supposed to be three fourths of an acre, has significantly reduced in size. “The BBMP demolished the eastern side of the compound for widening the Inner Ring Road and the campus has reduced in area and we haven’t been able to collect the compensation yet, because we had a document missing which is in the Vidhan Soudha archives.” he says sadly.
The name of the church represents its openness to all congregations, remarked Krupa Rajangam, a filmmaker and public awareness activist whose research paper named ‘Whitefield – an important but forgotten chapter of India’s colonial heritage’ was published by the British Association of South Asian Studies.
“It was a place that was open to all wings of Christians, hence the name Memorial church. It was a non- denominational church even at that time and that really stood out when I was working on my research.” It was the heart of the settlement; she added. “It had a small dispensary where the doctor came once a week, all the way from Varthur on a train and then a tonga. Even the priest had to come from Cantonment railway station on a tonga to Whitefield, such was the dedication and the importance that the church held.”
The church also organises Sunday school, where about a hundred children participate in religious learning from all sects of Christianity. The church space is shared by two congregations today, the CSI and the Anglicans. They also provide scholarships to bright brains that cannot afford higher education called merit cum means, said Alexander.
“We help through scholarships of about ten to fifteen thousand to children in the community from economically weak backgrounds who are smart and want to study. It’s been there now for about 5 years and quite a few have benefited from it.” And hopefully, will continue to do so!