Gustav Krumbiegel, German botanist and landscape expert - his forgotten legacy in Karnataka

Young Gustav Krumbiegel,/

But for many people of Bengaluru or Mysore much of people from Karnataka or other states especially southern states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra may not be aware of the man who was responsible for  tantalizing  landscaping of the popular Brindavan garden near Mysore, the large green cover  over the the city of Bengaluru, the fountains in the central college and the terrace garden in the Bengaluru's palace. His careful planning and intervention in the cityscape had a profound impact on the microclimate of the city.   Apart, he created the famous Botanical Gardens at Ootacamund (Ooty), more than  50 tea and coffee gardens on the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu  and many estates  in the state of Kerala. 

The state of Karnataka and the people are indebted a lot to the  renowned German horticulturist Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel,    (18 December 1865 – 8 February 1956) . Born in Lohmen near Dresden, educated in Wilsdruff and Dresden, and  trained in horticulture in Pillnitz, Germany, Krumbiegel,  introduced long ago the unique  concept of green cover in the city spaces . 

Green cover in cities and towns, as we are aware, plays a great role in cutting down particulates in urban spaces in the present modern scenario.  With shrinking wooded areas and urbanization binge  in tandem with population growth and increasing vehicular traffic, air pollution  is a gripping problem all over our country as well as  across the world.

Gustav Krumbiegel family, Bengaluru, KA

Being a visionary Gustav Krumbiegel, whose special interest  was  gardening and landscaping,  planned the city spaces far ahead of time. He not only promoted developments of big gardens in the cities and towns and also encouraged the planting of trees all along the long streets. It was he who introduced what is called serial planting system in which seasonal flowering trees would be planted on both sides of the long avenues and streets with enough spacing to allo the air-flow.  Such plants  that  form breen canopy would bloom all through the year and  also offer cool shadows during hot seasons. The flowering trees in their gorgeous colours, the blue and mauve jacaranda, the pink and red cassias, the yellow peltophorum, the pink largest roomies, the plumerias and the gulmohar. adorn the city streets and also bear testimony to the ingenuity of Gustav  who put in so much hard work to put in a particular fashion as wished. Apart in Lalbagh there are more than 9000 tress and 800 of them are unique. Gustav Krumbiegel contribute more than 50% of total trees there  No doubt he was instrumental in giving much of its verdance and lushness in the city -  a profusion of greenery. 

Congress for the New Urbanism

Credit goes to  the then Baroda ruler Sayajirao G III, a frequent visitor to London' Royal Botanical Kew Gardens that was being  curated by Gustav Krumbiegel. Upon spotting his rich talents Maharajah Sayajirao lost no time and invited   young Gustav to work as  curator of the Botanical Gardens in Baroda.

Gustav Krumbiegel,  landed in India in 1893 and having worked for some time in the Princely state of Baroda (Vadodara, Gujarat) and made a lasting impression on the ruler,  he  moved over to Mysore state at the invitation of the then Dewan Sir. Mirza Ismail.

Arriving at the young age  30ish,  while in the employ of the princely state when WWII was looming over, Krumbiegel'  s stay in the state was beset with many  problems. He was with the princely state from 1908 to 1932. and later continued to stay in Bengaluru/ Being a man of German descent,  he had to prove his loyalty to  the princely state and to the British Raj with whom the Maharajah of Mysore had close relationship and military alliance.  German nationals were declared enemies of the state in Colonial india and  Krumbiegel was kept in an internment camp and the British wanted to deport him and his wife. For political reasons, the names  and contributions of of Krumbiegel, and other Germans Exener and Koenigsberger (best known as the architect of the Indian Institute of Science) were  largely erased from the annals of history. You will never find their names in the Mysore epigraphs. Thanks to the British hegemony and hypocrisy. 

In the midst of these odds  and testing time, unperturbed and very much  impressed by his talents, Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV  retained him as curator of Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. with  support  from dewans like V.P. Madhava Rao, C. Rangacharlu and most importantly, Sir Mirza Ismail.  Krumbiegel' was able to function independently  and began the task of developing Lalbagh, a beautiful garden in the prime location of the city.  He had contacts with many experts all over the world and brought in many unique and exotic tropical plants and trees  from countries in South America, USA, Australia, etc.

Krumbiegel introduced many exotic plants  that  included Russian sunflower, soya bean, American maize,  Acacia dealbata from Africa, Feijoa sellowiana from Paris, Elaeocarpus bancroftii from Australia, Ceiba pentandra from Burma,  Hydnocarpus Thailand, and Livistonia australis from Java, etc. He also  cofounded the Mysore Horticultural Society in 1912 and  used the building in the park to run Horticulture classes.. This historical  Krumbiegel hall in Lalbagh was demonized in 2017 by the state Horticulture department. Reason: utter negligence on the part of PWD and the ASI. He also excelled in architecture  and the buildings  from the famous Janata Bazaar in Gandhinagar to the directorate office of horticulture in Lalbagh Botanical Garden bear his mark. 

 His cemetery is in the Methodist graveyard on Hosur Road. Many of the gardens in this state, especially the Lalbagh  continue to bear the legacy of Krumbiegel whose name is etched in the city of Bengaluru  and the visual splendor he had left behind still inspires the visitors to the city..