would be a quintessential question that a geographer would ask. In the case of Mysore, it isn’t clear why this particular site was chosen. Sure, Chamundi is close by, holy site, but not many capitals are also religious centres in India. To make things clear, one must look at a topographical map of the area surrounding Mysore.
Let us take the possible reasons one by one.
A) Economic — not a chance. There is no product of great value other than sandalwood that the whole region produced, and it is more likely that more sandalwood would be harvested in the Ghats nearby, maybe near Periyapatna.
B) Geographic — i.e, it has some geographic features that make it advantageous, for military, trade or some other reasons. This reason also does not hold water. Mysore is quite insulated from the more important trade routes, its climate is not as good as anywhere north or north-west of it. It is not even on the banks of any river, which is always a Good Thing for a city.
C) Religious — Even to this day, Chamundi hills is not a very popular destination for pilgrims. The Dassera is popular, but only in the nearby regions. Nanjangud and Srirangapatnam with the Cauvery flowing by would be my choice if I was to setup a pilgrimage centre.
D) Strategic — Mysore does overlook the Gejjalahatti valley, a pass that leads directly to Coimbator and importantly in those days, to Dharapuram. Dharapuram sits strategically near the Palakkad Pass which would have been an important route between the east and west coasts. However, I would probably choose Chamarajanagar, which is much closer and also covers the other trade route I mapped here. Also, Chamarajanagar is much close to Santemarahalli, which was an important weekly village fair. Easier to get stuff.
For these reasons, I find it hard to believe that Mysore could reach its present state of (relative) importance by any organic means. It remains to be seen whether history validates my doubts. Turns out that it does. Firstly, a little bit about Mysore. Present day Mysore was previously called Puragadi (or Puragiri), and the region it was situated in was called Mahisuru Ashtagrama, consisting of the present Mysore-Hassan region. It was given by Chamaraja Wodeyar the Third to his third son Chamaraja Wodeyar the Fourth sometime in the 16th century. His two elder brothers died, and the whole region ruled by the Wodeyars thus came to be ruled by the person sitting in Puragiri.
However, it was not the seat of power as the region was ruled by the Vijayanagar Empire at the time, and its representative was positioned in Srirangapattana. Once the Empire fell apart, the then Wodeyar took over and shifted his capital to Srirangapattana. Obviously, Mysore was not very appealing to stay back. During the reign of Tippu Sultan, he went so far as to dismantle the fort that stood at the present day Mysore Palace and build a fort at nearby Nazarbad, which he hoped to make into a full-fledged city. So, again, Mysore was simply of no consequence to the people in power. It was only after Tippu was defeated and the Wodeyars reinstated that the fort was rebuilt (after dismantling the fort built at Nazarbad!). This was around 1800. So, for all practical purposes, the history of Mysore begins only 200 years ago.
Mysore did not remain the capital for long, as the British took over in 1831 due to (alleged) misrule by the ruler then, and Bangalore was made the capital, with its climate more suitable for the Europeans, and other things, to be mentioned in a later post. It again was given back to the Wodeyars in 1881, and Mysore again became the capital.
As you can see, Mysore, for most of its lifetime has been an ‘expendable’ city. This seems to be a feature of most Indian cities historically. They lived when they were under political patronage, and died as soon as it was taken away — they had no real base over which they could subsist. Exceptions were the trading ports along the Malabar and Coromandel. Mysore had to be ‘taken care of’ for nearly 50 years, and yet even to this day it is not the place to be if you are on the lookout for a job. Mysore developed in a much more saner and planned fashion due to this, which it will hopefully retain.
To trace Mysore’s trajectory is to trace the development of the Mysore region, which was reasonably isolated geographically by the Ghats on either side and the Krishna/ Tungabhadra on the northern side. That is for later.