The ballad depicts Magadi Kempe Gowda as a man from a poor agricultural family, who rose to be a chieftain and the founder of Bengaluru. Fame and fortune came his way as a result of his widowed sister-in-law’s devotion towards Lord Magadi Rangadhama. His downfall is brought about by his arrogance towards the beneficent deity. In the manner of folk narratives, the ballad incorporates miracles and collapses two different personalities into a single entity – Kempe Gowda of Yelahanka, believed to be the founder of the city, and Kempe Gowda of Magadi, who lived much later.

The first excerpt below describes how a miracle revealed the special powers of Kempe Gowda to a Brahmin in whose fields he worked as a labourer, while the second recalls the apocryphal story of the old woman who gave Kempe Gowda “bendakalu” or boiled beans.

This incident is said to have occurred when, after acquiring a fortune and building a fort in Magadi, he was on a journey to visit his mother. Popular stories say that is how the location came to be named “Bendakaluru”, and eventually “Bengaluru”.

After briefly describing events at his mother’s home, the narrative returns to the story of Bengaluru, when Kempe Gowda revisits the old woman out of gratitude.

‘Hey you, Kempa, where are you?’
Shouted the Brahmin and
Looked for him in every corner.
He then saw Kempe Gowda
Sleeping under a banana tree.
The shade of the tree had receded.
In the form of a mighty serpent;
Magadi Rangadhama was
Sheltering him under his seven hoods
Garuda hovered high in the sky,
Protecting both from the scorching sun.
Annoji the Brahmin stood, shocked.
What miracle was this, he thought,
Taking out the panchanga from his pocket.
The boy is destined to hold court
In Magadi, he exclaimed!
Magadi Rangadhama will
Watch over him all the time.
The Brahmin threw the stale ragi balls
He had brought for the boy
Into a well and shook him awake.
‘Wake up, Kempe Gowda, wake up now.’
The boy woke up, shivering and sweating.
Why was the man, who always called
Him Kempa, now calling him Gowda?
Folding his hands, the boy begged,
‘Master, I was hungry and tired.
Forgive me, I fell asleep.
I will work harder tomorrow.’
‘Forget about work,’ the Brahmin said.
He bathed him and gave him new clothes.
He served him hot rice and milk.
‘You are Kempe Gowda,’ he said.
‘I don’t deserve that name, master,’
Said the boy. ‘Call me by my old name.’
‘You will be king,’ said the Brahmin.
‘When you get wealthy, what will
You give me?’ asked the Brahmin.
‘If I am the king,’ said Kempe Gowda,
‘You will be my teacher and guide.’
The Brahmin then sent him away
Without paying him for the work.

As he travelled, he felt very hungry,
But found not a morsel to eat.
He walked on and on and came upon
The house of an old woman.
‘Dear Ajji, give me a
Mouthful of rice,’ he asked.
‘I have neither rice nor rotti,
I only have some boiled beans.
Will you eat it, my child?’
Asked the old woman,
And gave him a handful.
Kempe Gowda ate the boiled beans,
Drank some water and moved on.

A thought struck Kempe Gowda as
He stood at the threshold of the
Home of the boiled beans-woman.
Lord Shiva, may this place grow into
A big town some day, he prayed.
He built three gopuras at three corners.
He saw Lord Gangadhara in a cave,
And built a temple for him at Gavipura.
He built the tank of Kempambundhi,
And then a temple for the big bull.
Kempe Gowda stood at a height
And gazed at the land all round.
He built a strong fort around the
Town of the boiled beans-woman.

Translated from the Kannada by Bageshree S.

Excerpted with permission from Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore, edited by Aditi De.