Google’s doodle for Saturday, September 15, features a man wearing a Mysuru peta with a wall in the background. He is none other than Sir M. Visvesvaraya, and the wall represents the iconic Krishna Raja Sagar dam built across the Cauvery river in Mandya, Karnataka. Today is the 158th birth anniversary of M Visvesvaraya, according to his family.
“While some sources cite his birth year as 1861, after speaking to his family, we’ve learned that Sir MV was actually born a year earlier,” Google’s blog post read. The government of India celebrates his birthday as ‘Engineers Day’.
Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, better known as Sir MV, was born in a modest family in Muddenahalli village in the erstwhile Mysore State. Having lost his father at the age of 12, Visvesvaraya faced a lot of hardship to continue his studies. “According to stories passed down over generations, Sir MV had to walk over 60 kilometers to Bengaluru to attend United Mission School, eating the food served at temples around the city and studying under street lamps,” Google said in its blog post.
Visvesvaraya graduated from Bangalore Central College and studied Licentiate in Civil Engineering from College of Engineering, Pune. He joined the Indian Irrigation Commission in the late 18th century and worked on irrigation and flood control systems. He is credited with building intricate irrigation systems in the Deccan Plateau, the floodgates of Khadakvasla Reservoir near Pune and Tigra Dam in Gwalior, and the flood protection system in Hyderabad when the city was under Nizam’s rule.
The British Empire under King George V conferred him the knighthood for his contributions. In 1909, Visvesvaraya retired from serving the colonial empire and returned to his roots — Mysore. This was the time the State was reeling under severe drought and Visvesvaraya proposed constructing a gravity dam across River Cauvery in Mandya that would not only help in irrigation but also provide electricity to the nearby areas. Construction began in 1911, and the dam was inaugurated in 1914. Named after the Wadiyar dynasty king who ruled Mysore then, it was one of the largest dams in Asia then. The Krishna Raja Sagar Dam still provides drinking water to the whole of the Mysore region and Bengaluru, apart from taking care of the irrigation needs in Mandya.
Visvesvaraya was also instrumental in bringing the Mysore Iron & Steel Works to Bhadravathi. It was renamed Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Limited post-Independence.
Visvesvaraya also served as the Dewan of Mysore. It was during his period as Dewan that the Mysore Soap Factory (which makes the iconic Mysore sandal soap), the Bangalore Agricultural University, the Bank of Mysore (later renamed State Bank of Mysore and now merged with the State Bank of India), the Century Club, the Mysore Paper Mills, the Bangalore Press, and the Mysore Chamber of Commerce were set up. He was also instrumental in charting out the road construction between Tirumala and Tirupati.
Visvesvaraya was also known for his love for Kannada. He set up the Kannada Parishat.
“Despite his many achievements, he never forgot his roots. He was simple, honest and committed to his work,” said Satish Mokshagundam, the grandnephew of Visvesvaraya. “It was his contemplative nature that allowed him as a young rural lad, having achieved a Civil Engineering degree, to think outside of the box and start Recreational Clubs, Banks, Chambers of Commerce, Educational Institutions, and a Literary Association for Kannada,” Satish, the president of Visvesvaraya National Memorial Trust in Bengaluru recalled.
The Trust maintains a museum in Visvesvaraya’s hometown in Chikkaballapur district, where all the artifacts that he collected and other items that he used during his lifetime are preserved.
He penned his autobiography, Memoirs of my Working Life, in 1951. True to his autobiography’s title, Visvesvaraya worked till his last days. He was over 90 when he was the consultant for the Mokama Bridge project across the Ganga in Bihar. The bridge, known as Rajendra Setu, was inaugurated in 1952 and is functional till date even though a parallel bridge was recently constructed.
“Industrialise or Perish” was Visvesvaraya’s mantra. “A popular anecdote has it that he exclaimed, “What a waste!” when he saw the Jog Falls in Shivamogga district, since hydro-electric power could be harnessed at the site of the waterfalls, wrote Chandan Gowda, a chronicler of modern Mysore, in The Hindu in a tribute to Visvesvaraya.
Visvesvaraya was honoured with the Bharat Ratna in 1952. He passed away in Bengaluru on April 12, 1962.