The Town of Bantwal


Bantwal is a little town 28 K.M. east of Mangalore. It was prominent as a trade centre in the 18th century. On the banks of River Nethravathi, it used to affect by the floods during every Monsoon season. Since it is situated in the lowly area, the town of Bantwal would be closed for days together during these floods being all connected roads getting flood running over them.


After the devastating flood of 1923 people started to move out of Bantwal and slowly Bantwal lost its importance as a commercial town. Lately due to the shifting of Government offices to nearby B.C.Road which is on a higher ground is gained importance over Bantwal.


Bantwal Town mostly inhabited by Gaud Saraswaths and Byaries (Muslim community) is still has a considerable trade activity in Groceries, Hardwares and most importantly Gold. Bantwal is famous for its gold merchants. Established by Bantwal Baliga family in the early 19th century the gold trade now spread across many jewellery shops belonging to descendants of family of Vaman Annappa Baliga.


Prior to 1852, Bantwal Taluk was the largest Taluk in the entire of Canara Province (then comprising of North Canara, Udupi, Mangalore and Kasargod Districts) with 411 villages and a total population of 1,69,416. In 1852, a portion of it was formed into the Taluk of Puttur. (Source: “A Gazetteer of Southern India” published in 1855).


According to this book, Buntwal (as it is spelt in the Gazetteer) was an enterpot for the produce of the province on its way to the Mysore Country and had derived great benefit of late years from the extention of the coffee trade. It contained about thousand scattered houses inhabited by Moplas, Concanies, Bunters and a few Jains.


Bantwal town is a two part settlement. A lower part at Mangalore end called as “Kelagina Pete” (Lower City) which is inhabited by Byaris (Muslims) and “Melina Pete” (Upper City) which is inhabited by Gaud Saraswaths. In Dakshin Kannada this pattern of twin settlements is very common in every prominent town. Gaud Saraswaths always lived in a settlement similar to Muslims.


Gaud Saraswaths built trading complexes called “Bhandasale”. These Bhandasales consists of a trading hall with highly laid Matresses and Pillows for seating during the negotiations and dealings, and many adjacent rooms to keep commodities. Location of every room would be strategically planned to suit the requirement of a particular commodity in respect to the weather and durability factor. For example the Jaggery storage room will be in the middle of the complex to avoid moisture and insects. Rice would be bundled with paddy straw and kept on the Attics.


Gaud Saraswaths also built homes called Chowk Mahals. A chowk mahal is a square shaped home with a courtyard in the middle. The combination of these courtyard home and Bhandasale was very common among rich businessmen of Gaud Saraswath Community.


Today, out of the 15 Bhandasales in Bantwal only one is working as a Bhandasale with some alterations in the structure. Rest is defunct now.


Bantwal was very prominent in the 18th century as a trading centre. Traders used to come down to Bantwal with their commodities in Bullock carts. They either used to sell the commodities to local merchants or continue their journey to Mangalore via River route in small country crafts. Because from Bantwal to Mangalore there were several small river crossings on which today bridges are built, in those days were causing hindrance to those who used to travel by road.


Today it takes around 20 Minutes to reach Mangalore from Bantwal. But it was an overnight journey in Country boats. The one way fare for person in this country boats to Mangalore was 3 Annas in early 19th century.


There was a good demand for the Rice coming from Bantwal at the port town of Mangalore because of its quality.


We can understand the volume of trade activity taking place in Bantwal with the fact that in 1923 floods, around 3,500 Mudis of Rice was destroyed by water flowing in to storage place. One Mudi is equal to around 40 Shers 1 Sher of rice is nearly 1 Kg. That means around 1,40,000 Kgs of Rice. This might only be the stock of Monsoon. We can just imagine the volume of rice trading in summer and other seasons.


In 1914 CPC (Canara Public Conveyance) established its first ever Bus route between Mangalore and Bantwal.