Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A tale of resistance & rewards

Three years after the British took over Kodagu, a rebellion against the rulers erupted in the region. Among the rebels was Guddemane Appayya. C P Belliappa charts the chronology of events immediately after the rebellion was quelled.
In 1837, three years after the British take-over of Kodagu, a rebellion erupted against the colonisers. This uprising is popularly known as ‘Amara Sulya da Katakai’. The primary reason for this revolt by some of the peasants in Sulya was their objection to the British collecting land tax in currency instead of in kind as was the practice during the reign of the rajas. There was also a rather mysterious individual named Kalyanaswamy who proclaimed himself a descendant of the Haleri rajas and claimed the throne of Kodagu.

The rebellious peasants rallied round him. Guddemane Appayya took command of the rebels. The entire uprising was not well organised and there was a great deal of confusion. However, it soon spread to Puttur and then right up to Mangalore, where some of the establishments of the East India Company were ransacked. Emboldened by their success, the rebels made a bid to attack Madikeri, the capital of Kodagu.

Three years of British administration had brought peace and stability in Kodagu and a majority of the people did not want this disturbed. Compared to the misrule of Chikka Veerarajendra, the administration was streamlined and there was equitable law. People-friendly policies were implemented in various fields. The alarmed British enlisted the support of Kodavas to quell the rebellion. The two dewans, Apparanda Bopanna and Chepudira Ponnappa, mustered the Kodavas, and within days the insurgency was put down. The British did not want any repetition of such revolts against their rule. Harsh punishments were meted out to those who took part in the rebellion. Amongst those executed were Kalyanaswamy and Guddemane Appayya.

After this operation was completed, a large amount of booty was collected from the rebels. The British offered the spoils of war to the Kodavas for having helped them. To the surprise of the British, Kodavas rejected sharing the war booty.

Awards for quelling rebellion

At the time, Colonel Mark Cubbon who was posted in Bangalore was also the Commissioner of Kodagu and Captain Le Hardy was the superintendent. It was Colonel Mark Cubbon who recommended to the then governor-general Lord Auckland that the gallant Kodavas should be suitably recognised for their distinguished service in quelling the rebellion. On Mark Cubbon’s recommendation, the following awards were presented: gold medals with gold chains worth Rs 400 to the two dewans, 12 gold medals with chains worth Rs 200 to subedhars and principal chiefs, 20 gold medals without chains for parpatigars and others of equal rank, 10 gold medals worth Rs 50 for peasants who supported the British, 200 silver medals worth Rs 10 for lower ranks and peasants.

Several bronze and copper medals were presented to the foot-soldiers. All these medals were two inches in diameter. They were cast in the same moulding with a Kodava warrior on the obverse and a trophy of Kodava arms on the reverse. Weights of the gold medals were adjusted by varying the thickness.

In addition, there were grants of land, Pegu ponies, fowling pieces (guns), shawls, clothes, turbans, etc.

But there was a 70-year-old subedhar named Monnaiah (spelt Moonien by the British) who rejected all that the British offered. He was crestfallen, because during the operation, he had lost his prized sword which was a gift from Dodda Veerarajendra. He wanted nothing other than replacement of the sword!

Mark Cubbon immediately acted on this request and had an exact replica made and presented to the subedhar. I wonder if this sword exists somewhere in one of the Kodava homes. Likewise, none of the gold and silver medallions are with any of the Kodava families.

However, I have one of the bronze medals, which was very kindly gifted to me by A Franklin, an avid art collector in Bangalore.

Franklin is also the proud owner of the autographed Bible that Queen Victoria presented to her god daughter Princess Victoria Gowramma of Coorg in 1852.

History has nevertheless come full circle. Recently an imposing statue of Guddemane Appayya on horse-back has been installed at the entrance to Madikeri town. He is recognised as one of the earliest freedom fighters.