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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The sword of the Diwan


Near the tenth mile from Virajpet is the traditional Ainmane homestead of the Meriyanda extended family. This is the ancestral house of the former minister M C Nanaiah and of the owners of the law firm Poovayya and Poovayya who also own a popular resort elsewhere, which bears the same Meriyanda name. Some distance away from this residence is another homestay resort run by one Meriyanda Somaiah. The sword of Diwan Medu, who was an ancestor of this clan, was kept in this homestay. Also, a place formerly known as the Meriyanda Angadi (store) is located nearby. 

Inner courtyard of the ancestral house


It is reported that several generations ago an unmarried lady, addressed only as Balliavva ('Elder Mother'), brought up her brother and sister-in-law's children. The descendants of the boys among them are part of the Meriyanda clan today. Balliavva had a place of worship known as the Mandana Murthy stana set up in the family farm. According to Gappu Ganapathy, a member of the Meriyanda clan, one historical family member who was called Maanichcha Moli (master), had two wives (probably his first wife died and then he married a second time) and six sons. The eldest among the boys was Meriyanda Medappa, affectionately called Medu, whose mother was from the Marichanda family. Four of his five younger brothers were known as Chettichcha, Kunjappa, Aiyappa and Ponnappa.

The war knife of the Diwan
Medappa, who was a government official, was made a Diwan under Linga Rajendra, the Raja of Kodagu between the years 1811 and 1820. It is said that Medu was a Diwan only for eighteen days. During a particular battle when Medu was stationed at the Nalnad palace, he sent his brother Chettichcha to the western border of the Kodagu kingdom. In the mean time Medu's rival had rumours reported to the Raja that Medu had sent his brother to the enemies in order to sell them official secrets. As a result a Panya (government farm), supposedly in Murnad and sanctioned to Medu's family, was immediately cancelled by the king. Medu was then charged with treason and made to run around the palace. The intention was to make him run into the king's Oidekatthi, a traditional sword also known as the Ayudha Katthi, which was positioned in the courtyard in a manner that it would slit open the runner's neck. But Medu ducked while he ran into the sword and so instead only his scalp was cut off. This then made him fall unconscious and he was taken out of the courtyard. Assuming that he was fatally wounded and hence would succumb to his injury, the palace servants reported to the Raja that Medu was dead. 

The 'Lin' seal of the Raja
Meanwhile Chettichcha won the battle and the news made the Raja regret his decision. However, in  the meantime, Medu was rehabilitated by a toddy drawer who applied medicinal herbs upon his head. It was only when Medu recovered, after some days, and returned to the palace that the Raja discovered that the Diwan had indeed survived. Diwan Medu was then honoured with the Raja's Oidekatthi bearing the small, embossed, golden 'Lin' seal of the Raja stamped upon it. This sword, made peculiar by the rare stamp, originally had an ivory hilt but ever since it broke it has been replaced by a wooden handle. The most commonly found seals of the Kodagu Rajas bear either of the Kannada syllables 'Vi' or 'Lin'. While 'Lin' belonged to Linga Rajendra, the 'Vi' belonged to his elder brother and predecessor Dodda Vira Rajendra. A number of Oidekatthis, bearing such seals had been presented by the respective Rajas in the past, but very few of them have actually survived. 
The first painting

Three paintings of Diwan Medu and the Kodagu Raja were commissioned in the early nineteenth century. While the recipient (Diwan Medu) looks the same, the Raja appears to be different in each of the paintings. We can speculate that Linga Rajendra himself adopted different styles as he aged, unless the patrons were actually different Rajas, probably Dodda Vira Rajendra (r.1789-1809), Linga Rajendra and the latter's son and successor Chikka Vira Rajendra (r.1820-1834), under whom he would have served as an official and advisor. In these paintings Medu wears a red cloth head-dress, which has projections in front, and a thin 'kombu mishe' handlebar moustache, kept by the accomplished brave men of those times. He wears ear rings and is dressed in a white coloured Kuppya (a traditional long sleeved tunic) with an ornate knife, called the piche katthi, secured in his chele waistband. In the second painting he holds out a bird to the Raja, probably offering it as a gift. In the third he holds a bow and some arrows. 
The second painting
Even the Rajas seem not to be spared by rules of propriety; in this case they had to have something held in their right hands when seen in public. They are either holding hunting falcons or holding what appears to be some sort of a flower or a jewel in their right hands. The Raja is seated in a chair placed upon a platform on which Medu also stands. This platform is covered from above by a canopy. In the first painting the Raja is seen sporting large side burns upon an otherwise clean shaven face, long before Elvis Presley would popularise this facial hair style. Two turbaned and moustached attendants stand behind the Raja. One seems to be a flag bearer while the other holds up an Oidekatthi. In the second painting the Raja is clean shaven and has a leashed dog beside him. In both the paintings the Raja wears light coloured head dresses and floral tunics. In the third artwork the Raja dons a cocked hat and has a moustache similar to what Medu has. The Raja also wears a dark, close-collared coat and what seems to be a beaded or pearl necklace. Two attendants stand behind him, one of them holding an upright Oidekatthi. While the original paintings have been kept elsewhere for safekeeping and preservation, black and white copies have been put up for display in the ancestral house. A spear of the olden days, known as a Barchi, has also been kept there.
The third painting

Family heirlooms, such as these paintings and swords, which are part of a heritage, are to be preserved for posterity. A number of similar beautiful paintings had been commissioned by the Kodagu Rajas, especially between 1792 and 1834, and given to different families across Kodagu. It is however unfortunate that we are not aware of the identity of the artists who drew them. These paintings give us an impression of how the Rajas and how their officials and attendants appeared. Likewise, the Ayuda Katthis issued by the Rajas bear their respective syllabic regal insignia. One good specimen of a sword with the 'Vi' syllable has found its way to the London Museum in the United Kingdom, where it is on display today.

The spear

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Story of a Hero-stone


Image 1- Kaimada (Landscape)
Since the ancient times the Rajas would dedicate hero stones, called Bira Kall, to the memory of martyrs. Many hero stones were found in North Kodagu, especially around Somwarpet. These coarsely sculpted granite tablets, often issued by the rulers and otherwise commissioned by affluent families, were also known as Kolle Kallu, stones of the killed. A number of them have been lined up around the Government Museum within the Madikeri Fort.

Image 2 - The Bira Kall within the Kaimada
Often the hero stone comprises of two or three panels. Usually at the top of the hero stone is inscribed a circular sun and a crescent moon. At the bottom are the carved figures of men and women holding weapons such as swords, shields and bows. Some sculptures were in the classic style found elsewhere in Karnataka, such as in Mysore and Shimoga, until as north as Belgaum, and in parts of Tamil Nadu to the South. In such hero stones the topmost compartment, underneath the etched sun and moon, would have a Linga and a bull with worshippers around them. The second would show the hero ascending the heavens with apsaras on either side fanning him. The third would have the hero battling other warriors during his life on earth. Sometimes there is a fourth, the bottommost, compartment which might have a horse and an elephant etched.

Image 3 - The Bira Kall of Kannanda Doddayya
The most well-known of these Bira kall in Kodagu, also one of the more recent ones made in 1768, has an image representing Kannanda Doddayya the Dalavayi, or army general, wearing the traditional Kuppya Chele costume with an early gun in one hand and a native Oide katti war knife in the other. When Hyder Ali unsuccessfully attacked Kodagu, Doddayya stood before Muddu Raja II on the eve of the battle and declared: “Twice before have I returned after defeating Hyder and bowed to you but this time I shall not be back”. Indeed in 1767 Doddayya was fatally wounded near Kajur Bagilu even as his army returned victoriously. Later, his house was destroyed and twenty four members of his family were killed by Hyder's son Tipu Sultan. According to G. Richter, in the 1870 book 'Manual of Coorg', Doddayya's Bira Kall was first placed in a paddy field, upon a hill slope and opposite the Mercara Central School.

Image 4 - Bira Kall of other Kannanda family members
A Kaimada, a small sanctuary built in remembrance of ancestors, was built a few decades ago and the Bira Kall was shifted into it. In front of this place, which is also called the Birappa sanctuary, and to its right is a shrine dedicated to Vishnu Murthy (Vishnu's image). To the left of the Bira sanctuary is a shelter, called the Pavali, where a number of devotees can sit within. Behind the sanctuary and to the left is a Trishul, planted upon a raised platform. There are two raised stone seats, one behind the other and facing the Birappa sanctuary.

Image 5 - The Birappa Temple shrines
The Kannanda family has three more memorial stones, featuring some more family members, placed inside another shrine. While one stone has a male ancestor with younger members, the second has a woman with children around her and the third shows two male ancestors holding weapons. Beside this second shrine is another Pavali with stone benches inside.
Image 6 - Figures etched on hero stones
When I paid a visit to this Bira Kall site Mr. Kannanda Suresh, his wife Mrs. Kannanda Ashwini and a clan elder Mr. Kannanda Pookunhi narrated the legend of Doddayya. Accordingly, Doddayya's Kodagu army had successfully defeated Hyder Ali's army and were returning back victoriously. But unfortunately Doddayya was struck and wounded on the way. The Raja, initially pleased upon seeing the return of the victorious army, was dismayed when he heard of the dying general. Doddayya was led up the walls of Madikeri fort and all the lands that he looked upon were then granted to his family by the grateful Raja. Part of this was what is today called the Kannanda bane (land) in Madikeri, the area beyond Mann's compound and Ajjamada Devaiah circle. Doddayya passed away and a Bira Kall was made for him. Some more land grants were made to the Kannanda family by the Rajas. Thus the family came to own lands in seven places: Bavali, Madikeri, Haleri, Poramale, Kajur, Noorokkal and Katakeri. At one point the Kannanda family owned half of Madikeri. Family members sold away most of their lands over the years. Now only three of the original seven places exist with them.
Image 7 - Herostone figures
A week after the festival of Shivaratri the Pade Bira (war hero) Kannanda Doddayya is remembered and a two-day festival is organised. Dance and enactment performances, called There, are arranged. On the first day Prasada is prepared and the Guru Karana, an ancestor who was the preceptor as well, is remembered. The Bhandara, money offered at the temple, is moved that evening. Throughout the night the Anji Koot Murthy (five spirit deities) There is held. At dawn the next day the Vishnu Murthy There is held. In the finale the Pade Bira There has a performer imitate Kannanda Doddayya and the Nari Pooda (tiger spirit) There has another performer emulate a tiger. The Pade Bira and the Nari Pooda performers together dance frantically around the place but while the Pade Bira sits upon the seat near the temple, the Nari Pooda sits upon the seat away from the temple. The Nari Pooda performer leaves early while the Pade Bira performer is the last one to remain.
Image 8 - A couple etched on a hero stone

Image 9 - A figure weilding a primitive gun
Image 10 - Hero-Stones
Image 11 - A standard hero stone