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Content Copyright © 2012 by Kushal.Mucon. All rights reserved.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Kodagu Nayakas: Part I


-->by: Kushal Mucon (Mookonda Kushalappa)



Map of Coorg (Courtesy:  Rice, 1914)
For centuries before the reign of the Haleri Rajas (c.1600-1834), Kodagu was under it's Nayakas. Kodagu was divided into 12 regions, groups of nads (shires), and each of them was ruled by a chieftain called a Nayaka (also called a Palegara, a Bachikara or a Bavu). Each region was divided and  separated from the other by a Kadanga (ditches fortified by mud walls) . These Kadangas remained untouched over the ages by the Haleris and after them as well. The hereditary families and the chieftains of each region are largely forgotten; as writing was not yet wide-spread then, no records remain till date. However oral traditions and references in the accounts about the Rajas mention them. The ancient Coorgs were allies of the Kolathiri kingdom of neighbouring Kannur; some Coorgs served as mercenary soldiers of these Hindu Rajas, but in general they traded large quantities of rice in exchange for gold, salt and other commodities  with them.

In the Song of Igguthappa (God of the Kodavas) there is the mention of one Nayaka of Kiggat naad, Appa Kongi Balu (the Nayakas of Kodagu were also called Balu or Bavu a term for a local leader). He gave an abode to the brother of Igguthappa, called Pemmayya, in Thirunelli on the fringes of Kiggatnaad in what is today in Waynad. This shrine of Pemmayya became the famous Thirunelli Janardhana temple dedicated to Shiva.

When Pemma Virappa was the Changalva Raja in around 1174 CE, his lieutenants were Gondayya and Kurchi Udayaditya, they were the Kodagu Malepas (hill chieftains, or Nayakas) of that age. Later some important Coorg Leaders were (Ajjikuttira) Achchunayaka of Anjikerinad in Kiggat naad, Karnayya Bavu of Bhagamandala, Kaliatanda Ponnappa of  Nalknad and (Nayakanda) Uththanayaka of Armeri in Beppu naad. Even after the reign of the Rajas a Council of Elders governed over the Coorgs. Some of the other lesser known Nayakas were Bavali Kolhlhakongi Nayaka of Kadiyat Naad, Kaibili (Kaibilira) Nayaka of Thavalhagheri naad, Maachangalha (Maachangada) Nayaka of Haththu gattu naad and Mukkati Nayaka of Maththur.

Even under the rule of the early Haleri  Rajas, from the reign of the first king through the reigns of his son, his grandson, until the reign of his great grandson large parts of Kodagu remained independent, to some degree, from the Haleri Rajas. These parts were controlled by powerful individuals who called  themselves Nayakas. While Kaliatanda Ponnappa and Karnembahu were contemporaries of the first Haleri Raja (Vira Raja), Chittiappa Nayaka, Machangada Nayaka and Maththur Mukkati Nayaka were contemporaries of Vira Raja's  grandson Muddu Raja, Uththa Nayaka, Achchu Nayaka and Kolhlha Kongi Nayaka were contemporaries of Muddu Raja's son Dodda Virappa. The descendants of Uththa Nayaka of Beppoo naad call themselves the Nayakanda today.

Kaliatanda Ponnappa and Karnayya Bavu (Karnembahu)

In circa 1600 CE, the first Haleri Raja, Vira Raja I, had established himself in Kodagu. At that time there were two powerful local lords: Karnayya Bavu of  Tavunad (Bhagamandala region) and Kaliatanda Ponnappa of Naalnaad (Nalknad). Kaliatanda (also called Kaliat) Ponnappa is the hero of a popular Kodava ballad. He was a magician, a  warrior and the most important person of Naalnaad. The following is the story of Kaliatanda Ponnappa.

In Kunjala village in Nalknad among the 20 original okkas who lived there, there was the Kaliatanda okka. To this clan belonged Kuttaya whose wife Chiyavva was of the Kuttanjettira okka of the neighbouring village of Bale Nurambada. But for years they had no offspring and so they performed penance for forty days and paid obeisance Iggutappa. After some time Ponnappa was born to the couple.

Kaliatanda Ponnappa studied the magic arts in North Malabar and became a famous tantric (magician). He had a friend and man Friday Boltu of Bollur, a very handy assistant who belonged to a forest-dwelling lower caste from the vicinity of Kodagu and was also well versed, like Ponnappa, in sorcery. Ponnappa reigned in Nalknad but displeased the Nayaka of Tavunad who became his nemesis. Kaliat Ponnappa went to the Haleri Raja to seek his protection against Karnayya Bavu of Thavu nad and his stealth army. At that time Nalknad was under the Haleri Raja, but Thavu nad still enjoyed some amount of independence.  After Ponnappa's death, Vira Raja managed to kill Karnayya and bring Bhagamandala and Thavu naad under his complete control. Ponnappa is also known as Kaliat  Achchappa. His followers who claimed to be possessed by his spirit would perform the magic tricks that he performed during his lifetime. He is an ancestor of the Kaliatanda clan.

While Richter claimed that Karnayya was a Coorg and Kaliat Ponnappa was a Malayali, this claim is erroneous. Many other historians like D. N. Krishnaiah, who were better equipped with information, clearly state that it was Karnayya who was from Kerala and Kaliat Ponnappa was a Coorg who however roamed the Malabar in his young days to procure an education. Richter, on the other hand, spoke about Ponnappa being a Malayali sorcerer who naturalised in Coorg, married a Coorgi woman, practised his trade in Nalknad and displeased some Coorgs who then shot  him dead near the Nalknad Kacheri. However Ponnappa's traditional ballad says that he was born of Coorg parents, Kaliatanda Kuttayya and Chiyavva, and that his mother was from the Coorgi Kuttanjettira clan. He was a magician who married his mother's brother's daughter and had an altercation with Karnayya whose men killed him.




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