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Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Coorgs and the Mysore Sultan

(Kodavas & The Mysore Sultan - And Ko Channabasappa)

Mookonda Kushalappa

Kodagu was (and hence its natives, the Coorgs were) independent of Mysore. In the early 1730s, after the death of Krishna Raja Wodeyar I, Chama Raja Wodeyar VI (some sources call him as Chama Raja Wodeyar VII) came to the throne of Mysore. A few years later Krishna Raja Wodeyar II, a little boy at that time, succeeded him as the Raja of Mysore. Under such circumstances, the one who held the position of the Dalavoy (army general) became the regent and the real power of Mysore in the 1740s. The Wodeyar Raja could not really consolidate his power thereafter.1

Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan's father, was an ambitious man who like his father, Fateh Muhammed, was a mercenary soldier employed in Mysore.2 Hyder rose through the ranks to become the Dalavoy (General) of Mysore. At that time there was a struggle for power between different regents and ministers. In 1761, Hyder usurped power, declared himself the Nawab (or Sultan) of Mysore and took control of the Raja's palace and affairs. He was however not recognised as the ruler of Mysore by the Mughal Emperor at Delhi or by the neighbours of Mysore. Meanwhile the Wodeyar Raja died in 1766 and his successors were kept out of power. Tipu Sultan succeeded Hyder in 1782. Mysore had invaded Kodagu, Malabar and other regions. The two Mysore Sultans (Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan) had an alliance with the French against the British East India Company.3

Under the Wodeyar Rajas the state language of Mysore (Karnataka) was Kannada. But under Tipu Sultan Persian was made the official language in Mysore. Tipu gave places Persian names. Mysore was renamed Nazarabad while in Kodagu Madikeri was renamed as Jafarabad and Bhagamandala was called Abjalabad. It is strange that some writers claim that Tipu Sultan patronised Kannada. It is again strange that some writers claim that Tipu was tolerant. The problem lies in such people seeing everything in black and white and not in shades of grey, as in the case of Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan was known to have persecuted the people to the west of Mysore, for instance the Kodavas of Kodagu, the Roman Catholics of Mangalore, the Nairs and the Moplahs of Malabar and the Brahmins of Malenad and Malabar. He was known to have destroyed temples in Kodagu and in Malabar in the 1780s (before the third Anglo-Mysore War, 1789-1792). On the other hand, he however patronised the temples of Srirangapatna and Sringeri and retained some Hindu ministers in the 1790s (after the third Anglo-Mysore War, in which he was defeated by the British).4 Hence to Tipu Sultan people and temples seemed to be more of a political value than of any religious value. He must have been a shrewd leader who knew how to gain politically during his times. 

Interestingly during the telecast of the Doordarshan TV serial 'The sword of Tipu Sultan' (which was based on a novel) in 1990, there were protests in Kerala where Tipu was popularly viewed as a tormentor.5 Even in Dakshina Kannada (South Canara) and Kodagu (Coorg) in present-day Karnataka, Tipu had the same image. The Konkani speaking Roman Catholics who were imprisoned in Srirangapatna escaped their confinement and some of them were settled in the town of Virajpet by the later Raja of Kodagu. All known sources, whether Indian (Hindu or Muslim) or English, written during Tipu's lifetime and around that period, acknowledge that Tipu did convert Coorgs into Muslims. The reasons and the statistics given are however various. The number of Kodavas who were converted by Tipu Sultan is disputed, some say it was 'only' 500 Kodavas (according to Punganuri), others (especially according to accounts of the British East India Company) say it was 85,000 (according to B L Rice). The number is not the real issue, even 500 is a large number. There are a number of Kodava Muslims still existing in Kodagu. They still bear the family names that they share with their Hindu ancestors and the extant Kodava Hindu families who were related to them generations ago.6

A few well-known writers (like Ko Chennabasappa or Ko Che) calling Kodavas 'outsiders' unfortunately speaks of their ignorance.Humans didn't arise spontaneously from the earth; they all have descended from common ancestors who lived 60,000 years ago in Africa. So, hence all humans are basically Africans by descent. Over many years humans moved over continents and settled down in different places across the world.8 Kodavas have a known history in Kodagu dating back to more than a thousand years and were the earliest known agriculturists in the region.9 Writers like Ko Che sadly tend to be biased and they highlight the dispute that existed between Kodagu and the Mysore Sultan for a while at that time in the past without understanding the circumstances existent then. 

This article was published on www.coorg.com (as 'Kodavas & The Mysore Sultan - And the Ignoramus Ko Channabasappa', the title was edited by Shambu Muddaiah and images were added from Google Images/Grab) and in the Kodagu newspaper Coffeeland News (as 'Kodavas & The Mysore Sultan') in January 2014.

  • Bowring, L. 1871. Eastern Experiences. London: H. S. King.
  • Bowring, L. 1893 [2009]. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Delhi: Idarah-I Adabiyat-I Delli. 
  • Kamath, Dr. Suryanath U. 1993. Karnataka State Gazetteer: Kodagu district. Bangalore: Government Press.
  • Krishnaiah, D. N. 1974. Kodagina Ittihasa. Mysore: Prasanga (Kannada).
  • Kutty, K. Govindan. "Tipu Sultan and Doordarshan". Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero?: An Anthology 56-66 (Sita Ram Goel 1993). New Delhi: Voice of India.
  • Mill, James; Wilson, Horace Hayman (1858). The history of British India, Volume 5. London: Piper, Stephenson and Spence.
  • Staff Correspondent. "Writer asked to apologise for 'glorifying' Tipu". The Hindu. 28 Dec. 2013.
  • Wells, Spencer. 2007. Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project. USA: National Geographic.
  • Wells, Spencer. 2003. The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. UK: Penguin.
  • Wilks, Mark. 1869 [1811]. Historical Sketches of the South India in an attempt to trace the History of Mysoor (sic). Madras: Higginbotham 


1. Wilks 1869: 141-147
2. Bowring 2009: 11, 12
3. Bowring 2009: 15-92
4. Mill and Wilson 1858: 307
5. Kutty 1993: 56-66
6. Krishnaiah 1974: 230
7. The Hindu 28.12.2013
8. Dr. Spencer Wells 2003, 2007
9. Kamath 1993: 160, Bowring 1871: 240

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