Anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka 1800-1860

The micro-stories from different parts of Karnataka during the six decades of 19th century (1800-1860) give us an indication of the wide-spread nature of anti-colonial struggles in different parts of India. Clearly they had spread among commoners and gentry and a national anti-colonial consciousness had seeped down to the remotest village.

It is unfortunate that we in India have not studied the facts regarding the 1857 revolt nor have we digested the lessons from it. Our conception is dominated by the British narrative. In short, they painted the revolt as a feudal reaction to the modernity of industrial Britain. British historians took great pains to paint all the leaders and heroes of 1857 as decadent, two-faced, selfish, reactionary, turn-coats who were fighting against loss of privileges and had no conception of national consciousness or peoples’ welfare. More over according to British historians, to carry out their personal agendas, the leaders inflamed religious fanaticism and misled people who were otherwise happy to be ruled by the British. Of course they also displayed British colonial “even handedness and fair play”, by pointing out that there was “some disaffection in the population and even the troops of the British Indian Army caused by the high handedness of some Company officials, however things became fine after the Company was replaced by the British Crown through Queen Victoria’s Proclamation in 1858 and “the rule of law” was established".

However a remarkably rich literature exists in various Indian languages in the form of ballads, folk songs and legends and even documents and reports, which is not accessible to English readers. An excellent beginning in giving the Indian point of view was made by V D Savarkar in his book “The Indian war of independence 1857”, published underground in 1907. It has been followed up in the last 20 years by various micro studies and finally by a significant two volume work, “War of Civilisations: 1857 AD” by Amaresh Misra.
This article tries to put together some highlights of anti-colonial struggles in the post-Hyder-Tipu-Karnataka from 1800-1860. In 1779 itself Hyder and Tipu had tried to put together a confederacy and worked out an agreement with Nana Fadanvis, Janoji Bhosle, Mahadji Scindhia and Nizam according to which Hyder was supposed to attack the Arcot area and Madras, Janoji Bhosle on Bengal, Nana Fadanvis and Mahadji Scindhia on Bombay and the Nizam on Circar districts. While Hyder and Tipu went ahead with the plan the others did not. If this grand plan had succeeded then perhaps India would have been rid of British colonial rule 80 years before 1857. However the narrow concerns of some rulers enabled the East India Company to meticulously play on petty selfishness and rule a continental sized diverse country like India for almost two hundred years.

In this article we have put together some highlights of anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka between 1800 and 1860. The great struggle between Hyder Ali-Tipu Sultan and the British was already over by 1799 with Tipu’s death in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war. The micro-stories from different parts of Karnataka in those six decades tell us how wide-spread the anti-colonial struggles were in different parts of India and how they had spread among commoners and gentry and how deep the consciousness had seeped down to the remotest village.

On the occasion of Golden Jubilee of the formation of Karnataka State many historians have documented to a considerable degree the colonial history of Karnataka. They have recorded dozens of armed uprisings in Karnataka prior to 1857 besides the most famous one led by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. One can see concrete linkages of these revolts with the uprising in the North. Many letters of request of support written by Nanasaheb to various principalities in North and coastal Karnataka, which were responded to by local kings have also come to light.

After the defeat and Tipu’s death in the battle field in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war (1799), Karnataka was literally torn asunder between the British presidencies of Bombay and Madras; Nizam of Hyderabad and Marathas. A small dependency was created under the tutelage of Wodeyars as the kingdom of Mysore, which increased the land revenue and the burden on peasantry in an arbitrary manner to satisfy British demands. This led to uprisings in kingdom of Mysore as well as areas of Karnataka which had now been brought under, Nizam, Maratha and British rule. A few of them are briefly described below:

Dhondiya Wagh (1800):
One of the first to revolt against the new arrangement was Dhondiya Wagh. He was born in Chennagiri near Mysore. He joined Hyder Ali’s cavalry in 1780. Later he developed differences with Tipu, who incarcerated him. Hence British soldiers found Dhondiya in Srirangapattana’s prison when they ransacked the city after the death of Tipu. Dhondiya was released, who however immediately vanished and tried to gather the demobilised Tipu’s soldiers. Very soon he built up a significant armed force with a cavalry etc. He kept moving from territory to territory and capturing small towns and forts that had been taken over by Marathas, British and the Nizam. Governor General, Richard Wellesley was exasperated by Dhondiya’s revolt and assigned his brother Arthur Wellesley (Later to be known as Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napolean at Waterloo) to suppress Dhondiya’s revolt. He sent troops not only from Madras but even summoned some from Bengal.
The theatre of Dhondiya’s war encompassed forts at Chitradurg, Savanur, Shimoga, Bidanur, Honnali, Harihar, Shikaripur, Kittur, Londa, Ranebennur, Kundgol, Shirahatti, Kunigal, Dharwad, Gadag, Raichur, Hungund etc. Practically it encompassed all of Central and North Karnataka. He was supported by the people and smaller principalities (samsthana) that were discontented with the British. Tipu’s son Fateh Hyder supported him and Tipu’s former soldiers were the core of his forces which at one point grew to over 70,000 with a 30,000 strong cavalry. The British troops were led by Col, Stevenson, Col Wellesly, Col Tolin, Col Mclean, Col Darlymple. The heroic campaign lasted from June 1799 to September 1800. In the end Dhondiya was cornered by British, Maratha and Nizam’s troops and fell for a bullet in the battle at Konegal.
British historians have painted him as "rogue bandit”, whereas Dhondiya himself had the title of “lord of both the worlds” among his people. Edward Clive a British officer later admired his organising ability and said “what started as an anarchic revolt became a major international war”. Nationalist historians have described him as, “a person with great determination and a magnetic personality”.

Venkatadri Nayak (1803)
Aigur (Ballam) Venkatadri Nayak was another leader who started his revolt when the British were tied down by Dhondiya Wagh. His father Krishnappa Nayak, was made the ruler of Aigur by Hyder Ali. But Krishnappa betrayed him and joined the Marathas in 1792 and helped the British. After the war he was scared of Tipu and ran away to Kodagu (Coorg). However Tipu did not punish him but instead reinstated him. On Tipu’s defeat in 1799, Krishnappa’s son Venkatadri Nayak became the ruler of Aigur. He was ambitious and started expanding his territory. Venkatadri Nayak captured Subrahmanya Ghat, a crucial pass in the Sahyadris with access to Mangalore. He attacked the British troops at Arakere and also defeated a 2500 strong army sent by Wodeyar of Mysore.

Venkatadri Nayak came to be known as the Bull Raja and Ballam Raja. Wellesley took his revolt very seriously and made an elaborate plan to capture him by getting troops from Mangalore as well as Bombay, Bidnur and Sondha. The British tried to organise all the Patels of surrounding villages against him and also terrorised the population by executing many of his sympathisers. They generally followed a scorched earth policy to prevent him getting any food supplies. The campaign lasted nearly three years and finally on February 10, 1803 he and his 6 followers were arrested when they were in search of food supplies. All the insurgents were later executed. Thus two great warriors were suppressed by the British with Machiavellian tactics using the Mysore Wodeyars, Marathas and the Nizam.

Koppal Veerappa (1819):
As mentioned earlier Karnataka was torn asunder between Nizam, Marathas and the British after Tipu’s defeat. The North eastern parts were taken over by Nizam, who put unbearable burden on the peasantry. The Nizam was totally under British control with the Subsidiary Alliance signed in 1800. As a result of which the Nizam had to pay for the British Subsidiary Force stationed to “protecthim” and even accept the humiliating condition that the British would decide who the top bureaucrat—the Diwan of Hyderabad would be. As Nizam’s unbridled oppression with heavy taxation increased, there was no way but for the peasantry to revolt. One such revolt was led by Veerappa in Koppal in 1818. Veerapaa was a small landowner in Koppal, he built a force and captured Koppal and Bahadur ( forts built by Hyder Ali 40 years earlier. British forces led by Major Doughton and Brig General Pritzler rushed to crush Veerappa and Nizam’s general Idruskhan also joined them. Veerappa fought valiantly for five days with only 500 men and died in battle. Even though Veerappa’s rebellion was confined to a small area around Koppal, it represented a popular peasant revolt and inspired many more in the region.

Deshmukhs of Bidar (1820)
After Tipu’s defeat the remnants of the old Bahmani Kingdom of Bidar too were incorporated into Nizam’s rule and burdened with heavy taxation. As a result revolts started appearing in 1820 in Udgir. Using Suliyal as their base the local Deshmukhs led by Shivalingayya, Tirumal Rao and Meghsham led this revolt. Hence this revolt is known as the revolt of Deshmukhs. The Nizam relied on British help to suppress the Deshmukhs. Lt. Gen. Sutherland was assigned for the same and he defeated them in a campaign lasting two months and imprisoned them.

Sindagi Revolt (1824)
The popular revolt against the British spread to Bijapur too and in Sindagi, 40 km from Bijapur the local people led by Chidambar Dikshit, his son Diwakar Dikshit and Diwakar’s comrades Shettyappa, Raoji and Rastiya declared sovereignty of people of Sindagi. They took over Sindagi Taluk and boldly declared that “British Raj does not exist here and we anyway do not recognise it. We are sovereign”. British could not tolerate this challenge to their rule in such a brazen way even if though it was confined to a Taluk in North Karnataka. They sent forces led by Lt. Stevenson to capture the leaders. However the forces could not locate the leaders. A traitor Annappa Patne however showed the hiding place to the British. The local people who came to know the same lynched Annappa on the spot. However the British were able to capture the leaders and imprison them. The revolt was confined to a Taluk, but showed advanced consciousness.

Rani Chennamma and the Kittur Revolt (1824)
Rani Chennamma of Kittur is a veritable icon in Karnataka and was perhaps one of the first women leaders who fought against British Raj. To this day she inspires people. She was born in the Desai family of Kakati, a small village in the wealthy kingdom of Kittur, which stood around 5 km north of Belgavi in Karnataka. In her youth she received training in horse riding, sword fighting and archery. She became the queen of Kittur on her marriage to Shivalinga Rudra Sarja, of the Desai family of Kittur.

Kittur was a principality (samsthana) covering large parts of Dharwad and Belgavi districts and was paying tributes to Marathas after the fall of Tipu. However after the fall of Marathas in 1818, Kittur came under British rule. Shivalinga Rudra Sarja did not have children and when he fell sick, he asked his close confidant Gurusiddappa to choose a boy from the surrounding region to be adopted as the heir to the throne. Shivalingappa was such a boy who was then trained in appropriate manner, renamed Mallasarja and adopted as the heir to Kittur. Shivalinga Rudra Sarja died soon after on September 11, 1824.

Chennamma started ruling the kingdom in the name of the minor prince. However Thackeray the then collector and political agent in Dharwad arbitrarily refused to recognise this and asked the British Governor, Elphinstone in Bombay to take over the kingdom under paramountcy—a ruse three decades later formalised by Dalhousie as the Doctrine of Lapse.

In a clear act of provocation he declared that the treasury of the kingdom was not safe and hence brought in his own guards and administrators to “protect” the same. He even left a few soldiers to “guard” the main gate of Kittur Fort. These provocations enraged the people of Kittur. Chennamma patiently tried to get justice and sent her emissaries to talk to the “Company Sarkar” (British East India Company) and at the same time started strengthening the fort and carrying out various military preparations anticipating a conflict. She called all the loyal fighters from the surrounding region and discussed the situation with them, sought their advice and loyalty. Thackeray was surprised by the Rani’s gumption. He invited the Rani for talks, which she refused. While Thackeray was gathering his forces the fighters of Kittur readied themselves inside the fort and carried out a daring attack on the British forces. Chennamma directed the battle from the ramparts of the fort. On her orders, Balasaheb Sayyad, Rani Chennamma’s loyal sharpshooter, killed Thackeray. Thus Thackeray came to a sorry end on October 23, 1824 and along with him two more officers Capt.. Black Stevenson and Lt. Dicton also died. British forces were roundly defeated and many were taken prisoners by the insurgents.

This was a great setback for British Raj and its cultivated image as an invincible force in the region. They soon gathered forces from Sholapur, Mysore and Bombay and neared Kittur. Rani sent them a message that if they attack Kittur then all British prisoners of war will be put to death and then the people of Kittur will fight to death. Taken aback, Chaplin, Commissioner of Deccan sent a message that if the British prisoners are released and Sardar Gurusiddappa is handed over then the status quo will prevail. Chennamma refused to hand over Gurusiddappa but released British prisoners as an act of good faith. However Chaplin had no intention of keeping his end of the deal and sent his forces under the leadership of Lt.. Col Deacon to siege Kittur on Dec. 3, 1824. The fighters of Kittur fought bravely for three days, however due to treachery they found that their gun powder had been mixed with cow dung and made useless. The fort fell. Rani Chennamma escaped with the younger Rani Veeramma through a secret passage towards Sangolli where she had supporters.

However British were able to intercept her on her way and capture her. She was imprisoned in Bailhongal prison. After incarceration of four years Chennamma died in prison on February 3, 1829. The Kittur countryside was full of rebellion for over five years. The leader of this rebellion was Rani Chennamma’s ardent admirer Rayanna of Sangolli.

Sangolli Rayanna (1829)
Rayanna was born in a shepherd family in Sangolli, a village in Belgavi district. The family had a fighting tradition and was loyal to the Desais of Kittur. Rayanna fought with the Kittur army in 1824 and was captured by the British after the defeat of Rani. However soon he was released as a part of British pacification program. His family members had generous tax free lands given as Inam by the Desais, for their earlier bravery and loyalty. However the Company Sarkar now increased the taxes and eventually confiscated his lands. In November-December 1829, when he was restless, some of his friends invited him to lead a revolt against the British. Rayanna soon started a guerrilla war suitable to the surrounding landscape. He gathered a compact group of fighters and started attacking treasuries and rich land owners who were British collaborators. He seized mortgage and debt documents of peasantry from them and burnt them. He soon gathered over 1000 fighters and harassed the British and their collaborators relentlessly.
Realising that it was not possible to capture Rayanna by conventional warfare, British adopted other means to do so. They sent in some spies into his army and caught him unarmed when he was bathing in a river. He and his associates were executed and many sent abroad for life imprisonment.

Interestingly though British rewarded the traitors who betrayed Rayanna very generously through land grants, the entire community socially boycotted them. Even today the legend has it that those families are cursed for generations and if anyone goes to their homes for a lunch or dinner as a guest then the food in their plates will turn into maggots!

Rayanna’s revolt inspired other loyalists of Kittur too to rise up time and again. Gurusiddappa, Shankaranna, Gajapati, Savai Shetti, Kotagi, Shaikh Suleiman, Bheemanna, Kaddigudda Balanna, Waddar Yellannaetcled several uprisings against the British in support of Kittur for almost a decade. The rebels executed the traitors who had betrayed Rayanna and rose up time and gain demonstrating their love and pride for the Rani Chennamma of Kittur.

Nagar Peasant Revolt (1830-31)
Nagar comprised of the taluks of Sagar, Nagar, Kowlidurga, Koppa, Lakwally, Sorab, Shikarpur, Shivamogga, Honnaly, Harihar, Chennagiri, Tarikere, Kadur, and Chickamagalur. Besides, there were 5277 villages, 1277 hamlets. Its population was 459,842. The Ikkeri dynasty ruled this region and gained respect and prestige through an independent distinguished rule from the Vijaynagar times to late 18th century when they were taken over by Hyder Ali and Tipu. The region had a fighting tradition. When the Wodeyars and Diwan Poornaiah were installed in Mysore by East India Company after Tipu’s defeat, the region came under heavy taxation. In fact nearly 60% of the Kingdom’s revenues were coming from this region alone. After suffering from the duo’s arbitrariness for three decades, 1800-1830, the region was ripe for rebellion against the Wodeyars and their protectors—the “Company Sarkar”.

The administration was entirely corrupt and filled with nepotism and casteism. The local Nayak’s and Patels and ryots were fed up of this state of affairs and the heavy tax burden. This situation was utilised by Boodi Basavappa, who assumed leadership of the uprising and declared himself the new ruler. He declared sovereignty and pardoned the heavy taxes and peasant debt to Sahukars (money lenders).
The result was one of the largest peasant revolts in colonial India.

According to Dr.. Siddalinga Swamy, the greatest burden to cultivators was an advance payment of money to the government before the grain was harvested. As no renter, or cultivator had money to advance, he was obliged to take recourse to the Sahukars, who advanced money at the rate of two percent per month and extracted a present of five percent upon the advance. For the second and third instalment, a present was not demanded; but when the fourth was to be paid the crops were to be mortgaged. Most lenders insisted upon an immediate sale, and became the purchasers themselves at the bazar price, which would then be lower than at any other period. Many debt burdened ryots flocked to the government to make complaints against Sahukars. But the government were powerful. The Government also owed large sums of money to Sahukars. In February 1826 the peasant debt to Sahukarsin Nagar was estimated at 4 lakh.

This sorry state of affairs depicted a weak and ignorant government managed by corrupt officers, unable to correct the sources of evil inherent in it. As the Wodeyar’s Government was corrupt, no control was exercised over the district officers. Naturally the people were enraged by the unjust and arbitrary acts of those officers. There was no process in the country which required public servants to hear the complaints of the ryots. This was the fertile ground for the insurrection in 1830.

Taking advantage of this, Basavappa spread the news that he had assumed the sovereignty of the country and promised the ryots full remission of all balance debt. A reduction of the Government tax demand on their lands was also promised, if they would espouse his cause. Many inflammatory speeches were made by supporters of Boodi Basavappa in August 1830, asking ryots to join them. One of his supporters, made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the fort of Anandapur in Nagar province. On 23rd August the ryots of Nagar circulated a letter in the other fouzdaris, inviting other ryots to assemble in a koota (assembly). On 23rd September the ryots of Chennagiri refused to pay their taxes, and other taluks in Nagar fouzdari followed them. In December, Fouzdar Viraraj Urs employed troops to disperse demonstrators at Holehonnur. The ryots of the Chitradurg and Bangalore Divisions also refused to pay taxes and joined the movement.

In the meantime efforts were made by Diwan Venkat Raj in Bangalore and Chitradurg Divisions to pacify the ryots. The Maharaja himself under took to tour some of the taluks in December 1830. However he was humiliated by the ryots in Channarayapattana and in many other places.

The rebels gave a good fight to the troops. They captured some of the forts in Nagar, and in many places they repulsed the Mysore troops.

On the 21st of December 1830 a Proclamation was issued directing all persons carrying bones and Neem leaves (the symbols of insurrection) to be seized, tried and if convicted, to be hanged. On the following day instructions were given to the fouzdar of Bangalore to fire on the protesters and to catch one or two protesters in each taluk and hang them to spread terror among the populace. Many of the rebels were caught and hanged. Some of the rebels’ noses and ears were cut off resulting in several persons being badly disfigured.

The Raja said that this measure was indispensable to put down the rebellion. As a result hundreds of ryots were hanged throughout the territory. The Raja asserted that in ordering executions he did not act of his own accord, but in compliance with the advice of the British Resident.

The reverses to the Mysore troops led to the employment of Company’s forces to quell the revolt. On 31st May 1831, the stronghold of the rebels, Nagar, was captured and the revolt was practically quelled. But stray bands of insurgency continued till 1832 when it was completely suppressed.

The rebellion was spontaneous and did not have a visionary leadership but it however demonstrated the widespread anger among different sections of Kannadigas against the British rule and as well as their puppets like the Wodeyars and Poornaiah. The Company however used the occasion to further strip any element of autonomy from the Wodeyars and Governor General William Bentinck, appointed commissioners to administer the region.

Coastal Uprisings (1830-31)
There were widespread uprisings against heavy taxation in the coastal regions of Karnataka. These regions had first protested the taxes earlier in 1809-1810. The later agitations learnt from this experience and were consequently more audacious.

The documents of East India Company have called these revolts as Koota revolts. Kootaswere general assemblies of people of a village or town, where they asserted their sovereignty, and hence a form of direct democracy.

The mass struggle started in early 1830 and assumed a host of forms. The most important of these, however, was the koota or simply ‘gathering’. The mass awakening was ignited through their assembly into kootas which was a broad forum to organize the masses. While the struggles might have been spontaneous, the form was quite well developed.

The signs of the peasant unrest could be seen in the closing months of 1830, when the ryots gave general petitions complaining of their losses. But they developed and came to the fore in the beginning months of 1831. The ryots of Kasargod, Kumbla, Mogral, Manjeshwar, Bungra Manjeshawar and Talapady sent general arzees (petitions) and complaints of their losses to Dickinson the Collector of South Kanara.
In their petitions, the ryots not only complained about the harsh revenue assessment of November 1830, but they also demanded remission to them all at a uniform rate.

In the second stage, beginning of January 1831, the ryots started their Kootas or assemblages.
It was in Bekal (Kasargod) that the Kootas started in the first week of January 1831 and within a few days they spread to the northern parts of Kanara.

Barkur, Brahmavar, Buntwal, Madhur, Manjeshwar, Mulki, Kadri, Kumbla, Malluly (Malali), Wamanjoor, Mogral, Udyawar, Uppinangadi and Vittal were some of the important places where the ryots of the respective regions had assembled in Kootas or assemblages. The Kootas extended to North Kanara also. Manjunatha temple at Kadri was the centre of these peasant uprisings, where the Grand Koota [MahaKoota] was organised towards the end of January 1831. Ryots from other important centres of the district such as Kasargod and Buntwal came and met at Kadri. The Venkataramana temple at Basrur, the Mahamayi temple at Mangalore, the temple at Manjeswar and another temple at Wamanjoor were other important centres of the Koota movement.

In order to organise these Kootas, the ryots assigned one Patel and two head ryots in each of the villages. When any aspect was discussed and plan or action was proposed in the Kootas, these leaders disseminated them to the ryots in the villages. Further, each of the Kootas had its own leaders and all of them met and discussed (at the Grand Koota in Kadri). The organisers of these Kootas also made use of a ‘Secret Council’ or a secretariat. The object of this Council was to maintain the secrecy of the whole organisational affair of the Kootas. However, the result of the deliberations of this Council was communicated to the various assemblies or Kootas. Thus the Secret Council played the role of a linking and organising body in these peasant uprisings. It in fact acted as a think-tank of the rebellion. Further, anonymous pamphlets were made use of by the leaders to spread their ideas and programmes among the ryots.

The participants in these Kootas at times made bold to attack Government servants. Before Dickinson left Kundapura for Mangalore at the end of January 1831 he received reports from the Tahsildar of Barkur that the ryots of that taluk had assembled in Koota and had assaulted some of the public servants. The report of the Tahsildar of Barkur says that a Magane Shanbhog, who was deputed to read a government proclamation was severely assaulted. Again at Mulki the ryots roughed up an Ameen who had been sent to read them a proclamation issued by the Government. The ryots were determined to refuse to give taxes to the Government, until a fresh settlement was made, and their mood was so defiant that they unhesitatingly attacked those public servants whom they feared not long back. The growing sense of unity among themselves and faith in their organisational strength had emboldened them to take such postures of defiance. The peasant rebellion that surfaced in the month of November 1830 continued up to the end of March 1831. It was after Cameron’s promise (March 1831) to the riots that their petitions would be considered and remissions would be made after an examination of their losses to redress their hardships that they dispersed and stopped organising the Kootas. Thus by April 1831 the rumblings of Koota rebellions died down.

Kodagu (Coorg) Revolts (1833-37)
After the defeat of Tipu, the East India Company could not directly rule Kodagu. They had to restore the kingdom to the traditional kings of Haleri dynasty who were earlier displaced by Hyder and Tipu. However these Haleri kings were fiercely independent and particularly Chikka Veera Rajendra (1820-34) was a proud and independent king. He refused to follow British diktat and instead armed his population and built up his forces to resist any British attack. He corresponded with Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and sought his support against the British.

There were constant skirmishes between him and the British administration, which was based in Bangalore and Mysore and finally a war between the British and Kodava forces was inevitable. Despite brave fight put up by the Kodavas the British were able to capture the Madikeri fort through treachery in 1834 and depose the king. He was sent in Exile to Bangalore, Kashi and later London.

However the fighting people of Kodagu did not take this lying down and several revolts took place. These were led by Swami Aparampaar, Kalyan Swami and Putta Basava. All these fighters claimed to be heirs to Kodagu throne one after another and sought support from the people in their fight against the British in the name of Haleri dynasty. Each one of them was given due respect and recognition by the people as true heirs of Kodagu and thousands joined them. All of them sought to throw out British from Kodagu, cancel the taxes imposed by them and fought for an independent life for Kodavas. These uprisings went on from 1834 to 1837.

Other revolts before 1857
There were several other revolts which were local and minor in dimension but which had a lot of impact on the psyche of the people of North Karnataka between 1840 and 1857. One of them was in Badami, a town in today’s Bagalkot district, which has an ancient history and was the capital of Chalukyas who ruled much of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh between 6th and 8th centuries CE. An army built by loyalists of the deposed king of Satara took over the fort and established their rule in 1839-40. They were suppressed by British Army and the leaders sentenced to death and life imprisonment.
Similarly there were uprisings in Nippani, currently in Belgavi district, in 1840-41, where over 300 Arab fighters under the leadership of local Zamindar, Raghunath Rao attacked the fort and took it over. Later they were suppressed by the Company Army. In 1849 the Paleygar of Chitradurga rose up unsuccessfully. Revolts led by Lingappa in Bidar in 1852 harassed the British for several months and he had captured several forts.

Uprisings in Karnataka during Ghadar of 1857
There were several uprisings in Karnataka during the Ghadar in 1857 and went on till 1860. Unlike the Gangetic belt, where the revolt was signalled by mutiny of British Indian Army, which were then followed by revolts led by Nanasaheb, Zeenat Mahal, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Kunwar Singh et al, the Karnataka revolts were popular uprisings led by local peasant leaders, or small principalities who linked their local struggles with the larger national one that was being fought under Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nana Saheb’s leadership. The area of uprising covered the entire districts from the coastal Canara (present day Karwar and Mangalore) in the Madras Presidency, to the eastern Raichur and Koppal districts under the Nizam; from Bijapurand Dharwadin the North in Bombay Presidency to Sringeri and Hassan in the south.
Notable among them are the uprisings of: Bedasin Halagali near Bijapur; revolt of Nargund near Gadag and Dharwad; revolt of Mundargi Bhimaraya; revolt of Venkatappa Nayak of Surpur near Gulburga and Supa revolts near Karwar.

Bedas of Halagali
One of the fighting tribes which fought the British tooth and nail from 1820’s to 1942 and formed the backbone of many uprisings in the Deccan (comprising Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra) were Bedas who descended from hunters. They have been called Ramoshis, Berad, or Bedas, Boya, Dorabiddu and Valmiki in different areas.

Bearing arms to protect themselves and the community and their king was part of their life and they did it with great pride. The prince of Mudhol had accepted British overlordship and the Bedas in the area were seething with dissatisfaction. The East India Company announced on 11 September, 1857 that all Indians should disarm, submit their arms to the company and then get licences to carry arms. This was simply out of question for Bedas. Hence when the Company Sarkar’s edict was sought to be implemented by the King of Mudhol principality, the Bedas of Halagali and surrounding area considered it a great insult and defied him. They did not allow any official to enter their villages. They did not even allow an arms’ census to be taken and did not accept the offer that they will not be actually disarmed but will all be given licences to bear arms. They said, “Bearing arms is our birth right and why should we take anybody’s permission for the same?”
The revolt, which started in a small village called Halagali, kept snowballing and started spreading to surrounding areas. The British Raj saw it as a serious threat to its rule and when the local ruler was not able to suppress it, Major Malcolm summoned the southern Maratha regiment let by Lt. Col Seton Karr. The bedas, though vastly outnumbered, fought fiercely for their rights. The British followed a scorched earth policy in the region and after the final battle captured 290 Bedas and hanged 19 leaders of the uprising in Mudhol market in December 1857.

Nargund Bandaya (revolt)
The principality of Nargund used to be under the Peshwas after the defeat of Tipu. After the defeat of Peshwas in 1818, it came under British overlordship. Bhaskar Rao Bhave also known as Baba Saheb rose to the throne of Nargund in 1842 and administered this region efficiently. However he did not have a son and told the British that he would adopt a son to create an heir for Nargund. The British refused permission and asked him to return some of the land received as Inam. This enraged Baba Saheb and he got in touch with several rulers in Karnataka like Mundaragi Bhimaraya, Surpur Venkatappa Nayakaand many others. He was aware of the north Indian uprising and wanted to time his revolt also in June of 1857. However he postponed the date at the last moment. Meanwhile the British came across his correspondence with other rulers due to some traitors and informers. They were alarmed by it but Baba Saheb’s external conduct with them was friendly and proper and hence they were lulled into not taking immediate action. However, when they came to know that he had accumulated a large amount of artillery and ammunition in his fort in Nargund, they asked him to deposit the same in Dharwad. He readily agreed and sent them with an escort to Dharwad. Simultaneously he secretly organised an attack on the convoy and brought them back to Nargund, while claiming innocence.

In May 1858 when the British sent a force to prevent his networking with other rulers, he attacked them and brought the decapitated head of officer Manson, the head of British force sent to suppress him, to his fort and displayed it to the people. Meanwhile he discovered treachery within his fort leading to sabotage and adulteration of gun powder with cow dung. While he went to attack the fort in Amargol near Hubballi, British came to Nargund with a large force. Baba Saheb had over 2500 soldiers within the fort who fought valiantly, when the defeat was imminent, Baba Saheb consulted his comrades and decided to escape to a nearby forest. However in the forest near Torgal he was betrayed by some camp followers. This led to his capture and later execution in Belagavi on June 12, 1858. Nargund Bandaya is a legend in North Karnataka.
Interestingly, when a large peasant movement started in 1980 in North Karnataka, in the Malaprabha basin, it took a massive turn due to brutal police firing on agitating peasants in Nargund and the vast mass peasant movement that developed came to be known as the second Nargund Bandaya.

Surpur Venkatappa Nayak
Surpur or Shorapuris situated in the hills, about 50 km west of Yadgiri, a district headquarters. It was ruled by Beda Nayak kings who had a fighting tradition. They had resisted even the mighty Mughals under Aurangzeb. Later they were harassed by the Nizam, the Peshwas and the British and the kingdom was reduced in size toonly Surpur and Shapur taluks. When Raja Krishnappa Nayak died in 1842, prince Venkatappa Nayak the 4th,was only 8 years old. So the British created regency where the prince was enthroned but Meadows Taylor a British administrator was appointed as the Regent. Taylor was a scholar-administrator and greatly improved the condition of the kingdom in terms of treasury, accounts, clearing the old debts owed to the Nizam and Peshwa, public works, irrigation etc. In 1853 Taylor handed over the reins to 19 year old Venkatappa Nayak and retreated into the background.

In 1857, British got wind that some representatives of Nana Saheb came to Surpur and had secret meetings with young Raja Venkatappa Nayak. In the meanwhile, Mahipal Singh, a rebel from 1857 revolt, was captured by the British and he disclosed to them that he was carrying out instructions of Raja Venkatappa Nayak. The Company had actually administered the kingdom under regency and the King had a close almost filial relationship with Col Meadows Taylor. Even then, the British were very suspicious of Bedas in general as they were playing an important anti-colonial role. So they started interfering more and more in the affairs of the kingdom. Finally in February 1858, they sent troops led by Capt. Windham and Maj Hughes to attack Surpur, but the fort of Surpur was very strong and a fierce battle ensued. When they were outnumbered, the Raja escaped to Hyderabad and tried to get Nizam and his Diwan’s support for the uprising. Unfortunately however, they handed him over to the British. The Raja was sentenced to life imprisonment and while he was being transported to Chenglepet jail from Sikandarabad, he was killed. The Raja Venkatappa Nayak of Surpur was a lynchpin in a coordinated uprising covering Miraj, Kolhapur, Koppal, Raichur and Surpur and hence the British were greatly relieved by his defeat and the kingdom was given to Nizam for the services rendered to the East India Company.

Mundaragi Bhimaraya
Bhimaraya of Mundaragi is a legendary hero of Ghadar of 1857 in Karnataka. There are many lavanis (ballads) written about him. He was not a Raja but a commoner with extra ordinary vision and organising and mobilising ability. His father was a local judge and Bhimaraya himself served as a Mamledar (a land revenue official) in Bellary, Hoovina Hadagali and Harapana Halli. He could not stand the exploitation of peasantry under British rule and in protest he resigned and came back to Benne Halli, his village.

He had observed the development of anti-colonial movement in Karnataka and networked with various like-minded leaders. Nana Saheb’s call to the people of India and all Desais, Deshmukhs, Deshpandes, Jahagirdars, Patels and Kulkarnis of Karnataka greatly influenced him. He had sent many emissaries in the garb of Sadhus and Swamijis to contact others. He is also rumoured to have secretly visited Bangalore and written a letter in vain to the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wodeyar 3rd. Bhimaraya encouraged people in various areas to refuse to pay taxes to Company Sarkar. He contacted various groups of Beda fighters and started accumulating arms and creating ammunition dumps at various places. On 23 May 1858 the fouzdar of Dambal raided one such arms cache and sealed it. On hearing the news Bhimaraya came with his army attacked the armoury and took back all his arms and ammunition and shifted to a safer place in Shirahatti. Then he started raiding British armouries in various places. Many local land owners and kings supported Bhimaraya and joined him in the revolt. When British took Bhimarayas wife and kids as hostages, Bhimaraya came with his army freed his family and went to the fort in Koppal and prepared to fight with a large stock of food, arms and ammunition. British gathered a large force from their stations at Dharwad, Raichur, Hyderabad and Bellary and marched on Koppal fort. After a fierce fight Bhimaraya fell to British bullets on 1 June, 1858. British carried out brutal reprisals against Bhimaraya’s associates and supporters.

Canara Revolts
The district of Canara consisted of present Mangalore (Dakshina Kannada) and Karwar (Uttara Kannada) districts and after Tipu, they were made a part of Madras presidency. However these coastal districts were thickly forested and mountainous and the large distance from Madras led to further reasons for a weak British colonial state in the area. As uprisings in coastal Maharashtra spread during 1857, Canara too became a refuge for revolutionaries and also a centre of resistance. Here the revolutionaries who came from Savantwadi played a major role. They also tried to get support from some Goans as well as Portugese and moved into Khanapur, Supa, Ulavi, Dandeli etc. They were also joined by Siddis (African slaves brought to India by Portugese and who had escaped to the dense forests of Canara near Karwar). Though many British historians have said that these revolts were caused by the increased land and salt taxes, it is clear that they were inspired by the stories of 1857 uprising in the North and were waiting for Nanasaheb to move southwards. Despite the death and capture of many leaders, new ones kept springing up in this region for nearly three years. Finally British divided the district into two and attached Karwar to Bombay presidency in 1862.

This brief account of anti-colonial uprisings in Karnataka suffices to understand the deep felt hatred of British rule in every corner of India. Karnataka threw up its own heroes and legends in resistance like Dhondiya Wagh, Swami Aparampar, Rani Chennamma, Sangolli Rayanna, Nargund Baba Saheb, Mundargi Bimaraya, Surpur Venkatappa Nayak, Bedas of Halagali and others. Moreover, the revolts and networks clearly demonstrate the development of a broad national consciousness among Indian people much before the so called modern era, despite India being composed of many nationalities, languages, religious sects, cultures and castes.

1) “Kannada Bhoopradeshagalallina Sashastra Bandayagalu” (Armed uprisings in Kannada Region)- by Dr. D. N. Yogeeshwarappa, from Charitrika Karnataka (History of Colonial and Contemporary Karnataka) -Ed by Dr. C. R. Govinda Raju (2010), Kannada
2) “Peasant Revolt of Nagar in 1830-31"- Dr. Siddalinga Swamy, pre-print
3) N. Shyam Bhat, “South Kanara, 1799–1860: a study in colonial administration and regional response", 1998,
4) “Ramoshi/Berad-Lingayat-Maratha Heroism, Jain Dilemma and the Haider Ali-Tipu Sultan Memory: Perspicacious 1858 Karnataka Battles”, Chapter 55, War of Civilisations- India AD 1857, Vol II –by Amaresh Misra, Rupa& Co (2008)

by Shivanand Kanavi


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1 comment:

  1. Raja Mallasarja is husband of Rani Channamma. Shivaling Rudra Sarja is son of Rani Channamma.


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