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Snippets from Gazetteer-Of-Coorg

Gazetteer of Coorg’s  natural feature! of the country and the local and political condition of its inhabitant compiled by G. Richter


Historical Facts 

Nari Mangala

Of the Carnivora there are many representatives foremost the Royal tiger (felis tigris) which in former days was much more numerous all over Coorg; but even now it is not scarce,though he seldom attacks man. The large game of the jungles and the herds of cattle roaming about satisfy his appetite. During the reign of the Coorg Rajahs there were annual tiger hunts and Linga Rajah seldom killed fewer than there were days in the year.

He was fond of these animals and kept some about his palace as pets. An amusing story about these royal pets is told by Captain Basil Hall, who visited this prince in 1813: On returning he writes to the great square in the centre of the building (new palace in Mercara) we found 3 chairs placed for us on Turkey carpet, spread on the ground in the open air. The Rajah took a seat and made me come beside him, after placing his son, a nice little boy, nine or ten years of age, on my right hand.

This young fellow was gaily dressed with a large overspreading turban. A dark circle about the tenth of an inch broad, was painted round each of his eyes, which gave him a strange staring look; and on his cheeks, brow and chin were placed small black marks, or beautiful spots about twice as large as the. head or dot of a note in music “The whole area of the court was now begirt with soldiers, each holding as high as his face, an immense billhook or knife, the blade of which near the extremity could not be less than three inches wide and diminishing gradually towards the hilt This formidable instrument, well known in Indian warfare under the name of the “Coorg knife”, is often used as a sword, and when handled by men, who are not afraid to close with their antagonist, is said to be a most efficient weapon. On a signal given by the Rajah a folding door was thrown open on one side of the court, and in stalked two immense royal tigers, held by several men on each side by long ropes, attached to collar round the animals’ necks. These beasts appeared very tractable, for they allowed themselves to be led very close to us. I confess, I did not much like this degree of propinquity and eyed the slender cordage with some professional anxiety. Meanwhile the Rajah and his son and the officers of the household appeared quite unconcerned, though the tigers passed within a few yards of them, and, as it seemed to me, might easily have broken loose. “What degree of training these animals had undergone, I know not, but after a little while, the Rajah, probably to increase the surprise of his guest, directed the men to let go the ropes and to fall back. There we sat in the midst of the open court with a couple of full sized tigers in our company, and nothing on earth to prevent their munching us all up! The well fed and well bred beasts, however, merely lounged about, rubbed their noses together and then tumbling on the ground, rolled about like a couple of kittens at play. I could, however, detect the Rajah spying at me out of the corner of his eye and half smiling at the success of his trick. After a time the men were recalled and the tigers dragged  off.“A pair of lionesses and two furious looking buffaloes were then introduced, but nothing could be more innocent or more respectful to the Rajah and his son. Like Falstaff, indeed, they seemed to have an instinctive knowledge of the true prince. Yet for all this, I caught myself several times edging my chair back a little bit and looking out for a clear place to escape, as the monsters stalked up and down the court, and once or twice actually touched the edge of our carpet with their feet. On these occasions, that part of the circle of guards which stood behind us advanced just so far as to bring our chairs on the outside of their ring and to place themselves between the beasts and us. On clapping their hands and flourishing their knives the lionesses and other beasts moved a little further off, after which the guards again dropped to the rear. Still this seemed rather a poor protection; at least I had my recollection so full of the rapid motions of the same class of animals, which I have seen baited at Mysore, that I could discover nothing which need have prevented the lionesses from whipping off the heads of the Rajah and the heir apparent, or at all events, that of their guest, who having no particular claims to the throne of Coorg, could reckon on none of the benefits of instinctive respect. “The Rajah gave orders for half a dozen tiger’s cubs about eight months old, and as many puppy dogs to be set to play before us on the carpet, while a full grown royal tiger was at the same time dragged forward and pitted against a bear for a real battle in the open court. Any thing more disproportionate or absurd cannot be conceived than this match; and so, perhaps, the poor brutes thought, for fight they would not, although both of them were well thumped and forced against each other by the attendants. At length a brilliant thought struck the Rajah. ‘Tie them together!’ exclaimed his majesty; and accordingly the rope which was fastened to the tiger’s collar was hitched to the belly band of the bear. Neither party liked this. The tiger roared and the bear growled while the Rajah and his son laughed and clapped their hands in ecstasy at their own good joke. Of course the guards and courtiers joined in the mirth and the whole quadrangle rang with mixed shouts of the soldiers, the growl of the bear and the roar of the tiger. Of all the parties in this singular concert, the tiger appeared to be the most discomposed. His eye flashed fire, his tail waved from flank to flank in the most  ominous style. I thought at one time, this was to turn out no laughing matter; for, if the angry animal, when at length he lost all patience, had taken a direction towards us, he might have demolished the dynasty of Wadeer, or at least made a vacancy for an officer in his Britannic Majesty’s Navy.

Fortunately he chose exactly the opposite course, and running furiously across the court, made a flying leap right into one of the low windows of what the Rajah called his English drawing room. The glass and framework of the window were of course dashed to pieces in a mordent and the pianos, pictures and book cases must have soon shared the same fate, had not the tiger’s progress been checked by the weight of the wretched bear, which hung outside, half way between the window sill and the ground, somewhat after the fashion of the golden fleece over a mercer’s door. The tiger we could no longer see, but we could hear him smashing the furniture at a great rate. He was afterwards secured and sent to the tear.”  After a successful hunt for a tiger, the natives form a procession and carry the carcass with the band of tomtoms to the mandu or village green. The herpes of the day are the man who shot the beast and he who first touched its tail, a feat which used to be rewarded by the Rajah with the present of a silver bangle. The carcass is then raised on a wooden frame, and according to time-honored Coorg fashion, the lucky sportsman is to be wedded to the departed soul of the tiger and may thenceforth wear the honorable gala-mishi or grand mustachio in Rajah’s fashion. In May last such a ceremony took place in Mercara on the occasion of G. Cariappah, the Subadar of the taluq, having shot a tiger. Under a screen, on a wedding chair, his face towards the carcass sat the hero of the day, clothed in Coorg warrior costume and covered with flower wreaths and gold ornaments. Behind him stood his armour-bearers, in front the sacred house lamp on a heap of rice, poured into a brass dish. First each member of his house, men, women and children, then all his friends, one by one, stepped up to the bridegroom; strewed a handful of rice from the brass dish over his head, gave him from a brass vessel a sip of milk to drink and in making obeisance, dropped a silver coin into his lap. This money is given with a view to defray the impending expenditure on a sumptuous dinner, given to the whole company. A Coorg dance round the tiger concludes the tarnish and the night wears away with singing and feasting. Government has now fixed a reward of Rupees five for the destruction of a tiger and Rupees three for that of a cheeta; but the unmutilated skin with the clows has to be delivered to the Sirkar. The height of the tiger varies from 3 to 4 and his length from 6 to 7 feet to which 3 feet may be added for the length of the tail. His weight is from 250 to 400 lbs. Sometimes one sees children with the ornament of 2 tiger’s claws, joined together by silver or gold and suspended round the neck. This charm is supposed to keep off the evil eye. The age of a tiger is said to be ascertained by the number of lobes of his liver, one lobe being added every year! The cheeta {Can. kiruba) or panther is more common than the tiger. It is a very  destructive beast to smaller domestic animals. In his depredations he is a coward, chiefly attacking his prey by night and fleeing man, if unmolested. Upon the destruction of a cheeta by a Coorg, the same festivities, as on the tiger hunt, take place, but there is less honour to the sportsman.

About the Kings 

Virarajha’s tyranny.

With the death of Lingaraja affairs in Coorg did not improve.The unfortunate people had only changed masters. As soon as the young Viraraja, who was about 20 years old,had taken possession of his father’s throne and treasure, he destroyed the people, who had displeased or thwarted him during the life of his father. Many members of the family of the Coorg Rajahs seem to have fallen at that time. One, Channa Vira, escaped with his family across the Mysore frontier. But to no purpose; his relative knew how to turn to account his connection with the British Government.  Letters and messages were despatched to Mr. Cole, the Resident in Mysore, requesting him to order the seizure of a refractory farmer, who had made his escape from Coorg after having committed a crime, and the delivery of the criminal to the servants of the Rajah. Mr. Cole had the man apprehended near Periapatna, and sent him back to Coorg with a letter to the Rajah, requesting information as to the guilt of and the punishment awarded to the refugee. No answer was given to the Resident. Channa Vira was carried to Kantamurnad, where he was massacred with his whole family,twenty-two souls on one day. In 1826 Mr. Casamajor, the successor of Mr. Cole, despatched a Captain Monk to Mercara and charged him, among other things, to enquire after the fate of Channa Vira. Captain Monk was told by Vlraraja that there had been much sickness in the country during the last season, and that Channa Vira with his whole family had been swept away by cholera. After this inaugural bloodshed, the new Rajah seems to have shown less cruelty than his father or uncle. An intelligent Brahman, who is intimately acquainted with Coorg affairs, told me one day, that he estimated the victims of Dodda-Viraja’s reign at about five thousand; Lingaraja, he thought, had not killed more than three thousand, or perhaps three thousand five hundred; and the late Rajah had not destroyed more than fifteen hundred lives, if so many. Still, the last man was a greater curse upon Coorg, than his predecessors. Less cruel he appears to have been. (The above estimate of Coorg murders is no doubt greatly exaggerated, but the proportion assigned to the three Rajahs agrees perfectly with the general tradition of the country.) But, if less cruel, Viraraja, young as he was at his accession to the government of Coorg, became a monster of sensuality. He kept the youngest of his father’s wives for his use and increased his establishment of concubines to about one hundred. A number of other women, of the best families, were summoned to Mercara after accouchements, and kept in a house near the palace during the period when they gave milk to their babes. Part of their milk was daily taken for the Rajah, to be used as a medicinal ingredient of his food which according to some  superstitious notion became thereby more wholesome and nourishing. To refuse compliance with the demands of the master of Coorg was certain death, not to the recusant party only, but probably to the whole family. The wretch was free to riot as lie pleased. He actually demanded to have the choice of all unmarried girls in the country. When hearing of this outrageous resolution, the Coorgs at once—it is said in one night—married all their grown up daughters. The Rajah was  furious. Many of the unfortunate parents, who thus saved the honor of their children, were dreadfully flogged or  had their ears cropped, or were thrown into prison. Rumours of these doings reached Mr.Casamajor.

He reported to Government. But no reliable information was procurable. Coorg was kept ermetically sealed. Only a few passes were open. These were guarded by strong posts. Travellers were often detained. Without a passport no one could enter the country. On slight pretences persons were fined, maltreated, imprisoned. Some, who had gone to Coorg, disappeared altogether. Manuel Pereira, a British subject, was kept in custody by the Rajah; so was a Jew of the name of Samuel Joseph. Apprehensions were entertained for the safety of Devammaji, the daughter and heiress of Dodda-viraraja. Mr. Casamajor went in person to Mercara, about the middle of November 1826, to make inquiries on the spot. He was too polite, and was completely baffled by the Rajah. The representative of the British Government was surrounded by guards and spies. No inhabitant of Coorg dared to answer his questions. The Rajah met his interrogations and admonitions with the most barefaced lies. Mr. Casamajor had to report: “I have not been able to obtain any satisfactory information from the Rajah respecting his family. Having heard, that he had a brother, eight years of age, a son five years old, and a daughter a year and an half old, I mentioned to him, that I had heard so. He said, it was a mistake; that he was quite alone, and the only male of the family.” “‘I am the only male, the rest are females. I have said so.’” “Devammaji and Mahadevammaji, Dodda viraardjendra’s daughters, were not, he said, in the palace, but in distant villages.” Mr. Casamajor did not even succeed in obtaining a sight of Manuel Pereira. He returned to Mysore little satisfied still his account of the Rajah was, on the whole, rather favourable. “He appeared anxious to please the British Government, was inquisitive, showed a good deal of intelligence, and there was some hope of improvement, as he was a young man.” Rumours of frequent executions continued to reach Mysore, and Mr. Casamajor received instructions to demand of the Rajah a regular report of every case of capital punishment ordered by him. Some correspondence ensued; Viraraja protested against this demand, but his protest was of no avail the order was repeated. However, the Rajah never complied with it, and matters went asleep again. News came, that Viraraja had raised a regiment of female cavalry, who accompanied the Rajah on his rides, and who were drilled like soldiers. Mr. Casamajor thought, that the Rajah must be mad.aHe was confirmed in his opinion by the report that a Coorg, of the name of Naga, having fled the country, had been shot in effigy at Mercara. This took place in 1832.

Channa Basava and Devammaji’s flight. Muddaya’s murder. 1832

On the 17th September 1832, I. A. Casaraajor, Resident in Mysore, reported to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Fort St. George, that a Coorg of the name of Channa Basava and his wife, Devammaji, sister to the Rajah of Coorg, had taken refuge at the Residency. They had fled their country to save their honor and their lives, and implored the protection of the British Government. Devammaji had long been kept from her husband. After an engagement of eight years, she had been permitted to join him. Of late the Rajah had made incestuous proposals to her through an old woman servant, and had threatened to kill her husband, if she refused compliance, on the following Shivaratri festival. In this extremity they had drugged the guard of honor, who watched them, and set from Appagalla, their residence, at nightfall. During the night they reached Beppundd, passed Amadnad in the morning and were drawing near the Mysore frontier, when they were stopped by the Coorg frontier guard. Being fired at, their party returned fire. Channa Basava placed his wife behind him on his horse, and made his way into Mysore, followed by a few of his attendants. The rest fell into the hands of the Coorgs and were carried to Mercara. Also the child of Channa Basava, a boy of a year and a half, was seized and delivered to the Rajah, his uncle.

This is the substance of the reports of the Resident. That Channa Basava would have been murdered, if he had not run for his life, is probable enough. He was a scheming fellow and had drawn upon himself the Rajah’s suspicions. But the charge made against Viraraja by his sister may have been unfounded, and only brought forward in order to strengthen their claim on British sympathy and protection. The Rajah demanded, that the fugitives should be delivered to him. Mr. Casamajor demurred and referred the matter to Government. The Supreme Government decided under the 18th January 1833, that the Coorg refugees should not be restored to Viraraja. In the mean time the Rajah formed mad schemes for the recovery of his relatives. They all came to nothing. Channa Basava and his wife were removed to Bangalore. There they were to have been assassinated. But every thing failed. The fugitives had dreadful stories to tell. Accusations accumulated against the Rajah of Coorg. A Parsee from Bombay had been killed at Mercara. Probably Manuel Pereira also had been destroyed. A man from the north of Coorg deposed that he saw Viraraja, on a hunting excursion, shooting at Narayana Nayaka, Hoblidara, first with blunt arrows, then with a sharp arrow which killed him, in presence of all his retinue. Besides, numbers of people, men and women, Coorgs and slaves, relatives of the Rajah’s family and’ others, who were believed to have been privy to the plans of Channa Basava, or to have assisted him in his escape, were killed, or mutilated, or starved to death, or thrown into prison. Among the first victims of the Rajah’s wrath was Muddaya, a brother of Channa Basava, Munshi to the Rajah, and a favourite. Virarajha himself beat him cruelly; afterwards he was executed by Kunta Basava, an upstart favourite of Lingaraja, who having been both the tool and the prompter of the father, kept his position and influence with the son. He was first dog-boy, then soldier, then Jemadar; then he rose to the post of Commander; at last he became principal Devan. He was a vicious, overbearing, slavish, unprincipled man. By killing Muddaya, he got rid of a rival. Muddaya had been a clever and respectable man, and was perfectly ignorant of Channa Basava’s plans. Every body knew, that the poor man had been destroyed without cause. The Rajah himself, hardened as he was, had terrible fits of remorse  Muddaya  would not let him sleep. As soon as he sunk into slumber, Muddaya would stand over him with a drawn sword, and Viraraja awake, crying: murder! Muddaya! seize him! After some days a conjurer showed the Raja  how to obtain rest. If he had a picture of the dead man painted on a fresh wall, and looked at it every twenty-four minutes during the day, his nightly frights would abate. The Rajha took the wise man’s advice, had a likeness of Muddaya painted on a new wall, and walked up to it every now and then, saying: I slew him, because he was a traitor. By degrees his sleep returned.