Armed rebellion in Karnataka against the British in Karnataka
The micro-stories from different parts of Karnataka during the early decades of 19th century 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.