Armed rebellion in Karnataka against the British
Karnataka has been a land of freedom fighters from the earliest times. When the British power slowly spread over the whole of India in the last part of the 18th century, the people of Karnataka could not tolerate this alien rule. So they decided to wage a revolt. Thus the revolution started, and we call it as ’Armed Insurrection’. Venkatappa Naik of Surpur, Bheema Rao of Mundaragi, Baba Saheb of Nargund, Rani Channamma of Kittur, Rani Channamma of Keladi were a few notable brave men and women who struggled throughout against the British for the freedom of the country.
The Bedas and Kodagas have been the foremost fighting races of Karnataka, and have continuously maintained their high reputation.
During the second half of the 18th century, the British slowly advanced their power and very shrewdly carried on their operations at first as vassals of the Moghal Emperor and the people accustomed to leave matters of government, could not notice the fact that they were slowly but steadily being succeeded to the position of slaves under a foreigner. The brave resistance put up by Hyder and Tippu to the British had a deep defence of Mysore. Hyder, who had defeated the Wadeyars and conquered Mysore, was fed up with the expansion policy of the British, Earlier, he was on friendly terms with the British. But later on, he came to know about the plan of expansion of the British empire in India, in order to curb their desire he tried to become friendly with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas. But he could not do so, because by that time tactfully the Britishers had taken the support of the Marathas and Nizam. Hyder had a short lived life and died early. Then Tippu, the son of Hyder, continued the fight with the British. In the year 1792, he fought with the British in order to drive them away. But Tippu was fully defeated and he was put into great trouble. Later on, in the IV Mysore War (1799), Tippu died fighting as a brave man. Thus, the father and the son protested and revolted against the Britishers. However this was not an end, the anti-colonial spirit was further fuelled which is visible in various revolt that broke out in the state across the timeline in British era.
A brief summary of various armed rebellion waged against British in Karnataka
- The Anglo–Mysore Warswere a series of four wars fought in over the last three decades of the 18th century between the Kingdom of Mysore on the one hand, and the British EIC (represented chiefly by the Madras Presidency), and Maratha Confederacy and the Nizam of Hyderabad on the other .
- The First anglo-mysore war (1767–69) saw Hyder Ali gain some measure of success against the British, almost capturing Madras. The British convinced the Nizam of Hyderabad to attack Hyder, but the Nizam changed sides, supporting the Sultan. That was temporary however, and the Nizam signed a new treaty with the British in Feb. 1768.
- The second anglo-mysore war (1780–84) witnessed bloodier battles with fortunes fluctuating between the contesting powers. Tipu defeated Baillie at the Battle of Pollilur in Sept. 1780, and Braithwaite at Kumbakonamin Feb. 1782, both of whom were taken prisoner to Seringapatam. This war saw the rise of Sir Eyre Coote , the British commander who defeated Hyder Ali at the Battle of Porto novo and Arni. Tipu continued the war following his father’s death. Finally, the war ended with the last British-Indian treaty with an Indian ruler on equal footing, the 11 March 1784 Treaty of Manglore.
- In the Third anglo-mysore war (1790–92), Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore and an ally of France, invaded the nearby state of Travancore in 1789, which was a British ally.British forces were commanded by Governor-general Cornwallis himself. The resultant war lasted three years and was a resounding defeat for Mysore. The war ended after the 1792 seize of Srirangapattan and the signing of the treaty of Srirangapattanam, according to which Tipu had to surrender half of his kingdom to the British East India Company and its allies.[
- The Fourth anglo-mysore war (1799) saw the death of Tipu Sultan and further reductions in Mysorean territory. Mysore’s alliance with the French was seen as a threat to the East India Company and Mysore was attacked from all four sides. Tipu’s army were outnumbered 4:1 in this war. The Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas launched an invasion from the north. The British won a decisive victory at seize of Srirangapattan(1799).
- 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 all of Central and North Karnataka. He was supported by the people and smaller principalities (samsthana) that were discontented with the British. British historians have painted him as “rogue bandit”, whereas Dhondiya himself had the title of “lord of both the worlds” among his people
- 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. 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.
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)
Karnataka was torn asunder between Nizam, Marathas and the British after Tipu’s defeat. 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 in Kittur. She became the queen of Kittur on her marriage to Shivalinga Rudra Sarja. 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, fell sick and died soon after on September 11, 1824.
Chennamma started ruling the kingdom in the name of the adopted minor prince. But British refused to recognise and took over the administration of Kittur. This 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 and carried out a daring attack on the British forces. British forces were 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. 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. . In November-December 1829, 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.
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 and executed.
- 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. 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”.
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. 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. 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.
- 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 mass struggle started in early 1830 and assumed a host of forms. The most important of these was the koota or simply ‘gathering’. 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. In order to organise these Kootas, the ryots assigned one Patel and two head ryots in each of the villages.
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.
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. 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 and king was defeated. However, several revolt followed the war. 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.
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 Revolt 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 kings and nawabs, the Karnataka revolts were popular uprisings led by local peasant leaders, or small principalities who linked their local struggles with the larger national one . 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.
Some of major uprisings are as follows
Bedas of Halagali
fighting tribes which fought the British tooth and nail from 1820’s to 1942 and formed the backbone of many uprisings in the Deccan 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. 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 . 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 but he faced problems because of Doctrine of Lapse as he had no son to heir the throne. This enraged Baba Saheb and he got in touch with several rulers in Karnataka like Mundaragi Bhimaraya, Surpur Venkatappa Nayakaand many others. In May 1858 when the British sent a force to prevent his networking with other rulers, he attacked them. 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.
Surpur Venkatappa Nayak
Surpur or Shorapuris situated in the hills, about 50 km west of Yadgiri, a district headquarters. 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. 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. Then he was jailed and killed subsequently.
Bhimaraya of Mundaragi is a legendary hero of 1857 revolt in Karnataka. 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. 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. . After a fierce fight Bhimaraya fell to British bullets on 1 June, 1858. British carried out brutal reprisals against Bhimaraya’s associates and supporters.
The district of Canara consisted of present Mangalore (Dakshina Kannada) and Karwar (Uttara Kannada) districts and were thickly forested and mountainous. 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. 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.
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