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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Kodagu soldier's trist with the British

by Mookonda Kushalappa (text and images), 

Appachu's mausoleum, Bollumad (2015)
In Kodagu, a certain folk song describes the local government in the region. Eight chieftain clans called the desa thakka (regional chieftains) resided in places spread across Kodagu. The Mathanda was one of these. In Bollumad village of Beppunaad region, I chanced upon the sepulcher of Appachu. It lies in the lands of his descendants. This tomb has a small dome and turrets on top with four bulls at the corners of the flat roof. 

There are also memorials of his predecessors, one is a white stone upon a platform on the grave of Mathanda Maanu and under a tree. The other is a small red shrine, called Kaimada, which is dedicated to Maletira Karicha of Kedamallur, the common ancestor of all Mathanda clan members. 

Mathanda Kaimada, Bollumad
(built in honor of common ancestor Maletira Karicha from Kedamallur)

In 1834, the British East India Company (EIC) sent an army of 6,000 sepoys to invade Kodagu. This infantry of the Company’s Madras Army was divided into four columns. One column was to march into the region from the east, one from the north and two from the west until they reached Madikeri, the capital of the principality. The Kodagu army defended it fiercely, using weapons they had purchased from the Portuguese and other colonial powers along the western coast of India. 

The northern column of the company’s infantry was to meet the eastern one near Harangi village. In order to do that they had to pass through another village near Somwarpet, which was secured by a bakka (a stockade comprising of a mud ditch, fortified with thick bamboo tree-trunks) in the forest hills. This village was also the base of the Kodagu resistance. 

Mathanda Appachu was a tall young man from Beppunaad, Kodagu, who rose within the ranks in Chikka Vira Rajendra the Raja of Kodagu’s army to become a karyagara (officer). 
Appachu and his men were in defense of the bunker and fought hard against the northern column. They aimed their guns through the wooden palisades of the bakka and killed 48 soldiers and injured 118, within four hours. No casualties were reported on Kodagu’s side, and thereby, the native army was able to beat the well-organised EIC army. 

However, Chikka Vira Rajendra was not keen on angering the British and wanted to avoid further conflict. So he sent his diwans to surrender on his behalf. The eastern column was escorted from Kushalnagar to Madikeri. Three days later the Raja emerged from hiding and the British had by now taken over Kodagu. 

The British were now keen on maintaining order and thereby, there was no retaliation for Appachu’s actions. Rather his bravery was appreciated and he was made a Subahdar (native governor) after he swore allegiance to them. A few years later, Subahdar Mathanda Appachu and 60 men suppressed some rebels, who had planned to take over Madikeri. He was awarded the Coorg Medal for this. 

Mathanda Appachu,
the Coorg grandfather and Mercara Subahdar,
with his son and grandsons
Appachu resisted Christianity but promoted western education. In a letter related to an endowment for the Mercara Central School (Madikeri Government School) dated 17th October 1863 in Madikeri, among the 13 signatories, the third was ‘Madanda (misspelt) Appachoo, Head-Sheristadar’. Thus, he was one of the founders of the School Endowment Plantation Fund which later became the Coorg Education Fund. Since Appachu was also the highest ranking native official of his time, he was known as the Diwan of Kodagu. This was an unofficial designation. 

Tuesday, 17.04.2018, Deccan Herald, Spectrum

Saturday, 30 December 2017

"In the spirit of worship" Deccan Herald

Thanks Deccan Herald.
Photo courtesy :  Ashoka Biddappa Muckatira (Newspaper edition), John Napier
In the spirit of worship, 
NOV 27 2017, 21:50 IST, Deccan Herald,

The worship of spirit deities is prevalent in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Kodagu districts of Karnataka. The spirit worship ceremony, performed annually in the village temples and ancestral households, is called theray in the Kodava language. A traditional dancer dons face paint or mask and the costume, often red coloured, of a deity, and prances around. Later, he behaves as a medium of the spirit of the deity and advises the devotees as they come to him with their problems.
The Vishnu Murthy shrine
The Vishnu Murthy shrine, located near the Choli Povvadiamme Bhagawathy Temple in Arapattu village, has one such ceremony where spirit deities are worshipped. It is generally called Choundi theray, although Choundi (also Chamundi or Chavundi) is not the only deity propitiated here. The Choundi theray takes place after the Bhagwathy temple festival.
The deity in this temple is said to be in the form of Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Upon the gable of this red-tiled shrine is the face of a moustached deity, its face painted in yellow colour. Near the base and on either side of the entrance is the face of a lion.
The deity of this shrine is offered non-vegetarian food. The Brahmin priest of the nearby Bhagawathy Temple and his family visit the temple to seek blessings. The local Muslims, called mappilla, also pay obeisance here. The priest of this shrine traditionally belongs to the Maleya community. The Maleyas travel to nearby villages during the theray season to perform and help in the arrangements.They wear a saffron panche during the preparations. The Banna and the Panika are other communities who perform such ceremonies in parts of Kodagu. Bhadrakali worship is conducted by the Panikas.
The Maleyas come from the villages of Kirundad, Marandod and Parane for the Arapattu ceremony. The theray begins with the opening performance of a spirit deity called Thota, at night, and it is followed by performances of the Anji Koot Murthy, the five spirits. They are Kutti Chatta, Kari Baala, Kala Bhairava, Kuliya and Nuchchute. The Choudi and Vishnu Murthy performances happen the next morning.
Anji Koot Murthy theray
I visited Arapattu in the theray season. The village stalls were set up, they sold food items and other goods. The preparation for the theray began in the evening, in the adjacent threshing ground. A shelter for the performers to rest was placed beside the ground. The performance started after dinner. The preparation for the performance began with the nooth kuripo (face paint) and alankara (dressing the performer) began. The performers were dressed in red. A thoodu (bamboo torch) was carried along by one of the people accompanying the performers.
The first performer arrived from the threshing ground in the guise of a Thota. As part of the act, he kept turning his head to look behind him every now and then. Then, he pranced around for a while in front of the shrine and then went to the shrine and seated himself on a stool before the inner sanctum. Devotees came to him with their prayers. He listened to them and answered. Later, the Thota was carried out of the shrine by another performer.
Similarly, the other performers came to the temple. Kutti Chatta held a stick and a bell, and had decorative eyes. His eyes were covered with large shells with holes in the middle. Bhairava, on the other hand, didn't have such eye coverings. Kari Baala, a fierce avatar, held two swords. In the middle of his performance, he took the musicians to task for not playing vigorously enough and demanded that the devotees also dance along with him. Nuchchute, the last of the five, walked comically and made the people laugh. Supposedly a female deity, the performer wore grass upon his head. He went from person to person and whispered into their ears as they gave him money.
A different enactment called the Thirale was performed after the five performances. The performer was subjected to mystic experiences. He performed a frantic trembling dance dressed in white kuppya chele(a traditional costume) as he held a staff and an oide-katti, a billhook shaped war knife. He took turns performing as Bhagawathy and Vishnu Murthy throughout the night.
Choundi theray
Next morning, the Choundi and Vishnu Murthy performances were enacted. There were six chenda drummers. There was another drummer and one gong player as well, both belonging to the Meda community and the elderly drummer was dressed in white kuppya chele. The Choundi performer wore a hay skirt and walked around what remained of the bonfire, that was lit by the villagers at night. He was held by both hands as he was thrown on the smouldering bonfire and then dragged away from it a number of times.
The Thota performer gave the Vishnu Murthy performance as well. He wore a steel mask, which depicted a moustached face, and a hay skirt. His legs were plastered with mud. He performed first at the Vishnu Murthy shrine and then at the Bhagawathy shrine. In the evening a non-vegetarian feast called bharani was served to the families of the village.

caption - the Thirale (a whirling dance) performer in white and the Choundi (Chamundi) theray (a dance-worship) performer in grass over-wear; Photo by John Napier (Online version)
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Text by yours truly, M P Nitin Kushalappa (Mookonda Kushalappa);