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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Mathanda Appachu

The archival picture

The 1870 'Gazetteer of Coorg' by Rev. G. Richter, a British missionary and educationist, has a photograph labelled as 'Coorgs: grandfather, father and grandsons'. The seated grandfather sports a handlebar moustache, a mark of distinction, and wears a 'Coorg Medal', in order to identify himself as being a recipient of it. According to the 1875 volume of 'People of India' series, where the same picture is labeled as 'Coorgs. Hindoos. Coorg', he is called 'Mattana', 'Soobadar of Mercara', shown along with 'his younger relatives'.
Former Subahdar Mathanda Appachu, then Head Sheristadar and later Diwan, his son and his four grandsons

Based on a list of 'Coorg Medal' recipients, found in Mark Cubbon's letter and replicated in folklorist Nadikerianda Chinnappa's 1924 book Pattole Palame, I have been able to identify this 'Mattana', 'Madanta' and 'Appachanna' as Subahdar Mathanda Appachu, later Head Sheristadar and Diwan.

In his book Richter speaks of 'the present Head Sheristadar Madanta Appachu, a fine old Coorg, of tall stature and martial bearing' on page 337. Again on page 363, Richter talks of 'Subedar Appachanna the present Head Sheristadar'. Richter notes that though Coorg was jealously guarded by the antagonism of its conservative headmen, it had to yield to the onward march of civilisation.

Coorg War, 1834

Mathanda Appachu, a tall, young man from Beppunaad, Kodagu, rose within the ranks in the Raja's army to become a Karyagara (army officer). The Raja at that time was Chikka Vira Rajendra, the last Raja of Kodagu.

1834 War Hero Mathanda Appachu's mausoleum, lying in neglect. He fought the British successfully as a Karyagara.
In 1834, the British East India Company sent an army of 6,000 sepoys to invade Kodagu. This force, of the 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 reach Madikeri, the capital of the princedom.

The Kodagu army stood up to defend their small kingdom fiercely. This native army had purchased firearms from the Portuguese and others along the western coast of India.

The Northern Column of the Company's Infantry was to meet the Eastern Column near Harangi village. But another village near Somwarpet town, secured well by a Bakka and in a forested mountain pass, stood their way. The Bakka was a defensive structure comprising of a mud ditch, fortified with thick wooden palisades. This village was the chief base of the resistance in Kodagu.

Karyagara Mathanda Appachu and his men were in the defense of that Bakka. They fought hard against the Northern Column. This Kodagu force aimed their guns and shot at the British from behind wooden palisades and through the arrow-slits of those palisades. Appachu and his warriors killed 48 soldiers, including three officers, and injured 118, within four hours on that one day. No casualties were reported from the Kodagu side. Thus, this Kodagu troop was able to beat the larger and more well-organised East India Company at that time.

But the Raja didn't wish to rouse the British anger any further. Hence he wanted his army to avoid further conflict. So he chose to send his Diwans to surrender on his behalf. The Eastern Column was escorted from Kushalnagar town to Madikeri. Three days later, the Raja emerged from hiding. Hence the British were able to take over Kodagu.
Under the Raj

Appachu was, thus, responsible for the largest resistance provided against the British in Kodagu during that War of 1834. Surprisingly no retaliatory action was taken against Appachu. His deeds were forgiven and his intrepidity was in fact appreciated well. The British didn't wish to distort the existing order.

Appachu then swore loyalty to his erstwhile enemy. He was made a Subahdar, or native governor.
A few years later, Subahdar Mathanda Appachu and sixty men suppressed some rebels who had planned to take over Madikeri. For this Appachu was awarded the 'Coorg Medal'.


A letter from Chief Commissioner Mark Cubbon to the Superintendent of Coorg mentioned Appachu's name adversely. 'Subadar Appachoo', like others of his times, had shown his extreme displeasure to the conversion of one Almanda Somaiah and his family into Christianity. This was despite the British Government's assurances to Somaiah. Yet, years later, Appachu was promoted to Head Sheristadar, the highest native judicial position.

Although Appachu strongly resisted Western religion, he was an active promoter of 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 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 times, he was known as the Diwan of Kodagu. This popularly assigned designation was unofficial as the British had abolished the Diwan post in Kodagu some years prior.

The chieftain's family

In Kodagu a certain folk song describes the ancient local government in the region. Eight hereditary chieftain clans called the desa thakka (regional chieftains) resided in places spread across Kodagu. The Mathanda, pronounced as 'Maa-ththan-da', clan were one of these eight.

When I had been to Bollumad village of Beppunaad region I chanced upon the sepulchre of Diwan Mathanda Appachu. It lies in the family lands of his descendants. This tomb has a small dome and turrets on top with four basava bulls at the corners of the flat roof.

Mathanda Maanu's grave
Nearby are two memorials to his predecessors. One memorial is a white stone upon a platform on the grave of Mathanda Maanu and under a tree. Maanu has no living descendants. The other is a small red shrine, called a Kaimada, which is dedicated to Maletira Karicha of Kedamallur, the common ancestor of all Mathanda members existing today.

Mathanda Karicha's memorial

Oral tradition claims that a particular sorcerer had troubled a Raja of Kodagu. The Raja had a reward placed upon the sorcerer's head. Karicha, as a young boy, had befriended the sorcerer who gradually took the boy into his confidence. The boy followed him everywhere and the sorcerer didn't mind at all. Karicha noticed that the sorcerer never put down his weapons as he didn't trust anybody enough, not even Karicha.

Altar inside the memorial
Once the two came to a stream where they wished to wash their faces and limbs before having lunch. Karicha put down his weapons and washed himself first. Not suspecting anything to be amiss, the sorcerer also put down his weapons and stood at the bank of the stream. Finding this to be the opportune moment, Karicha sprang up, grabbed his weapons and killed the sorcerer. When the Raja got the news he was highly pleased and so rewarded Karicha.

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