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Sunday, 10 December 2017

Mathanda Appachu (Part 1)

The life of a warlord

by Mookonda Kushalappa

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.

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-organized 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'. 

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. 

Appachu's mausoleum
When I had been to Bollumad village of Beppunaad region I chanced upon the sepulcher 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.

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