On the Haleri trail
Lakshmi Sharath’s trail starts from Madikeri, the capital of king Mudduraja’s Haleri dynasty, and ends in a hamlet called Yavakapadi in Kakkabe, home to Nalknad Aramane built by Dodda Veerarajendra in the 18th century.
We were in Madikeri when we heard this story. A Haleri king was on a hunting expedition when he suddenly saw his wild dogs chased by a hare on a small hillock. He decided to build a fort there immediately as he felt a powerful energy vibrated from the region which made a meek hare courageous. A mud walled garrison was built there and the hamlet, which became the capital of the dynasty was named after the king. The king was Mudduraja, the dynasty was Haleri and the capital was called Muddu Raja Keri or Muddurakayray, what we today call Madikeri.
The story of Veeraraja
The Haleri kings who ruled Coorg or Kodagu for over 200 years were Lingayats and their origin is traced to Veeraraja, a nephew of Sadashiva Nayaka of Ikkeri dynasty. As the Vijayanagar empire crumbled, Veeraraja, who dreamt of establishing his own dynasty was looking to exploit the weakness of local kingdoms. His ambition took him to Kodagu which was then ruled by various Nayakas.
Disguised as a jangama or a priest with healing powers, he established a small group of followers in Haleri. He slowly overthrew the local Nayakas, including the formidable Karenbahu of Bhagamandala and Talacauvery, and went on to become the lord of Kodagu with Haleri as capital. His grandson, Mudduraja later changed the capital to Madikeri and the dynasty ruled from the 17th century to the 19th century. The Madikeri fort is today one of the few symbols of this powerful dynasty. It was eventually rebuilt in granite by Tippu Sultan who named the site Jaffarabad. It was recaptured by Haleri ruler Doddaveerarajendra in the 18th century and it later fell into the hands of the British who renamed it as Mercara. Today, the fort houses a palace, a temple, a chapel, a prison and a museum where you can see hero stones or veeragallus among other things.
We embarked on the trail of this dynasty. Further away from the city is Gaddige or the Raja’s tombs, which are the samadhis of kings Doddaveerarajendra and Lingarajendra. A solemn air hung around and it was deserted almost, but for a few boys who were playing cricket. The tombs of the dewans and army commanders were also placed here. The domes and minarets at four corners mounted by carved bulls stand tall against the sky.
The sun was setting and a mist threatened to rob it of its last few moments of glory. We headed to Raja’s Seat to watch the tussle. This popular tourist spot which boasts of scenic views was the seat of the royalty to admire nature and also probably to shove their enemies down the hill!
A visit to Madikeri is never complete without a visit to the19th century Omkareshwar temple built by Lingarajendra II dedicated to Shiva. Built in the Indo Sarcenic style, it has elements of Gothic and Islamic architecture as well and it is said that there could have been a secret passage below that leads to the palace of the king.
We drove towards Virajpet, one of the key towns and erstwhile capital named after Veerarajendra, the Haleri king. It is said that Dodda Veerarajendra established the town in the 18th century to commemorate his meeting with the British General Abercrombie during their joint war against Tippu Sultan. Virajpet which is just 30 kms from Madikeri is an important town today for coffee and spices and the St Anne’s Church and clock tower stand tall, reminiscent of the colonial era.
The interesting aspect is that Virajpet was once an amalgamation of various communities such as Telugus,Tamilians, Malayalis, Bunts, Moplas, Christians, Brahmins and even Bengalis.Even today you can see streets like Bengali street, Telugu street going by the cosmopolitan nature of the town that housed several communities.
Where it all came to an end...
We then went in search of a small palace where the Haleri dynasty came to an end. Our trail ended in a hamlet called Yavakapadi in Kakkabe where Nalknad Aramane built by Dodda Veerarajendra in the 18th century awaited us.
There were coffee plantations all around. A small mud road appeared out of nowhere.
A beautiful two-storeyed structure painted in red with a tiled roof, old wall paintings and pillars gazed at us as we opened the portals of the palace. A small mantapa in white was located close by. A drizzle started as we heard a sound behind us. A caretaker had silently moved in and was opening the main door for us. We were the only visitors. As we soaked in the moment, we were given a capsule of history.
During one of the wars with Tippu Sultan, Dodda Veerarajendra had to retreat and he came to this dense forest. He converted it as an operation base and built a palace and even got married here. This palace was the final refuge of the last king, Chikkaveerarajendra, before he deposed in front of the British and it symbolised the end of the Haleri dynasty. The caretaker showed us around as we climbed a small ladder, saw the hidden chamber in the roof, the torture room, the royal bedrooms and the main durbar.
It is ironic that the Haleri kings who had befriended the British to fight Tippu Sultan finally had to depose in front of them. As we walked back, we saw a few tourists who had just returned from their trek to Thadiyandamole. The sun had set as we walked back, wondering how this silent monument would have once been a scene of battles fought and won.