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A tale with a sharp edge

Mookonda Kushalappa, Jun 28, 2016, 0:09 IST

Watershed moments

Inner courtyard of Meriyanda clan's ancestral house. Photo by author
Near the 10th mile from Virajpet is the traditional Ainmane homestead of the Meriyanda extended family. It is reported that several generations ago an unmarried lady, addressed as Balliavva, raised her brothers’ children. The descendants of the boys among them are part of the Meriyanda clan today. According to Gappu Ganapathy, a member of the Meriyanda clan, one historical family member who was called Maanichcha Moli (master), had 2 wives and 6 sons. The eldest among the boys was Meriyanda Medappa, affectionately called Medu, whose mother was from the Marichanda family. Four of his 5 younger brothers were known as Chettichcha, Kunjappa, Aiyappa and Ponnappa.

Medappa, who was a government official, was made a Dewan under Linga Rajendra, the Raja of Kodagu between the years 1811-1820. However, it is said that Medu was a Dewan only for 18 days. During a particular battle when Medu was stationed at the Nalnad palace, he sent his brother Chettichcha to the western border of the Kodagu kingdom. In the meantime, Medu’s rival had spread rumours to the Raja that Medu had sent his brother to the enemies in order to sell them official secrets.

Following this, Medu was charged with treason and made to run around the palace. The intention was to make him run into the king’s oidekatthi, a traditional sword also known as the ayudha katthi, which was positioned in the courtyard in a manner that it would slit open the runner’s neck. However, Medu ducked while he ran into the sword; so it was only his scalp that was cut off. Although he was only unconscious, the palace servants assumed he was dead and told the Raja so.

Twist of events

Meanwhile, Chettichcha won the battle and the news made the Raja regret his decision. Medu, who was revived by a toddy drawer returned to the palace a few days later and was honoured with the Raja’s oidekatthi bearing the small, embossed, golden ‘lin’ seal of the Raja stamped upon it. This sword, made peculiar by the rare stamp, originally had an ivory hilt; but was replaced by a wooden handle when it broke. The most commonly found seals of the Kodagu Rajas bear either of the Kannada syllables ‘vi’ or ‘lin’. While ‘lin’ belonged to Linga Rajendra, the ‘vi’ belonged to his elder brother and predecessor Dodda Vira Rajendra.

In the early 19th century, 3 paintings of Dewan Medu and the Kodagu Raja were commissioned. While the recipient (Dewan Medu) looks the same, the Raja appears to be different in each of the paintings. We can speculate that Linga Rajendra himself adopted different styles as he aged or they were actually different Rajas, probably Dodda Vira Rajendra (1789-1809) and Chikka Vira Rajendra (1820-1834), under whom Medu would have served as an official and advisor.

On canvas
In these paintings, Medu wears a red cloth head-dress, which has projections in front, and a thin kombu mishe (handlebar moustache), kept by the accomplished brave men of those times. He wears ear rings and is dressed in a white coloured kuppya (a traditional, long-sleeved tunic) with an ornate knife, called the piche katthi, secured in his chele (waistband).

Even the Rajas don’t seem to be spared by rules of propriety; in this case, they had to have something held in their right hands when seen in public. They are either holding hunting falcons or holding what appears to be some sort of a flower or a jewel in their right hands. While the original paintings have been kept elsewhere for safekeeping and preservation, black and white copies have been put up for display in the ancestral house. A spear of the olden days, known as barchi, has also been kept there.

Family heirlooms, such as these paintings and swords, which are part of a heritage, are to be preserved for posterity. A number of similar beautiful paintings had been commissioned by the Kodagu Rajas, especially between 1792 and 1834, and given to different families across Kodagu. It is however unfortunate that we are not aware of the identity of the artists who drew them.

Likewise, the ayudha katthis issued by the Rajas bear their respective syllabic regal insignia. One good specimen of a sword with the ‘vi’ syllable has found its way to the London Museum in the United Kingdom, where it is on display today.

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