In the northern part of the Mahadevpet quarter of Madikeri town lies a royal graveyard, unbeknownst to many. Gaddige is a set of three regal mausoleums built in the Indo-Saracenic style and enclosed within a compound. Upon each of these rectangular structures is a large dome and four turrets. Two kings of Kodagu (Dodda Vira Rajendra and Linga Rajendra) and their queens lay buried in the two larger identical structures and a third smaller one has the remains of the chief preceptor (Rudrappa) of the kings.
Beside these three tombs, at a little distance away but within the same enclosure, are the tombs of a father-son duo Biddanda Bopanna (Bopu) (1769-1807) and Biddanda Somayya (1800-1879). They had served Kodagu and its kings as sarva-karyakaras, or army generals. While Bopu was the general under Dodda Vira Rajendra (1789-1809), Somayya was the general under Chikka Vira Rajendra (1820-1834). Both tombs have the statue of a Nandi upon it.
Under the Kodagu kings, jamma ryots (farmers by inheritance) held their farmlands by military tenure. The word jamma came from the Sanskrit word for birth, janma. Every able-bodied male jamma ryot had to compulsorily serve in the king’s army. Known as chaudigaras, they worked for 15 days at a time. Around 10 to 100 soldiers served under an army chieftain called the jamedar and a number of jamedars served under an army officer called karyakara. The karyakaras worked under a sarva-karyakaras, or the general. The karyakaras and the sarva-karyakara wore a kombu toppi, a gold zari-bordered red turban with a kombu (horned emblem) in front.
A Kannada inscription states that Biddanda Bopu of Bavali village entered the Raja’s service through palace duties on the fifth day of the new moon of Magha month in the Keelaka year (1788). He worked for 19 years until the year Prabhava, bravely risking his life while fighting wars against Tipu Sultan of Mysore and hunting elephants, tigers and other wild animals, to ultimately become a sarva-karyakara.The Biddanda family originated in Kokeri village in Kodagu nearly three centuries ago. In this Kokeri house lived brothers Medappa and Poonacha. Medappa was a member of the local village panchayat and he married Chaniyapanda Subbavva in 1768. They had a son Bopu, who was born in 1769 on what was deemed to be an inauspicious day by the panchayat members. It was decreed that the son’s face was not to be seen by the father and that the mother was not to be allowed into the house. Hence, the mother and the son lived with the maternal family in Podavada village.
Chronicles of the pastUnfortunately, after some time, both Medappa and Subbavva passed away. The orphaned boy was then brought to the Kokeri Biddanda house by his uncle Poonacha. In 1788, at the age of 19, Bopu joined the king’s army. He worked hard and rose through the ranks to become a karyakara. Poonacha and his wife passed away and their two daughters were married into other families. In 1795, the king transferred Poonacha’s property, which was called ‘Mookanda Bane’ (pasture), to Bopu and his paternal relatives for the military services they had rendered.
Bopu moved from Kokeri to Bavali where he built a ‘Nalkett Mundmane’ — a traditional country house (mane) with four blocks (nalkett) built around an open central courtyard (mund). This became the ‘Biddanda Ainmane’, or ancestral home, in Bavali. One can find description of many events pertaining to Karyakara Biddanda Bopu in Reverend Hermann Moegling’s Coorg Memoirs.
In 1799, the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War broke out between Tipu Sultan and the British. When the British laid siege upon Srirangapatna, the erstwhile capital of Mysore kingdom, Dodda Vira Rajendra sent his treasurer Karnika Subbayya and his officer Karyakara Bopu to invade the Tulu region, which was then a part of the Mysore State. Bopu led the Kodagu army and defeated Sadri Behari and Mir Mohammed who held the Kodial (Mangalore) district. Soon, Kodagu occupied Mangalore, Barkur, Bantwal, Bellare, Viragamba, Udiavara and other regions. Karnika Subbayya came to hold and govern Kodial at that time.
Eventually, news came from Srirangapatna that Tipu Sultan was killed and that Mysore was taken over by the British. Later, Kodagu was made to evacuate the Tulu region and return it to Mysore. Karyakara Bopu was later made the sarva-karyakara of Kodagu. Biddanda Somayya was born in the year Roudri (1800) to Bopu and his wife Mayavva. Bopu died in 1807 at the young age of 38 years. In commemoration of his remarkable army tenure, the king of Kodagu ordered that Bopu be entombed near the royal tombs of Gaddige.
Somayya joined the Raja’s army in 1821. Like his father, he rose through the ranks to become a sarva-karyakara. In 1834, Kodagu got into a conflict with the British. Under him, the Kodagu army was able to inflict damage upon the British army initially. But Chikka Vira Rajendra, the last king of Kodagu, chose to surrender to the British. He was then exiled and the British took over Kodagu.
In those days, the British decreed that all the native officers would be retained in service. But Sarva-karyakara Somayya refused to be in the service of the new government and thus, retired early instead. After his retirement, Somayya lived in the Bavali Biddanda Ainmane and got involved in farming. But he did have one last wish. After his death, he wanted to be buried beside his father and before the rajas of Kodagu. The British allowed this and refused to have anybody else, including any surviving relatives of the rajas, to be buried in the Gaddige area. Somayya died on August 16, 1879. His tomb was erected in Gaddige with the permission of the Chief Commissioner of Coorg. There is a separate graveyard for other members of the Biddanda family in Bavali as well. While the tombs lie neglected today, their history and significance continue to throw light on the history of our people.