Blast from the past

ANCIENT RELICS

Blast from the past

When Tipu’s army retreated from Kodagu, they left behind a large cache of arms and ammunition. Amongst them were several cannons and cannon balls imported from France. A private coffee estate in Kodagu is now home to cannons, neatly arranged in the garden in front of their 120-year-old house, writes C P Belliappa

Just a stone’s throw away from the historic Nalaknad Palace in Kodagu is a private coffee estate belonging to the Apparanda family, which is appropriately named ‘The Palace Estate’. The family now runs a well-known home-stay as well. They are also custodians of very special relics from the past.

I visited Palace Estate recently to see for myself this rare collection of artifact. The family has a collection of hundreds of cannon balls each weighing about five kilograms and five inches in diameter. These are neatly arranged in the garden in front of their 120-year-old house overlooking the verdant Western Ghats. Prakash, one of the brothers, gave me the historical background of their family and how his grandfather found these cannon balls while opening up new areas for coffee cultivation.

The sight of the array of cannon balls rang a bell and brought to mind a very interesting historical vignette that took place in 1795. The raja of Kodagu at the time — Dodda Veerarajendra — fought valiantly and regained his lost domain from Tipu Sultan in 1791. Having re-established his dynasty, he completed the construction of a modest palace deep in the safety of forested area in Nalaknad in 1795. When Tipu’s army retreated from Kodagu, they left behind a large cache of arms and ammunition. Amongst them were several cannons and cannon balls imported from France.

There was a bumper paddy crop that year and Dodda Veerarajendra himself harvested the first sheaf under the full-moon sky during the Puthari festival in the presence of his dewans, family and subjects. In celebration of his victory, he had the captured cannon balls fired into the forest as the fresh harvest was ceremoniously brought to his newly built palace. All the officials and the village folk were treated to a special feast — known as ‘thombarada oota’ — prepared in the palace kitchen.  Firing salvos of cannon balls into the forest was a spectacular sight enjoyed by everyone present. Dodda Veerarajendra repeated this practice every year while celebrating Puthari festival during his reign, which lasted from 1791 to 1809. However, Dodda Veerarajendra’s brother and successor Lingarajendra discontinued the tradition. Lingarajendra felt that it was not only wasteful but also that the deafening blast from the cannons disturbed wildlife in the area.
Lingarajendra was very fond of hunting and did not want the animals to move away from his hunting grounds. Instead, during his rule, small arms were fired while celebrating the harvest festival.  Even now a shot is fired into the full-moon sky while harvesting the first bundle of paddy on Puthari day.

I am sure these cannon balls lay in the forested area for more than a century before they were discovered by the Apparanda family sometime during the early part of twentieth century while clearing the area for planting coffee. However, the cannons used to fire these ammunitions are not to be found in the area or in Nalaknad Palace premises. There are a few cannons in Madikeri fort which are very likely the ones used here and moved by the British when they took over Kodagu in 1834. It goes to the credit of Apparanda family for having preserved these artifacts and an interesting piece of history of Kodagu.

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