Rage of a legendary raja

Glimpse of history

Rage of a legendary raja

The kingdom of Kodugu is synonymous with stories of anger and violence of its rulers. C P Belliappa takes us through the legends surrounding the kingdom...

One of the notable edifices in Madikeri is the palace located within the fort. The fortress hugs an irregular hexagon shaped hillock, and conforms to the contours of the mound. The fortress was originally built of mud by Mudduraja sometime in the 1680s. Tipu Sultan held sway over Kodagu from 1780 to 1791, and fortified the battlement with stone ramparts. There are six bastions built at each angle of the hexagon. 

Dodda Veerarajendra regained the Haleri dynasty’s realm from Tipu, and his reign lasted from 1791 to 1809. He built a palace within the fort, which has the typical open courtyard in the centre. His brother, Lingarajendra, ascended the throne of Kodagu in 1811 and built the palace in its present modern architecture by encompassing the earlier structure. According to an inscription, the building was completed in two years and one month. The inscription also says: ‘The pious who praise Almighty God, by whose grace this magnificent palace was constructed, shall enjoy eternal happiness in this world and in the world to come’. The palace was designed by an Italian architect; and rumour has it that once his task was completed the Raja had the poor man bricked-up in a corner of the wall, lest he replicate the design elsewhere!

Lingarajendra was a crack-shot, an able archer and could shoot a moving target sitting on horse-back. His passion was hunting, and he spent a good part of his time in pursuit of this sport. British officers were his frequent guests, and he organised spectacular hunts for them. Many, including Colonel Welsh and Lieutenant Williamson, have left records of their visits to Kodagu, and how Lingarajendra himself would ride an elephant as mahout and take his guests into the deepest parts of the dense forests. Selling elephant tusks, bison horns, antlers, tiger pelts and other trophies were part of his revenue, which he used to buy thoroughbred horses from Arab traders in Kerala. Lingarajendra also boasted of a veritable zoo, where he had a menagerie of tigers, bears, leopards, panthers and so forth. One of the entertainments for his special European guests was to organise fights between a tiger and a bear.

Within the fort complex, there is a unique and intriguing attraction. Life-sized statues of two elephants made of mortar and painted black, stand prominently in one corner of the fort. And thereby hangs a tale.  

Lingarajendra was known to be generous to those close to him, but he also possessed a nasty temper. Many suffered horrendous punishments whenever the Raja lost his proverbial shirt. On one occasion, Lingarajendra had returned to his palace after a hunting expedition, which lasted for several days. He was quite exhausted and was in a rather foul mood because the hunt had not been successful. Most of his close associates kept a safe distance from the Raja. He retired to bed early and soon fell into deep slumber.

Around midnight two favourite elephants of the Raja housed in a shed nearby started trumpeting loudly. Lingarajendra was woken up by the din. He shouted at his bodyguards to go and stop the ruckus immediately. The guards rushed outside, but all their efforts failed to control the two mammoths. Lingarajendra tossed and turned trying to get back to sleep, but the loud ruckus agitated him and he flew off his handle. In his rage he picked up his powerful gun used to hunt elephants. He walked across to the shed and shot both the beasts and silenced them. He went back to his chamber and tried to go back to sleep. It didn’t take him too long to realize the horrendous deed he had committed. He had shot dead two of his well-trained elephants. He spent the rest of the night weeping.

The next day, a grief stricken Lingarajendra, performed the last rites of the elephants. He was most remorseful. The Raja summoned his master masons and commissioned them to immediately construct life-size statues of his pet elephants at the spot, which was visible to him from his bed-chamber. These two centuries old statues, mute spectators of many historic events, stand magnificently to this day. 

 

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