Kodagu is not just known for its serene landscape and picturesque surroundings, but also for the valour of its people. Rightly, the district boasts of several military heroes. The statues of such brave men can be seen in Madikeri. The Sudarshan Circle in Madikeri is flanked by the statue of Field Marshal K M Cariappa and the equestrian statue of Subedar Guddemane Appayya Gowda.
One of the earliest revolutionaries from Kodagu, Appayya Gowda, was hanged by the British in 1837. His contemporary revolutionaries from Kodagu included Subedar Naalnaad Mandira Uthayya, Chetty Kudiya and Shanthalli Mallayya who were imprisoned for many years by the British. Further along the main road, you can see a circle with the statue of General K S Thimayya. If you take the deviation to the right, you will find Major M C Muthanna Circle near the town hall and Squadron Leader A B Devaiah Circle near the private bus stand.
The first family
In Kunda, near Gonikoppal, lived the Kodandera family, hereditary chieftains of a group of villages. I M Muthanna’s Coorg Memoirs mentions that Naad Parupatyagar (native village official) Kodandera Kuttayya was the grandson of Diwan Mandepanda Thimmaiah. Between 1901 and 1909, he was the assistant commissioner and highest ranked native official in the then Coorg province. When his wife Dechy, or Dechamma, passed away, a locality in Madikeri was named as Dechur in her memory.
Two members of this family, Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa and General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya, rose to become the chiefs of the Indian Army. Hence, the Kodandera family came to be considered as the first family of Kodagu’s military heroes. Field Marshal Cariappa was the son of Kuttayya’s younger brother Madappa, who worked in the revenue department. General Thimayya was the grandson of Kuttayya.
Born in 1899, Field Marshal Cariappa, ‘the Grand Old Man of the Indian Army’, studied in the Madikeri Government Central High School and then in the Madras Presidency College. He gained admission at Daly Cadet College, Indore, in 1919 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Bombay’s 88th Carnatic Infantry, during World War I. The following year, he served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and was promoted as a lieutenant.
He became the first Indian army officer to attend the Staff College in Quetta. He married Muthu Machia, a forest officer’s daughter, had a son K C Nanda Cariappa, who later rose to the rank of air marshal, and a daughter, Nalini. During World War II, Cariappa was awarded the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). He became the first Indian to become a brigadier.
Cariappa also served as India’s first commander-in-chief (C-in-C) between 1949 and 1953. Now this position rests with the President of India. He represented India as its high commissioner in Australia and New Zealand from 1953 to 1956. In 1986, he was made a field marshal. Thus, he became one of the two Indian army officers to hold this rank. He died in 1993.
General Thimayya’s actual name was Subayya, while Thimayya was his father’s name. He was born in Madikeri in 1906. Admitted to the then Prince of Wales Military College in Dehradun, he was one of the six Indian cadets who underwent training in Royal Military College, Sandhurst, England. In 1926, he was commissioned into the Indian army. In 1935, he married Codanda Nina and the couple went to Quetta. During the Quetta earthquake that year the couple rendered outstanding humanitarian service.
During World War II, Thimayya was awarded Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He represented India during the Japanese surrender. Between 1953 and 1955, Thimayya was the chairman of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission. He gained international fame for the way he handled the exchange of the prisoners of war (POWs) held during the Korean War. In 1954, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. Between 1957 and 1961, he was the chief of the Indian army.
In 1964, he was appointed Commander of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus, where he passed away. Cyprus released a stamp in his memory, and later, his wax statue was displayed in Singapore. Both Cariappa and Thimayya are iconic figures in India.
According to Major General Arjun Muthanna, a great grandson of Kuttayya, Cariappa and Thimayya belonged to a generation of Indian officers who stormed the bastion of India’s colonial masters and deftly navigated unchartered situations. Both had huge responsibilities thrust upon them at a relatively young age and rose to the challenge. Cariappa, commissioned as a lieutenant when Indians were just being permitted to become British Indian Army officers, would ‘Outbritish the British’, probably to be accepted and treated as an equal by the British officers.
A strict disciplinarian, he demanded punctuality and proper dress code. He was fiercely nationalistic and moulded the Indian Army into its current apolitical position.
In 1948, the Kashmir situation grew tense and war was imminent. Lieutenant General Cariappa became the head of the Western Command and led Lieutenant General S M Shrinagesh and Major General Thimayya. It was during this war that Thimayya helped India secure Ladakh.
Cariappa’s contemporary and friend, Lieutenant General Nathu Singh, was first offered the post of C-in-C but he declined and stated that his senior Cariappa, who won the 1948 war for India, was more eligible for the post. It was on January 15, 1949 that the three centuries old colonial army became a national army. That was the first time an Indian, General Cariappa, was made chief of the Indian armed forces.
Every morning, Cariappa paid his respects to the portrait of his parents and the statue of a jawan. He was ever thankful to the soldiers for protecting the country. Hence, he was called the soldiers’ general. Cariappa would go to the war front, even after retirement, in order to motivate the troops.
Muthanna narrates a personal anecdote about the Field Marshal, “When I called on him at his residence, in Madikeri, in May 1986, to invite him for my wedding, I was wearing a half sleeve shirt and trousers as appropriate for the hot summer day. After accepting the invitation, he commented on my attire saying ‘You’re an officer in the army aren’t you? In which case, you should be wearing a coat and tie.’ I had no response and thought in my mind I’m calling on my family elder. Pat came his next comment, as if he’d read my mind, ‘In case you’re calling on me as a relative you should be wearing our traditional dress of kupya.’ He walked the talk. He was always dressed formally as a respect to the person who was visiting him.”
Thimayya was charismatic, approachable and had great interpersonal skills. When Thimayya visited his Dehradun alma mater as an alumni, one of the cadets there wanted to know how to address the general. Thimayya simply replied ‘Call me Timmy’, referring to his nickname!
Some of the other military heroes of Kodagu are: Major Mangerira Chinnappa Muthanna, who was awarded the Shaurya Chakra posthumously, and Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devaiah, nicknamed ‘Wings of Fire’, the only Air Force personnel to be awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously so far.