Rulers who were ahead of their time

Well-planned: The British-style Patwardhan palace at Jamkhandi

Indian history has accounts of rich contributions made by many princely states to the field of art, literature, culture, architecture and sports. There are a few princely states that stand apart for contributing to the unification of the country. Contributions of rulers of these princely states are either buried in the history or lesser-known. 

Those who ruled different parts of Karnataka played a significant role in the merger of princely states into the Indian Union. Perhaps, it still remains unknown to many that the first Maharaja, who signed a merger agreement with the Indian Union, was the ruler of Jamkhandi, a princely state in the Deccan region.

Parashuram Shankar Rao Patwardhan, the Maharaja of Patwardhan dynasty and ruler of Jamkhandi, was the first ruler to ink the merger agreement with the Indian Union.

The origins

The Patwardhans trace their origin to Kotawada, a village in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. By 1811, the Patwardhan rulers established one of the largest princely states in India. By 1923, the rulers had set up a State Legislative Assembly for Jamkhandi. They commissioned many welfare schemes providing basic amenities through the Assembly.

By 1939, the Patwardhans were using pulveriser, a machine manufactured by Ruston & Hornsby firm for grinding purpose, and a pumpset to lift water. To supply crude oil needed to run these two machines, a wagon would reach Kudachi town carrying oil. It was then transported from Kudachi to Jamkhandi in bullock carts.

Jamkhandi was one of the first towns to have electricity facility in British India. Initially, the  British-style Ramteerth palace was given electricity connection and eventually, the entire Jamkhandi town had the power supply. The rulers were visionaries in terms of town planning as well. They modelled the town on the lines of ancient Harappa and Mohenjo-daro sites with the elegant features of European cities. 

All Patwardhan rulers stressed on community-oriented projects that aimed at uplifting weaker sections. They started a civil hospital for improving community health and commissioned a municipality to carry out sanitation and beautification works.

The royal palace, the darbar hall, library, rest houses, quarters for soldiers, auditorium, ponds, temples of the Chalukyan architecture and clean environs suggest the highest standard of amenities provided by the rulers.

The Patwardhan rulers are also said to be the first administrators in the history of the country to supply drinking water through taps to houses. They implemented a project to achieve this goal.

By 1928, they laid a pipeline network to draw water to Jamkhandi for drinking purposes from Sanal village (River Krishna), about 10 kilometres away from the town. Even today, Jamkhandi is dependent on the same pipeline for drinking water.

The Patwardhans heralded a new dawn in the academics by launching Parashuram Bhaurao (PB) High School in Jamkhandi, Harbhat High School in Kundgol and Sir Parashurambhau College in Pune. The Patwardhan rulers’ academic initiatives had far-reaching consequences. 

They constructed lakes, open wells and barrages to store water at different locations. Anekere, Lakkanakere, Akkatangera Bhavi, Sakkare Bhavi, Gunda Bhavi and Hokkala Bhavi among others speak volumes about the visionary efforts of the rulers. Efficient water management gave a boost to agriculture. They also supported activities that focused on the welfare of the farming community. Amarayi Jathre, a platform to buy and sell cattle, is a classic example. 

The princely state had polo ground, swimming pool and wrestling ground. Interestingly, there were separate tennis courts for men and women on the lines of the courts in England.

The best part of the Patwardhans’ administration was that they treated all people equally. As an effort to eradicate the practice of caste system, they hosted a gathering in 1890, where people from castes had food together.

Historians clearly mention that India will never forget the sacrifice of the Patwardhans for unification of India. The country faced an upheaval task of ensuring the merger of princely states after gaining Independence.

The decision did not go well with the rulers of the princely states. They sternly opposed the move. The opposition indicated a possible civil war and internal conflicts.

For the greater good

A group of freedom fighters, who had heard about the Patwardhan rulers’ love for the country, decided to visit Jamkhandi. Their intention was to convince the Maharaja for the merger.

Parashuram Shankar Rao was thrilled when he was told about the proposed visit. He made arrangements for a grand welcome. No princely state had given such a rousing welcome to the freedom fighters. When the freedom fighters had an audience with Rao, they explained to him the need for uniting India. 

Though Rao agreed for the merger, he put forth three major conditions. He wanted the Union government to build a barrage across the Krishna river near Jambagi and link Karnataka to Maharashtra’s industrial town Ichalkaranji; construct a rail line between Bagalkot and Kudchi and make Jamkhandi a district headquarter.

As the Union government promised to fulfil these demands, Rao decided to ink the agreement.

Rao’s decision shocked rulers of other princely states. He had to face opposition from his family members and relatives. They put pressure on him to withdraw the decision, he even received threats. But nothing deterred him.

The Jawaharlal Nehru government offered top positions to him, but he declined these offers. He instead recommended the names of rulers of other princely states, who were upset with the decision of the merger, in order to please them.

(Translated by Jagadish Angadi)

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