The princess and the sharpshooter

Ancient abode: The ancestral house of Mukkatira Ipanna, the sharpshooter, in Nalvathoklu village in Kodagu. Photo by Boverianda Chinnappa

Mukkatira Aiyappa of Bonda village in Kodagu had three sons: Muddayya, Ipanna and Bopayya. Muddayya became a Munshi (clerk) in the Diwan Kacheri (minister’s office). Linga Raja II was the ruler of Kodagu at that time. With his first queen, a lady from the Chowrira family, he had a son Chikka Vira Raja. His second queen, Palanganda Devaki, was his Pattada Rani (chief queen). They had two daughters Muddammaji and Devammaji.

In 1816, Linga Raja was on a hunt in Murnad, Kodagu. He was accompanied by Muddayya when they came across Ipanna. Linga Raja challenged him to shoot a bird off a bison’s back as he was a famed sharpshooter. The bison was at a long distance and a gun had to be used. Ipanna shot it and impressed the Raja who summoned him to the court the next day. 

The next day, Ipanna went to the court dressed in a white Kuppya (traditional coat). The Raja asked him the significance of the colour of his costume. Without any hesitation, he replied that a Kodava normally wore a white Kuppya on two occasions — in his wedding and then during his funeral. Those days, rarely one spoke boldly in front of the Raja. But the Raja was not displeased. Instead he surprised all by saying that he would get his elder daughter Muddammaji married to Ipanna. 

Ipanna was converted into a Lingayat, since the Raja was one. Ipanna was given a new name, Chenna Basavappa. Muddammaji and Chenna Basavappa were married and gifted a farm. But Muddammaji fell sick frequently. So, this farm was exchanged with another farm which belonged to the Raja’s relatives in Appangala. However, Muddammaji died within two years after her marriage. The Raja then got his younger daughter Devammaji married to Chenna Basavappa in 1819.

In 1820, Linga Raja died. His queen Devaki committed suicide by consuming diamond dust. Chikka Vira Raja became the Raja. Chenna Basavappa and a few others were discontent with his rule. So they schemed to have him ousted. They failed in their endeavour and Chikka Vira Raja came to know of it. Chenna Basavappa and Devammaji were kept under house arrest.

In 1832, Chikka Vira Raja planned to have Chenna Basavappa executed. Devammaji and Chenna Basavappa learnt of this. On Shivarathri, they drugged the guards and escaped from Appangala on horseback. They crossed the borders of Kodagu and reached Mysore, where they headed to the house of the British Resident Casamajor and sought refuge. Meanwhile, the couple’s one-and-a-half-year-old son fell into the hands of the Raja’s men and was handed over to the Raja whose queen took care of him.

Muddayya was an intelligent and respected man. He had been promoted to become the Raja’s Khas Munshi (chief accountant). A favourite of the Raja, he was deemed to be a future Diwan. When Chikka Vira Raja first heard of Chenna Basavappa’s escape he got angry with Muddayya who was his elder brother. He then beat him up. His Diwan, Kunta Basava, got Muddayya executed. But, in truth, Muddayya was not aware of his brother’s plans.

Chikka Vira Raja demanded that the two fugitives should be handed over to him. But Casamajor forwarded this matter to the British East India Company Government. In 1833, the Government declared that the couple should not be surrendered to the Raja. Chenna Basavappa and Devammaji were moved to Bangalore and were given a pension. Chikka Vira Raja schemed with Nanda Lal Bharthi, a merchant from Mysore, to have Chenna Basavappa murdered. But these attempts failed.

In 1834, the Company invaded Kodagu. The Raja surrendered to the British and was exiled. Chenna Basavappa and Devammaji returned to Kodagu. Their Appangala farm was returned to them. Chenna Basavappa assumed the title of ‘Arasu’ (king). He petitioned the Company to provide him with one of the other palaces of the Raja. He also wanted the former Raja’s farm at Nanjarajapatna and be placed in charge of the Gaddige (the Rajas’ mausoleum). But the Company didn’t agree to this. Chenna Basavappa died in 1868.

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