“Nāri Shakti” has always played a pivotal role in Bharatiya Itihas. There have been innumerable examples of women contributors since Vedic times, whether it is for Self protection, protecting the Rashtra (nation) or for upholding Dharma, all that speak of spiritual knowledge and wisdom as well as valour and courage. To recall those great spiritual as well as mighty valiant personalities, is to worship the female form of divinity as a symbol of “Shakti”.
लक्ष्मी अहल्या चन्नम्मा रुद्रमाम्बा सुविक्रमा |
निवेदिता शारदा च प्रणम्य मातृ देवताः ॥
(Lakshmi Ahalyaa Channammaa Rudramaambaa suvikramaa
Niveditaa Shaaradaa cha praNamya maatRu devataaH)
In “ekAtmata Stotra”, this “sloka” invokes the two brave women by the same name of “Chennamma”: one was the queen – Rani of Keladi (from Sagara, Karnataka) and the other being Rani of Kittur (Belagavi District of Katnataka). The Moghul tyrant Aurangazeb, after killing the elder son of Shivaji i.e, Sambhaji went in pursuit of his second son, Raja Ram. At this time of trouble, Chennamma, the Rani of Keladi by providing refuge (protection) to Raja Ram, indirectly protected the newly arisen kingdom of Shivaji and she with her power of army retaliated against the Mughals.
Chennamma, the Rani of Kittur, a province in Karnataka, picked up a fierce fight with the British forces in order to foil their desire to grab Kittur after the untimely death of her husband. The Britishers were forced to enter into a peace-treaty with Chennamma. Later the English captured Chennamma, by deception, and kept her as prisoner in the Bailhongal Fort.
Like the Rani of Jhansi, both these Ranis sacrificed their lives for the sake of Independence of India.
Rani Chennamma (23 October 1778 – 21 February 1829) was the first Bharat’s Ruler to have led armed rebellion against the British forces in the year 1824, when not many rulers were familiar with the evil designs of the British through their British East India Company.
Chennamma was born in Kakati, a small village (in today’s Belagavi district of Karnataka) in the year 1778 that is almost 56 years earlier than Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi. From a very young age she received training in horse riding, sword fighting and archery. She was well known for her brave acts across her town. She was married to Mallasarja Desai, ruler of Kittur at the age of 15. Her married life seemed to be a sad tale after her husband died in 1816. With this marriage she had only one son, but fate seemed to play a tragic game in her life. Her son breathed his last in 1824, leaving the lonely soul to fight against the British rule. After his death, his son Shivalingarudra Sarja who had no children adopted a boy, Shivalingappa who was his relative. Shivalingrudra died prematurely and Chennamma ruled as the regent (a person appointed to administer a state because the ruler is a minor, is absent or is incapacitated). After the death of her son, she adopted another child, Shivalingappa, and made him heir to the throne. However, the British East India Company did not accept this under the “Doctrine of Lapse”, a policy of annexation devised by the British East India Company.
Queen Chennamma during the British rule
The “Doctrine of Lapse” was an annexation policy imposed on native states by the British, devised by Dalhousie, who was the Governor General for the East India Company in India between 1848 and 1856. Under this declaration, native rulers were not allowed to adopt a child if they had no children of their own. Their territory formed part of the British Empire automatically (would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either ‘manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir’). The state of Kittur came under the administration of Dharwad collectorate under The East India company’s collector and political agent, Mr. St. John Thackeray. Mr. Chaplin was the commissioner of the region. Both did not recognize the new ruler and the regent, and informed that Kittur had to accept the British regime. Thackeray wished to capture Kittur to expand the British Empire. He was a clever strategist and refused to recognise the adoption as legal according to the “Doctrine of Lapse” imposed on all the states by the British. He sent his people to oversee the affairs of the kingdom and wished to take over the entire kingdom and its treasury. Both the local people and Rani Chennamma opposed strongly British high handedness. Thackeray invaded Kittur. In the battle, hundreds of British soldiers along with Thackeray were killed by the Kitturu forces. Amatur Balappa, Chennamma’s lieutenant, was responsible for his death and the losses to the British forces. Two British officers, Sir Walter Elliot and Mr. Stevenson, were also taken as hostages. Rani Chennamma released them after a promise from the British that the war would end.
War against the British
The humiliation of defeat at the hands of a small ruler was too much for the British to swallow. The British cheated her and re-started the war. This time, the British officer Chaplin actually continued the war with more forces. They brought in bigger armies from Mysore and Sholapur and surrounded Kittur. Chennamma tried her best to avoid war; she negotiated with Chaplin and Governor of Bombay Presidency under whose regime Kittur fell. It had no effect. Chennamma was compelled to declare war.
Rani Chennamma fought the second battle fiercely with the aid of her lieutenant Sangoli Rayanna and Gurusiddappa. During this second round of war, the Sub-collector of Sholapur, Mr. Munrow, nephew of Sir Thomas Munro, was also killed. For 12 days, Chennamma and her soldiers relentlessly defended their fort, but yet again, Chennamma was made prey to deceit –as is the common trait, the traitors sneaked in and mixed mud and dung in the gunpowder in the canons. Two soldiers of her own army, Mallappa Shetty and Vankata Rao, betrayed Chennamma by mixing mud and cow dung with the gunpowder used for the canons. Ultimately, Kittur Chennamma and her forces were outnumbered by the large strength of the British forces. Rani Chennamma was defeated in her last battle and captured by the British, who imprisoned her at the Bailhongal Fort for life, where she passed away on 21 February 1829.
She spent her days reading holy texts and performing pooja till her death in 1829 CE. Kittur Rani Chennamma could not win the war against British, but she etched her presence for many centuries in the world of history. Along with Onake Obavva, Abbakka Rani and Keladi Chennamma, she is much revered in Karnataka as an icon of bravery. Chennamma became a legend. During the freedom movement, her brave resistance to British formed theme of plays, songs, and song stories. Folk songs or “Lavani” were a legion and freedom struggle got a good boost through singing bards who moved throughout the region. (Lavani are the traditional folk songs and the dance format Tamasha contains the dancer (Tamasha Bai), the helping dancer – Maavshi, The Drummer – Dholki vaala & The Flute Boy – Baasuri Vaala).
It is heartening that a statue of Kittur Chennamma was installed in the Parliamentary Building premises at New Delhi on 11th September 2007. However, limiting ourselves to only garlanding the statues will not suffice. The immense contributions of these great warriors to our Freedom Struggle have to be taught to children at homes as well as in schools as part of the school curriculum. Every year Kittur Rani Chennamma’s jayanti has to be celebrated as in “Kittur Utsav”, where skits, elocution and debates have to be conducted depicting the great warrior queen’s life and personality, and showcasing the queen’s grit and determination in fighting the enemy. This will increase the self-confidence in children, as well as inculcate a sense of pride towards the nation, to achieve ultimate glory of our motherland, Bhārat.
Courtesy: Arise Bharat
This article was First Published in 2017