This book encapsulates the history of the Haleri dynasty which ruled Coorg from 1600-1834. The Haleri Rajas were Lingayats who forged a strong bond with the Kodavas, lasting for two centuries.
The story begins with 1630 when Ayyappa of Kodagu starts a wholesale business in supplying paddy to Kerala. After a long gap, his wife gives birth to a baby daughter who is named Doddavva. She marries a weak man of her choice and has four daughters. The harelipped (Siribai) Veerappa takes command over the Kodavas and is followed by his grandson Chikka Veerappa to the throne.
The interesting part of the book begins with 1761 when Hyder Ali, who, as one of the army commanders of the Raja of Mysore, overthrows the weak King Chikka Krishnaraja Wodeyar to gain control of the strategic Srirangapatna fort. Soon he sets out to expand his newly acquired domain and expands his realm till Mangalore. Meanwhile Chikka Veerappa dies and the subsequent Rajas of Kodagu are put to death by Hyder Ali. This way the Hombale branch of the Haleri dynasty is extinguished. Hyder Ali takes charge of the orphaned sons of Lingaraja of Kodagu and imprisons them. Around the time when Hyder Ali is about to annex Kodagu to Mysore, he develops a cancerous growth on his back and dies in 1782. Tipu takes charge and with the help of French soldiers tries to take over Kodagu. The Kodavas fear the safety of their women and children. Tipu'ssoldiers seize the Coorg along with the women and children, forcing them to walk to Srirangapatna. The imprisoned men are converted to Islam, given military training and made sepoys in his army. ?In celebration of this large addition to Islam, Tipu declares himself as Badshah to rival the Moghuls in Delhi.?
One day Tipu visits the fort at Periapatna where he has kept the Kodava princes in captivity. He orders the princes to embrace Islam and spread the faith amongst their subjects in Kodagu. Hombale Nayaka is shocked and insulted at this proposal. The 22-year-old Raja sternly replies, ?We would all rather die than give up our religion.? Subsequently Tipu'seyes fall on Veerarajendra'sattractive sister Neelammaji and cousin Devammaji and he makes them join his zenana. Hombale Nayaka is infuriated but cannot do anything as he himself has fallen in love with Neelammaji. The author says, ?Tipu was tolerant of other faiths only when the citizens accepted his rule without resistance. He threw his secular credentials to the winds when there was any opposition to his authority.?
Meanwhile Veerarajendra manages to escape and by 1791, captures the strategic Madikeri fort and re-establishes the Haleri rule over Kodagu.
After Tipu signs the peace treaty with the British in 1792, about 12,000 of the converted Kodavas escape and return to their homeland to seek reunion with their families. ?Unfortunately the conservative Coorgs did not accept them back into their fold.? Descendants of these Muslims are still seen in some parts of Coorg and are known as Kodava Mapillas. However, Veerarajendra gives them land and restores their family properties.
Veerarajendra marries again to sire a son and takes on the suffix Wodeyar to his name. He has four daughters now, but no son. Fearing that his brothers would occupy his throne, he kills them but is terrorised by ghosts of the dead as they keep haunting him till he dies, holding the hands of his two daughters, at the age of 46.
This way the author traces the history of the Kodavas who, though a warrior race, never actually ruled their land. There was factionalism among them and this facilitated Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan and subsequently the British to rule over them.
The Kodavas, today a progressive community, were illiterate till the British introduced education in 1834. Hence theirs is mainly an oral history penned down over the generations.
(Rupa & Co., 7/16 Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110 002.)