Saga of Fight For Independence!
Chapter 16: Rani Chennamma of Kittur
About 56 years before the birth of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, on October 23, 1778, one of the first warrior queens of India, Rani Chennamma was born in a small village called Kakati which is now in the district of Belagavi. She received training in horse riding, sword fighting and archery at a very young age and was well known for her bravery across town.
When Chennamma was 15 years old, she was married to the ruler of Kittur, Mallasarja Desai. 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. Rani Chennamma was left with was the state of Kittur and an uphill task to save it from the British. How she took on the might of the British empire single handedly is legendary and something which the state of Karnataka and India can never forget.
Following the death of her husband and son, Rani Chennamma adopted Shivalingappa in the year 1824 and made him the heir to the throne. This irked the East India Company, who ordered Shivalingappa’s expulsion, on the pretext of the Doctrine of Lapse which was officially codified by Lord Dalhousie. The Doctrine of Lapse was imposed on native states by the British. 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. The state of Kittur came under the administration of Dharwad collectorate in charge of Mr. Thackeray of which Mr. Chaplin was the commissioner, both of whom did not recognize the new ruler and regent and notified Kittur to accept the British regime.
But Kittur Rani Chennamma did not budge. She gave it her all to save the state and its people.The battle for Kittur Rani Chennamma left no stone unturned in saving Kittur from the clutches of the British.
“She did not step back looking at the mighty army of British,
but fought with great vigour, expertise skill and courage.”
She continued her resistance, and the British attacked Kittur on 21st October 1824 with an army of two hundred men and four guns, mainly from the third troop of Madras Native Horse Artillery.But they were no match against the brave queen’s relatively small yet valiant army. The British not only faced defeat but also lost collector Thackeray to the hands of Amatur Balappa, a Lieutenant in Chennamma’s army. Two British officers,Sir Walter Elliot and Mr.Stevenson, were also taken hostage. Capitalising on this, Rani Chennamma struck an understanding with Commissioner Chaplin to terminate the war in return for release of the officers to which he agreed. But the British were too humiliated to let go so easily. They surrounded Kittur with bigger armies from Mysore and Sholapur.
Kittur Rani Chennamma and her army fought hard and also killed the sub-collector of Sholapur, Mr. Munro, nephew of Sir Thomas Munro. But she was betrayed by traitors in her own army, Mallappa Shetty and Venkata Rao who mixed cow dung with gunpowder while firing from the canons. As a result, she lost to the British. Despite this, Chennamma continued to fight valiantly along with her close aide and well known freedom fighter Sangolli Rayanna. She was ultimately captured and imprisoned for life at the Bailhongal fort.
A life cut short after ending up in captivity, Kittur Rani Chennamma devoted all her time in reading holy texts and praying for her release. But as time passed by, she eventually lost hope. The fighter in her could not stand the humiliation and helplessness owing to which her health started deteriorating. Kittur Rani Chennamma breathed her last on 21 February 1829 in the Bailhonghal fort. Her fierce passion to save the state greatly inspired Sangolli Rayanna, one of most well known freedom fighters of Karnataka who continued to fight on her behalf. He was arrested and subsequently hanged by the British a few years later. Her adopted son Shivalingappa was also taken into custody. Although the brave queen’s life was cut short, her uproar against the British had given the people of Kittur the courage to take on them. A tigress perched on horseback Eyes glinting with fierce passion, a sword in hand, perched on the back of a horse, Kittur Rani Chennamma’s statues take pride of place in all major cities of Karnataka. Her spirit continues to inspire many, her tales of bravery echo in folk ballads and her name is a synonym for bravery.
When Even Strongest Of Polingar Were Surrendering To British, The Ruler Of Nelkattunseval Fought Against Them Like A Tiger! Know The Story Of ‘Puli’ Thevar An Able Administrator And A Great Warrior!
Dr. Sindhu Prashanth